Review by Jacob Licklider
With each of the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges moving to box sets it means that yearly listeners will be getting sets with the First and Second Doctors, both of whom have been limited in recent years. Nicholas Briggs has emphasised the desire to make this a fresh start by using new TARDIS teams, exploring new eras, and going against the grain of the previous Early Adventures and Companion Chronicles in stopping the tradition of previous companion actors also voicing the Doctor and recasting both the First and Second Doctors. Michael Troughton will be taking over the role of the Second Doctor (already previewed in The Annihilators), however, instead of continuing with David Bradley as the exclusive First Doctor, a complete recast with Stephen Noonan taking the role was announced with The Outlaws and The Miniaturist (collected under the title The Outlaws). This marketing decision makes it a little confusing to discuss the story vs the collection so this review will be discussing elements of both overall without heavy spoilers. This set also expands upon a previously unused portion of the First Doctor’s timeline set immediately after The Savages so the companion is Dodo Chaplet, here reprised by Lauren Cornelius, which makes an interesting dynamic as here Big Finish have created a pitch to writers to combine two versions of her character. Dodo being a character who was written differently in essentially every serial, Big Finish have given Cornelius a mix of her portrayal in The Massacre and The Gunfighters which makes her proactive and takes away the British RP allowing a slightly toned down version of the accent Jackie Lane used in The Massacre. There is only one plot point which has Dodo falling for the Monk’s story about trying to be Robin Hood in The Outlaws.
Stephen Noonan has a difficult task ahead of him, coming after three great voice actors to play the First Doctor and, of course, William Hartnell. It’s a role that he grows into but isn’t quite there yet. He has a lot of the cadence down and is a great actor to take over the role, but there are moments where he doesn’t ever pitch his voice up during some of the moments. The angry moments, especially in The Outlaws, also isn’t quite there but Noonan clearly has the chops to play this role well with a little more development. This makes it a shame that this is the only First Doctor box set announced for 2022 as I genuinely want to see more of how Noonan will play the characters in different stories. The Outlaws also has this disconnect in the titular story between the writing and the directing.
Lizbeth Myles wrote a farce in the style of The Romans or The Myth Makers using the Rufus Hound Monk while Nicholas Briggs directs the first two episodes of the story as much less comedic than the script actually is. This is perhaps because The Time Meddler is a direct inspiration for the script, though Myles doesn’t actively retread a lot of the ground of The Time Meddler in the story which means that Rufus Hound doesn’t come across as a cheap imitation of Peter Butterworth. Rufus Hound is delightful in the role as always and here he is meddling so he can se history go the way he thinks is correct with no regard for the ripples it will make, but this time with an added layer of petty as this is a direct response to The Time Meddler’s plan going awry all these years later. Myles, while doing a farcical pastiche of Robin Hood stories, includes Nicholaa de la Haye played by Glynis Barber, a female sheriff who is actually a historical figure from the time period which is really interesting. Barber is antagonistic and like other historical figures in these types of stories is a source of comedy that is undersold.
Lizzie Hopley provides the other script to this set, the one hour long story The Miniaturist which interestingly was recorded first. It is also a science fiction style story to match the other First Doctor Adventures box sets’ format of doing one historical and one science fiction story. Usually one hour stories (especially those outside of ranges like The Companion Chronicles) have issues of pacing but The Miniaturist is a script that has a single central idea and executes that idea incredibly well. The whole story is about disappearances which turn out to be people shrinking as the title implies due to the Miniaturist played by Annette Badland. Badland is playing the villain brilliantly with some great emotional twists and turns. Hopley also is reserved enough to not use a red herring involving the Master in any way, the summary on the website doesn’t imply it and the closest we get is the words tissue compression being used at one point during the story. This is also the story where Briggs’ skill as a director can be praised as some of the best of Big Finish simply because there are two child performances that know just how much to get out of the child actors, in this case Benedict Briggs and Caroline Hrycek-Robinson who despite being the kids of Briggs and producer/sound designer/mastermind behind the lunches Toby Hrycek-Robinson, do give great but small performances. The Miniaturist is also noteworthy for how surreal the story actually plays out. Each performance has this sense that the weirdness is dragging people in to be part of the surreal nature of events and the creature at the bottom of this makes such a different flavour that the Hartnell era could really be the only era to accomplish.
The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws succeeds at being a jumping on point for the First Doctor at Big Finish in giving two stories that exemplify the Hartnell era. The TARDIS team present has great potential despite some flaws in the actual finished product that will only get better with time. Both scripts are brilliant and know what they want to be while the casts are both brilliant and having a ball with the material, be it serious or farcical. 8/10.
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