Review by Jacob Licklider
There is something odd about the First Doctor Adventures Big Finish range. As it features the cast from An Adventure in Space and Time in the roles of the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara it is classified as a range for the New Series, however, each set has been in some way or another a fitting tribute for the television show’s first few years, especially Season 1, where each story essentially alternates science fiction and pure historical with the occasional a la The Space Museum or The Edge of Destruction thrown in for good measure. Each episode even is given its own individual title as the first three seasons would often do, and they move directly one into the next, with The First Doctor Adventures: Volume Five even ending implying that there will be a volume six. This is also a range which has lost the novelty of having full cast First Doctor stories, which isn’t a bad thing, and was indicated by the previous volume including the Daleks in a sequel to the very first Dalek story. Volume Five goes back away from bringing back any returning elements, though the second story does take some cheeky nudges to future stories and events for the Doctor in particular, selling itself on two very interesting titles and the promise of a story with William Shakespeare and pairing a veteran writer with a new writer.
Guy Adams previously contributed The Great White Hurricane and Tick-Tock World, coming back to the range to open the fifth volume with For the Glory of Urth. This is a story that before the release, I must admit, with the rather interesting creature design on the cover and the obvious title, that this would be a story where the big twist is akin to The Mysterious Planet and Orphan 55, that the story takes place on a devastated Earth. The Earth connection of the name is made very early on in the story, avoiding what could easily have been a cliché, and allowing the true nature of Urth to be revealed much later on. This is a story where Urth is ruled by a fascist dictatorship run by Daddy Dominus and Mummy Martial played by Clive Wood and Amanda Hurwitz respectively, who rule the planet with an iron fist, throwing anyone with a hint of alien DNA into work camps or inhuman experiments. Adams knew exactly what he was doing with that particular naming scheme as there are several references to leather uniforms and there is a delight in David Bradley as the Doctor having to refer to someone in that way. There is an examination of how language degrades over time in a regime like this from Adams, through equating the concept of the state with one’s own family as it creates this loyalty and helps the brainwashing occur within the society to keep Mummy and Daddy in charge.
The irrationality of xenophobia and the lengths of cruelty and inhumanity which that can cause is Adams’ major theme throughout For the Glory of Urth, giving the story a title, which immediately brings to mind those types of fascist slogans. There is a plague which has been slowly killing off humanity and although there are attempts to stop its spread, though because of the inability for a fascist regime to properly function, it is threatening to cause an extinction event. There are apparently aliens which wish to wage war on the last remnants of humanity and any diplomatic mission sent out to them is actually a ruse by Mummy Martial to try and kill them before they can destroy Urth. The actual citizens of Urth have been so thoroughly brainwashed into a cult mentality that every implication going against the state and the possibility that their life could be what is in the wrong. Putting the first TARDIS team in this situation also becomes interesting as the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are all split up. Susan finds herself as the figurehead for diplomacy, the Doctor is essentially locked in a prison cell with a gestalt alien entity whose other forms have been attacked, and Ian and Barbara are forced to work. While Jamie Glover and Jemma Powell are excellent, Ian and Barbara’s plot is perhaps the most background and could have actually been improved if Adams either wrote a six-part story to give their attempts to escape some meaning or sent them on holiday for an episode or two. There are some excellent twists in the plot revealed. David Bradley’s take on William Hartnell’s Doctor shows all of the best aspects of the character, however, it is Claudia Grant’s take on Susan (especially in the second half) where there is a take on continuing the development of The Sensorites in allowing her to be the diplomatic one and the one to solve the plot. Honestly, For the Glory of Urth is one that should not be judged by its cover as it really has a lot to say about fascism and xenophobia, as well as some of 1960s Doctor Who in general which it does excellently. 9/10.
The Hollow Crown is an interesting historical as like For the Glory of Urth it is a political drama, but one centered in the past and about the power of art. Sarah Grochala’s script is one that sets the TARDIS team in a period where Shakespeare, played by Nicholas Asbury, is writing, but not performing, having already found success while political figures who wish to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, played by Wendy Craig, by stirring up a crowd with an uncensored version of Richard II. Those continuity obsessed will be disappointed for earlier Big Finish audios, but honestly just let those ideas and preconceptions stay at the door as this is once again a brilliant story for the characters, especially Susan. Grochala sets this story after the death of Hamnet while Judith Shakespeare, played by Lauren Cornelius, is masquerading as a boy to calm her father and explore acting. It is Judith who is the one to stoke the flames of rebellion, seeing her father as subservient to a queen. She is an actress and stokes this relationship with Susan as they both have arcs about essentially growing up and seeing the world as an adult after being manipulated by those adults around you. Grant and Cornelius immediately form a connection as performers and characters as much of the story focuses time on then. Grochala also doesn’t make William Shakespeare a neglectful parent: he does care about Judith, even if he is still suffering from the grief and much of their relationship is rebuilt over the course of these four episodes.
Ian and Barbara’s story arc here is also excellent as there is time taken to reflect on The Aztecs and the historical stories previously included in this range, especially Last of the Romanovs, as they try to come to terms with the fact that they cannot change history as well as the idea of history being written by the victors. The advantage of a story set in Elizabethan times means that there is liberty to be taken as “history” doesn’t actually remember every single event in the life of William Shakespeare. Glover and Powell’s performances are essentially as a duo trying to save Susan from being wrapped up with history while still wishing to give them the material to work with as Ian and Barbara. This also means that when Queen Elizabeth is introduced in the second half of the story she is portrayed as wise beyond her years with Craig playing her with the dignity of a queen and just a touch of restrained camp which is brilliant. David Bradley is actually a very interesting performance as it’s at this point where Gorchala’s influences of the witty and mischievous First Doctor blends with the grandfatherly and protective First Doctor. Bradley is such a talented performer and with each of these sets it becomes ever more apparent that he was wasted in Twice Upon a Time. Howard Carter’s music suite should also be praised for this story in particular, using stringed instruments to brilliant effect taking the listener right back into history, taking inspiration from composers like Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for The Aztecs and Dudley Simpson’s score for The Crusade. Ken Bentley’s direction implements it beautifully so that it’s always a background in the story that adds to the experience. The Hollow Crown is far from hollow and is Volume Five’s crowning glory. 10/10.
Overall, The First Doctor Adventures: Volume Five continues to be a celebration of the early years of Doctor Who bringing the month of April to a brilliant close of releases. For those who enjoy the new series this may be a way to get into the style of the classic series, especially the 1960s with flair from the new series brought in. 9.5/10.
You can get it on download or CD here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-first-doctor-adventures-volume-05-2156