Big Finish: Doctor Who THE FIRST DOCTOR ADVENTURES Vol 5 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who THE FIRST DOCTOR ADVENTURES Vol 5 Review

Tony’s feeling ruff.
The First Doctor Adventures sets with the David Bradley cast have often followed a tried and trusted formula – one space or futuristic story, one Earth historical, more or less by way of capturing the spirit of those early black and white years before the historicals were largely phased out.

It’s a combination that works well on audio, because it shows how the medium can deliver the drama, meeting both challenges with the same central cast.

Volume 5 sticks with this winning format, giving us For The Glory Of Urth, by Guy Adams – and no, that’s not a typo – and The Hollow Crown, by Sarah Grochala. One space, one history. Everybody clear? Good, let’s go adventuring.

Doctor Who has almost always been a great platform for satire and allegory. By spinning events on our recognisable Earth off into a science-fiction setting, it’s been able to entertain and inform at the same time. It’s also been able to let writers a little off the leash and give their take on things. This sort of freedom is what brought us Terry Nation’s views on the idiocy of Nazi ideology, wrapped up in a personal tank and called a Dalek. It’s what gave us Kit Pedler’s fear of a lost humanity through organ replacement surgery, wrapped in bandages and called the Cybermen. It’s what gave us Robert Holmes’ scathing indictment on commercialism culture, the shop window dummies who fought back, known as the Autons. Holmes, again in a scathing mood, created the Sontarans as a satire on big-minded militarism. And let’s not forget what happens if you send Robert Holmes and excessively high tax demand – you end up being mercilessly parodied in the Sunmakers, that’s what.

If there’s writer in the audio world of Big Finish who most precisely channels Holmes’ ‘better writing through satire’ abilities…it’s probably Guy Adams. There are other great comic writers in the Big Finish ‘stable,’ but no-one quite sticks the knife into modern life and makes it bleed pure science-fiction satire like Adams.

Strap yourself in when you listen to For The Glory Of Urth – it’s almost too close to the bone of real life in the 21st century bone, while simultaneously being a highly effective futuristic science fiction story.

The Doctor and his friends materialise on Urth, where all that remains of the human race suffer a godawful life under the grinding rule of an arrogant upper class who make regular proclamations of love for the proles, while demanding they go without more food, work harder, or take the option of being destroyed, to – in almost as many words – decrease the surplus population, for the good of Urth. This is a society in which the upper crust is so singularly, pointlessly pleased with itself, it strives to maintain nothing less than species purity – there are regular scans for people with any alien DNA, and if it is found, they are immediately part of the underclass, or possibly just tortured and killed for their outsider nature.

There is also a generic, uncomplicated, shamefully recognisable ‘fear of the alien,’ on the grounds that Urth is the last outpost of the ‘inherently superior’ human race, and that aliens want to come and destroy that precious, proud heritage, either directly by war, or through underhanded co-mingling.

In a sense, Urth is an outpost of Fascism for cretins, and pleasingly, both the Gallifreyans and the 1960s humans are revolted by what they find there. The story develops in ways that are simply sublime in the second half of the running time, but to tell you much about those developments would be very much a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the assumptions on which the first half of the story is based are perhaps not as sound as they’re made out to be, and when Guy Adams’ story blossoms and we get to meet some actual potential alien invaders, the parallels between the current world of Brexit Britain and the world of Urth and its tin-pot little ‘Feel sorry for me with my burden of command’ rulers become positively “chef’s kiss” perfect.

Clive Wood as Daddy Dominus, the self-important, self-pitying is perfect in terms of being jussst far enough from observable reality to be a legitimate science fiction performance, and the double act of horrorshows that are Mummy Martial (Amanda Hurwitz), the chief strategist of Urth, and Sissy Cruciatu (Susie Emmett), its chief scientist and torturer (Err…yes, it’s that sort of a world) are the kind of venom-spitting odd couple that made some of Eric Saward’s sharpest stories zing.

Be aware, the world of Urth is no fun. Spending too much time there would be nauseating in the extreme, like living in a UKIPtopia. But the writing and the performances that make Urth come alive are so sublime, you’ll go back for many a re-listen to this story. You won’t be able to stop yourself, it’s just that cathartic, like squeezing a really ripe spot.

And speaking of “Out, damn spot!,” after what seems like a solution to all the early First Doctor’s navigational troubles, in The Hollow Crown, the Doctor manages to get Ian and Barbara back to Shoreditch.

Just…under the rule of the wrong Elizabeth.

Yes, we’re back in Elizabethan London here, in the company of William Shakespeare. There are delicate Doctor Who timelines not to disturb on both counts this far into New Who territory, especially as the First Doctor won’t be aware of any of them.

Sarah Grochala’s story navigates these elements with a seeming ease, without at any point ducking them. Also, unlike celebrity historicals in the Tennant era, when those elements were set up, there’s no wink to ‘camera’ about these things here – they’re just presented as the standard perils of time travel, while the story itself digs deep and hooks you in. There are rogue plays, rabble rousers, cross-dressing red herrings, a friend of the queen and an ill-fated rebellion here, all of which the Tardis crew have to navigate.

Add to that some really sparky crew dynamics, with Susan doing her best ‘sulky Earth teenager’ act in the company of a son history says Shakespeare doesn’t have. Barbara, meanwhile – relatively fresh from her experience with the Aztecs, and similar experiences in recent audio adventures too – is determined to stick her neck out and tell the rebels that they’re doomed. And for once, it’s Ian who’s equally determined to see exactly what might be changed about the history we think we know. It all makes for a heady, involving drama that zips by much faster than its run time will have you believe.

Oh, also, it stars Wendy Craig as Elizabeth I, than which nothing better exists in this vale of rampant what-the-hellery.

Bradley’s Tardis team has long settled into their roles, and with the always slightly unnerving fact that Claudia Grant sounds more like Susan when she’s just being Claudia Grant than when she’s acting as Susan understood, they’re a highly enjoyable team. It’s worth giving additional props to Jemma Powell as Barbara this time out too, especially in The Hollow Crown, where Barbara’s role is superbly well-written and realised.

All in all, For The Glory Of Urth and The Hollow Crown are extremely different stories, with similarities in their underpinnings. They each make us look at some things we think we understand from a brand new angle, and they both do so while very firmly determined to tell a great story first and foremost.

They succeed all along the way, which means the First Doctor Adventures, Volume 5 can stand proudly alongside its predecessor sets – which, given the quality of this range, is both never necessarily a given, and is really saying something. You have to work almost ridiculously hard to turn out stories this engaging while being true to both the spirit of early sixties Who, and to the spirit of enhances adventure that 21st century audio allows. Everyone involved in the First Doctor Adventures, Volume 5 works that hard, and the result is a set that delivers on every level.

Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures Volume 05 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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