I’ve started my journey through Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas with the Fifth Doctor stories, which is where I am up to presently in my TV marathon, beginning with the “highlights” first as I dip my toes into Big Finish (I’ve already shared my thoughts on Spare Parts).
Iterations of I
Iterations of I features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric. The story follows the TARDIS crew as they investigate disappearances on a lonely island in Ireland involving a strange cult dedicated to finding God in a number. It is a haunted house story with an imaginative sci-fi twist: sentient numbers, or creatures that exist in the realm of mathematics. The concept is positively inspired, one of those luminous ideas writers occasionally hit upon analogous to striking gold. The concept, and the story surrounding it, is masterfully executed, as claustrophobic tension and mystery is injected in generous doses into the story, keeping the listener positively gripped by the unfolding drama throughout. The concept, of creatures that reside in another realm of existence, and in particular the Doctor’s suggestion that, in killing people, they were only attempting to communicate, reminded me of the recent episode Flatline in Series 8, which was another excellent story with an inspired concept. Iterations of I is exactly the kind of intelligent, mature drama that I was expecting when I began to listen to Big Finish — drama that exercises the imagination as well as merely entertains — and I was not disappointed by any means. Rating: 10/10.
Psychodrome is the other story from the Fifth Doctor box-set (the first being Iterations of I), set shortly after the events of Castrovalva, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric. The TARDIS team happen upon a very strange place: a seemingly enormous cave, in one corner a spaceship of human colonists, in another a castle and a royal court, in another a monastery populated by monks dedicated to scientific inquiry. Psychodrome is a very original story with an ingenious twist (which I shan’t spoil, except to say that it bears some resemblance conceptually to one of my favourite stories in Series 6). It is a much more personal and intimate story than it first seems, and not only because it is set at a time when the TARDIS crew were unfamiliar with each other and their new Doctor. There are a number of quiet little moments between the characters that allows us to empathise with them in a way that we often don’t get to on screen. The characters’ fledgling insecurities, fears and resentments about each other are explored in this story, and in fact form a major point in the story. While Psychodrome is generally a great story all-round, one thing it suffers from is too many characters and too many things happening at once: the listener (or at least this listener) tends to struggle keeping up with what’s going on and who’s talking, something that exacerbates the original problem in the overcrowded TARDIS of Davison’s era. Rating: 8/10.
Creatures of Beauty
Creatures of Beauty sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa become involved in a bitter political situation on the planet Veln, where, a couple of generations ago, a Koteem waste transport ship broke up in the atmosphere, releasing dyestrial toxins which would go on to destroy the environment and doom its people to a slow death. The story follows the Doctor and Nyssa as they are mistaken for agents of the hated Koteem and become embroiled in the politics of this dying planet. Creatures of Beauty is a brilliant self-contained story, one of those Doctor Who stories where the focus is not so much on the Doctor and his companions, but the place they come to and the people they become involved with. This is one of those Who stories where the Doctor plays a passive role and, seemingly, doesn’t change anything or intervene, although there is a great twist in relation to this at the end. This story does not unfold in the right order: it begins in the middle of the plot and jumps forwards and backwards throughout. This is a clever storytelling device, but it is slightly confusing here, especially when the story appears to end at the conclusion of Part 3 (prompting me to confusedly check if I’d been listening to the story in the wrong order). Nevertheless, a very gripping and memorable story. Rating: 9/10.
Circular Time is a compendium of five 25-minute stories involving the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. The first, Spring, sees the Doctor and Nyssa pay a visit to a rogue Time Lord who has set himself up as the leader of a civilisation of flightless birds. The second, Summer, sees them imprisoned by the Warden of the Royal Mint, Sir Isaac Newton, for possession of “counterfeit” coins (from Earth’s future). The third, Autumn, sees the pair settle down in an English village as the Doctor takes up with a village cricket team and Nyssa tries to write a novel, and becomes involved with a romantic interest in the process. The final story, Winter, follows an aged Nyssa, who, disturbed by dreams of the Doctor, uses a device to examine her dreams, only to find she has entered the strange dreams of the Doctor. Circular Time is a nice little collection of stories (I am tempted to say “cute”) that stray from the traditional Doctor Who formula: Spring and Summer are the only stories that bear any resemblance to conventional Doctor Who, while Autumn is a contemplative little tale, and Winter an intriguing insight into the Doctor’s mind. Each of the stories is strong in its own right, Autumn being the strongest, a story with no obvious plot or conflict, but which ends on a poignant, even philosophical note. It’s hard to rate Circular Time as a whole, so I’m going to give each of the stories a separate rating. Spring: 7/10. Summer: 8/10. Autumn: 9/10. Winter: 9/10.