Big Finish Review: Doctor Who – The Quantum Possibility Engine
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October concludes this year’s trilogy of stories featuring Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, Bonnie Langford as Mel and Sophie Aldred as Ace. The Quantum Possibility Engine picks up immediately after last month’s cliff-hanger in The Dispossessed (you can read our review here).
The Quantum Possibility Engine has been written by Guy Adams and directed by Jamie Anderson and is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here. It goes on general release on the 30th November 2018. Here’s the synopsis.
The Doctor and Ace are locked up. The TARDIS is gone. Things just couldn’t get worse, could they?
Of course they could. Things can always get worse — the new President of the Solar System, Josiah W Dogbolter, didn’t get where he is in life without learning that. That’s why he has a Quantum Possibility Engine. It’s a wonderful machine, creating a wonderful Solar System. And with this wonderful device, he can bring happiness and peace to all.
Either that or tear the universe to shreds, it’s hard to be sure which.
I’ll be joined as usual by my co-reviewer, my son Ben, the biggest Doctor Who fan this side of Gallifrey…
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
The Quantum Possibility Machine is a somewhat bonkers Doctor Who story and a lot of fun too, with an incredibly entertaining cast of characters, all wrapped up in a parody of alien invasions, politics, alternate realities and paradoxes. At its core, it’s asks the question, what would happen if Trump got his hand on the TARDIS and could re-write history? Thankfully we’re spared the very real possibility – the world’s already problematic as it is.
There’s no denying that in this story, Guy Martin has created a very Trump-like figure in this version of President Josiah W Dogbolter (played with enthusiasm by Wayne Forester). He’s a cruel, ruthless businessman, fuelled by narcissism and greed, who has somehow won a popular vote to become President of the Solar System. Oh and he’s a toad too if you like your parody to cut just a little deeper. He’s bought the past debts Mel gained before re-joining the Doctor and Ace on their adventures and now that debit has been called in. With Ace and the Doctor considered harbourers of a fugitive, they’ll also implicated in the death sentence Mel has hanging over her.
I wasn’t sure if having Mel trying to save the Doctor and Ace rather than being the outright traitor the last story suggested was a good or bad thing. On one hand, the desperation to do the right thing meant that her good nature can allow her to keep travelling on the TARDIS. On the other hand, having her outrightly betraying the Doctor would have been a more interesting path – a companion gone bad is a great concept. Still, Bonnie Langford’s Mel has always been better served on Big Finish than she ever was on TV so this way she can continue her adventures for years to come.
As for the story, there's so much to invest in; from Mel's betrayal to Dogbolter facing off against Jules de Jongh's delightfully cunning Captain Regent of the Krasi. Their battle of wills is just as delightful to watch as the adventures of the main cast - the Captain regent constantly re-writing the dialogue of their engagement to suit any public situation was the ultimate take of media personality and the power of public opinion.
And then we have the droll Sean Carlsen back as recurring Big Finish Time Lord Narvin to investigate Dogbolter's attempts to utilise the TARDIS for his own ends and getting flung into an alternate world of sorts along with the Doctor and Ace, playing very different roles in Dogbolter's perverse version of the Solar System. Ace being a security officer with her own love affair allows for a slightly more mature, romantic angle for the companion while Narvin being forced to become a designer of domestic appliance and the Doctor as his semi-homeless cleaner, revising his mathematical equations and writing risotto recipes on the board, made for a wonderful double act.
Guy Adam's script is clever and witty, having great fun with its characters old and new and upping the ante to the very end; the Krazi invasion, the Doctor, Narvin and Ace on the run and Dogbolter outwitting his enemies make for a raucous, action-packed ending. There have been some very strong entries in Big Finish's Doctor Who range this year, but few have been as entertaining as The Quantum Possibility Engine, a story that remains a blast from beginning to end.
Ben Greenland (aged 12)
The Quantum Possibility Engine features the return of Dogbolter, previously seen in a few big finish audios, but mainly in the DWM comic strip where he was created. Following on from The Dispossessed last month, Mel betrayed the Doctor and Ace and sent the TARDIS to Dogbolter. The return of Narvin was unexpected, but he's a character that still makes sense, even if you have not listened to the Gallifrey audio series.
There are many interesting things about this tale; Mel trying to escape and then heroically bringing the Doctor, Ace and Narvin back, Dogbolter trying to prevent a war, and the Doctor, Ace and Narvin living different lives. My favourite parts of this scenario, is the robot that can't swear (shove it up his Armadillo) and the Doctor correcting Narvin's sums, while also having written a risotto recipe on the board.
I was slightly annoyed about the cliffhanger to part one (the Doctor, Ace and Narvin get the other lives) being used at the end of the coming soon trailer in The Dispossessed. The story is also on the political side for my liking, with the business of Dogbolter making negotiations for the engine, with someone who declares war on them.
At the story's conclusion, I wasn't sure whether Mel would stay on or not, so that was nice to look forward to. I think it would've been nice to have a face to face with the Doctor and Dogbolter, but overall I was satisfied by the tale.
Between parts two and three is an eleven minute music sequence capturing the magic and splendour of The Quantum Possibility Engine. It's bombastic, twisted, fun and atmospheric.
There is also a trailer for next's month's Warlock's Cross, which features the return of Elizabeth Klein and disgraced UNIT soldier Daniel Hopkins in the final part of this year's trilogy of new UNIT stories.
Finally the release wraps up with a fifteen minute set of interviews with the cast and crew; there is a real sense that everyone enjoyed this story a lot and the camaraderie between the three main leads McCoy, Aldred and Langford really shines through.