Big Finish Review - Doctor Who - The First Doctor Adventures Volume 01
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One of the best things about Doctor Who's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013 was Mark Gatiss's An Adventure In Space And Time, which charted the creation of the show. David Bradley was superb in his performance as original star William Hartnell, backed by strong performances from Claudia Grant as Carole Anne-Ford, Jemma Powell as Jacqueline Hill and Jamie Glover as William Russell. They not only brought the original cast to life, they also created delightful recreations of the Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian's first adventures together.
With Bradley returning to play the First Doctor in Peter Capaldi's swansong Twice Upon A Time last month (check out our review here), Big Finish have also released the first of two planned box sets, creating new First Doctor adventures with Grant, Powell and Glover in tow as his original companions.
The First Doctor Adventures Vol 1 has been written by Matt Fitton and Guy Adams and is directed by Nicholas Briggs. The box set is available on the Big Finish website now and goes on general release from March 31st 2018.
Here are the synopses for both stories...
1.1 The Destination Wars by Matt Fitton
The TARDIS arrives in a gleaming utopia in the Space Year 2003. Has the Doctor truly brought Ian and Barbara home, to glimpse their future?
The world owes much to its legendary Inventor, and Susan finds herself face to face with the great benefactor. But soon, the time travellers are in a world at war and the Doctor must confront his past.
1.2 The Great White Hurricane by Guy Adams
Rival gangs turn streets into battlegrounds, and the Doctor and his friends are caught in the crossfire. They find themselves separated, and lost in the cold.
As the hunt for a fugitive turns ever more desperate, a blizzard descends. The snow keeps falling. And soon it will prove as deadly as any weapon...
I'll be joined in my review by regular contributor and massive Doctor Who fan, my 11 year old son Ben. Spoilers as always, if you haven't listened to the set yet...
One of the things I love about Doctor Who audios for Big Finish, are their abilities to recapture the essence of the time period in which the particular Doctor's stories were originally set. Tom Baker's tales feel very 70s / early 80s and Sylvester McCoy's stories are easily to imagine in a late 90s, early 90s setting. These set of adventures are no different; not only do we get the iconic, gravelly theme tunes of William Hartnell stories, but there is also a manner in which the script and performances feel like they were written and performed in the 60s too.
The Destination Wars
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
The First Doctor Adventures Volume 1 also manages to make great use of the lack of budget restraints, none more so than in the first tale The Destination Wars, which sees the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara arrive in a futuristic city full of big-screen television broadcasts and flying cars. I'm sure the boundless imagination of Verity Lambert's Doctor Who would have strived to achieve this, but there is no denying the bold direction Nicholas Briggs gives to the story to bring it to life.
The Destination Wars is a marvellously, epic, timey-wimey tale told with perfect simplicity, thanks to a strong script from Matt Fitton that still feels reminiscent of that era. The Doctor and his companions encounter what they believe to be a futuristic Earth; the kitsch awe and wonder from Ian and Barbara feels very in keeping with their characters and reminiscent of 60's shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek that would present a near future far advanced to what reality actually brought us.
There's a nice little mystery as we build to the discovery that this is a futuristic human colony, while the alien race from wars gone by, we soon learn, are not as dormant as we might think. David Bradley is also on top form, delivery that superior, mischievous arrogance of Hartnell's early performances in his interactions with Ian; the recent Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon A Time saw Bradley's First Doctor at the end of his cycle, so it was great to see him play the earlier version of the First, before he had started to mellow to his human companions.
And then we have the Master, played superbly with cold, understated menace by James Dreyfus. Every word dripped arrogance, a stripped back performance of the more maniacal traits we would see in later versions. If there was one complaint, it would be in knowing that the first incarnation of the Master was going to appear here; as soon as the 'Inventor' was mentioned, I knew immediately who Destination's benevolent benefactor really was. What was also interesting was how he interacted with Bradley's Doctor; in many ways it was the hero that came across as arrogant and dismissive, the Master's real traits only coming to the fore towards the end of the tale. Interesting too was the Doctor's willingness to use the Master's time distorting advice for his own ends and being called out on it by his companions.
The Destination Wars was a perfectly paced tale, developing all the core characters; Susan's previous encounters with the Master, to his hypnotic control of Ian, manipulating the Doctor's refusal or inability to take them home. The added epic drama of the war with the local populace that saw the city age rapidly outside the Master's control centre, made for a dramatic finale. The Doctor being the one to teach peace between these peoples was a nice contrast to the Master's war mongering, capturing the battle between good and evil that encapsulates these two characters.
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
...And so we have First Doctor tales with no narration. David Bradley was easy to listen to, though sometimes I found the companion actors a little more difficult. The idea of the Master meeting the first Doctor was going to happen eventually, but it also makes me think. So this is the master's first body right? What does he actually do to get to his last lifetime by the time he first meets the Doctor on screen? The Doctor in his THIRD incarnation. Makes you think huh? (No answer necessary)
Then we get to the companions. The take on Susan is interesting, especially as she knew the Master back on Gallifrey. It also does make you feel that she really is a child but also a fully fledged adult. The Ian and Barbara performances are also very authentic in their own right. It would be interesting if Big Finish took the Master for a spin with the Second Doctor (Get the hint Big Finish?)
One last thing to note is the way it leads into the next tale immediately. That in itself is authentic. In fact, I believe the first break between stories on the actual transmitted show was in between serials 5 and 6!
The Great White Hurricane
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
The first story segways nicely into the second in ture classic 60's Doctor Who fashion, ending the final part of The Destinations Wars in a terrific cliffhanger that sees the TARDIS crew land in late 19th Century New York and shots fired in the chaos. It sets up The Great White Hurricane nicely as the boxset tackles a pure historical tale, with the Doctor and his companions caught up in gang warfare on the streets of the city while the infamous blizzard sweeps onto the Eastern Seaboard, leaving death and devastation in its wakes.
The Great White Hurricane is a prime example of the drama of the historical event being enough to fuel the narrative without needing to resort to aliens or monsters. It is also a great character piece; while The Destination Wars had a great supporting cast in the likes of Sian Reeves' Tanna and Deli Segal's Reena (and of course James Dreyfus' Master), The Great White Hurricane presents the listener with some bright, colourful characters that are as strong as the main cast.
It is also a story of three parts; an injured Ian is taken to hospital with Barbara, where they encounter Carolina Valdes' Rosalita, a woman desperate to find her son in the chaos of the storm while suffering from a broken leg. It gives Ian and Barbara something to help fight for as they battle the elements and the gang warfare crippling New York. Susan meanwhile finds herself kidnapped in the opening act by Jackson Milner's Patrick, a gang member with surprising vulnerability as he fights to save himself from rival criminals. There is an interesting dynamic with this story; Susan playing both the victim and voice of reason as she battles to stay alive while saving Patrick's soul.
Finally we have he Doctor teaming up with Patrick's brother Daniel (Cory English) to find his grand daughter while navigating the storm and gang warfare. If anything, Bradley feels a little underused in this story, but the focus on companions and their separate journeys were always part of Doctor Who even back in the 60s. Overall The Great White Hurricane is an atmospheric, tense tale that has a totally different feel to the first but works all the better for it. Making a pure historic exciting without an added alien threat, this story works; the setting out to great use to raise the stakes all the way to the very end.
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
... In the final seconds of The Destination Wars, Ian was shot. This leads into The Great White Hurricane. Ian is injured, Susan is captured and the Doctor tells off the police. Ian is sent to hospital where Barbara accompanies him, setting up their side story. The Doctor is thrown in the cells by the police for the night then ventures out to find Susan with Susan's capturer's brother. And Susan is forced into helping Patrick (Her Captor). All the while a deadly hurricane is threatening to commit genocide on New York.
This story shows the horrors that can occur in day to day life. (Ian also nearly gets crushed by a pylon!) Eventually there issue is resolved and the Doctor is reunited with Susan and all is well.
I also think that the end - with the Doctor discovering a way to get Ian and Barbara home - will lead into box two later this year.
There are plenty of great interviews to get your teeth into, each track offering an interesting insight into the making of this box set. Nicholas Briggs talks of the desire to bring David Bradley to Big Finish after An Adventure In Space And Time - something which became possible with Bradley's return to Doctor Who in the 2017 Christmas special. There are also great insights from Claudia Grant and Jamie Glover talking about how they played Susan and Ian through the eyes of how they played Carole Anne-Ford and William Russell previously.
There are also great discussion with the cast and crew, from the desire to bring the Master to the First Doctor Adventures, to the cast tackling their performances. Carolina Valdes' approach to Rosalita's insular journey to save her son and Cory English's insight into the New York accents of the period show how deeply the cast and crew put their energy into making these audios.
Some Final Thoughts...
The First Doctor Adventures Vol 1 is a real treat for fans, building on the magic of An Adventure In Space And Time to recapture the magic of the original TARDIS team, while expanding on the mythology of Doctor Who by adding a terrific new incarnation of the Master. The core cast are all strong, but it is David Bradley who shines throughout; recasting an iconic Doctor is a hard thing to achieve, but thanks to this actor, we can enjoy more adventures with the First Doctor for some time to come...