Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Entanglement
The First Doctor continues his run of strong, evocative and pondrous stories in series five of The Early Adventures for Big Finish with Entanglement, a tale of mystery and history in the true spirit of 1960s Doctor Who.
Entanglement, penned by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, was directed by Lisa Bowerman and is available for download here from Big Finish Productions. It will be available on general release on December 31st 2018.
Read my reviews of The Dalek Occupation of Winter and An Ideal World before delving into Entanglement.
First, here's the synopsis:
Cambridge, England, the mid 1930s. When the Doctor, Steven and Vicki get separated from the TARDIS they are forced to spend some time amongst the ancient spires of Sedgwick College. The college is mid-way through a leadership crisis following the unexplained disappearance of the Master of Sedgwick, Sir Isaiah Hardy. An election for his replacement is now taking place.
But is that all that’s happening in this seemingly peaceful location? The Proctors are behaving in mysterious ways and the students are prone to bursts of unexplained violence. When one of his companions also vanishes, the Doctor realises that there’s more at stake here than control of an educational establishment. A dark plan is underway - one that threatens the entire future of humanity itself!
The third installment in the latest series of The Early Adventures continues the momentum gathered in releases one and two by creating a string of sixteen episodes - eight hours - about one of the earliest TARDIS teams, the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki. Entanglement moves away from the foreign planet setting of the previous two releases, however, and lands the trio in rainy 1930s Cambridge - all old stone corridors and chambers. Almost immediately they discover that Provost Sir Isaiah Harding is missing and there have been unexplained outbursts of anger from students.
In an inversion on the common trope of the Doctor suspecting something is up while his companions simply wish to enjoy themselves or explore their surroundings; this time it is the Doctor who does not seem to be concerned with what they learn upon arriving. The initial problem of getting the TARDIS out of the story is also done effectively – this time it is placed physically out of reach on a rooftop, which is a fairly simplistic yet strangely appropriate dramatic device considering the show's humble origins.
With an election approaching, proceedings are being overseen by a pair of proctors who most assuredly would prove off-puttingly strange and inhuman if one were to meet them in a darkened Cambridge courtyard. Aloof and vaguely menacing, the 'bulldogs' serve well as the mysterious figures with something to hide – the stilted, inhuman servants acting as forerunners for the bigger threat to be conventionally revealed at a later point.
Professor Charles Lewis, the frontrunner candidate for the election, is portrayed as the story’s antagonist with ostensibly alien technology and something to hide. He is contrasted with the livelier and more amicable Professor Linus Woolf, also a contender for the vacated position of Provost. Yet as this is Doctor Who - and a Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky script - there are twists, turns, reveals and betrayals that would make it an impressive feat to guess at the true story at the outset.
One should always have a second plan instead the first goes awry.
Vicki and Steven initially are not given as much to do as the Doctor is the one, butting heads with the upper echelons of the university, though Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves' characters soon find themselves embroiled in the machinations of the college proctors and indeed do much of the investigation themselves. They also capably bring a brother-and-sister dynamic – which is what you would imagine the real-life relationship between Peter and Maureen is like.
With Peter Purves’ impression, one can believably imagine William Hartnell’s Doctor fumbling about under the guise of a clumsy old white-haired man – but always with an underlying spark of intelligence.
The story is steadily and intentionally plotted – revelations about the mystery come steadily (such as the reveal of the Entanglement Engine), all character groups have roles to play and the writing team have obviously done their research. Halfway, too, the story takes a turn into a fantastic, whimsical pastiche of Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, while in Cambridge, the Doctor organises an election campaign.
There is a decent balance of menace and humour, but certainly with a serious overall threat to this series of The Early Adventures. Entanglement proves to be a competent pseudo-historical with interesting science fiction aspects, an enveloping mystery full of twists and turns that progresses and reveals itself steadily.
Cambridge eccentricism is mixed with moral questions about the inherent goodness or evil of humanity. And a cliffhanger for the following story - Vicki falling down, down into the rabbit hole - will, it seems from a read of the synopsis for next month's release, have significant consequences.
A trailer for December’s The Crash of the UK-201 promises a Vicki-centric story that questions what would happen if she could change her own personal history.
In addition to eleven minutes of a music suite from Toby Hrycek-Robinson (full of tense strings and suspenseful melodies), cast and crew provide almost a quarter hour of insights into recording process and actor anecdotes.
When he was at his best, he was a terrific actor - so it's great fun to play him.
Writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky reveal their influences drawn from C.P. Snow, Lewis Carroll and the Cambridge spy ring. As writers and cast explain, the story is packed full of references (including, it is stated, 40 to Lewis Carroll alone) - I certainly commend those who catch all or most of them!
There are multiple points of admiration for Purves' Hartnell impression, and his own admiration of Hartnell. And it turns out that for the uninitiated, there are multiple characters in the drama who actually hold real-world historical significance, but who feature here in an unrelated and 'new' way.
All in all, series five of The Early Adventures does admirably in recreating an era while pushing the drama to an even more engaging level.