Big Finish: Doctor Who FORTY 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Big Finish: Doctor Who FORTY 1 Review

Tony’s feeling…erm…in the prime of his lives.
The notion that it was forty years ago that Peter Davison took over the Tardis from Tom Baker is – to those who watched it, at least – patently absurd. In reality, it can only have been a week last Thursday.

Nevertheless, any excuse for more audio adventures with Davison’s Doctor is good enough for us, and in the first Forty box set, there’s both a celebration of the Fifth Doctor’s era, a couple of supremely engaging callbacks to Patrick Troughton’s time in the Tardis, and something altogether clever and compelling too.

The central premise in this set is that the Fifth Doctor suffers a couple of seemingly enforced time-slips, pushing him along his own timeline, while staying within his Fifth persona. Starting out with a full Tardis, the first jump pushes him beyond the point where Adric has had his collision with prehistoric Earth, which puts Nyssa and Tegan in a sticky predicament, dealing with a Doctor who doesn’t know what happened to the young Alzarian – but who very much wants to understand.

This is a ‘young’ Fifth Doctor, still more or less settling in to his body and faculties, and as such, he’s prone to a little honest “I don’t know” from time to time. That’s especially in evidence when Matt Fitton’s Secrets of Telos really gets going, because not only is the young Fifth Doctor bumped forward along his own timeline, he soon has to deal with a group of people who believe the Doctor is short and scruffy with a Beatle-cut hairdo.

That’s because Secrets of Telos is a direct sequel to Tomb of the Cybermen, with at least one person (Professor Parry) who took part in that relatively high-fatality adventure.

Partly, Secrets of Telos is a straight-down-the-line homage to Gerry Davis Troughton Cyber-stories, with a ship escaping from Telos. Parry (now played, in a masterstroke of casting, by Christopher Timothy), remembers the Second Doctor from what is just a few hours ago in his relative time, while the initially bull-headed Captain Hopper (Ronan Summers), and the impressively capable engineer, Morton (Tamzin Outhwaite) take a little more time to believe in the young blond stranger who tries to help them out.

Operating, as many of those Troughton Cyber-stories did, as a kind of precursor to the likes of Alien, escaping from Telos turns out to be harder than it looks when there’s a Cybermat on board your ship. The progress of the story is predictable, in the best retro way – first one Cybermat, then several, then injured crew getting out of their sick beds and cryo-pods as Cybermen, and from there to an increasingly desperate quest to survive.

Matt Fitton is incredibly loyal to those keynotes of Troughton Cyber-horror, but he gives the whole thing a very modern, New Who feel once the threat gets going, and the sense of a rapidly ticking clock before everyone succumbs to Cyber-conversion is palpable. But where many writers would be content to leave the story there on the ship, Fitton takes us a whole episode further than that, creating a new element that ties what we know about Telos in with what we understand about the human expedition that went looking for the Cyber-tombs. The Brotherhood of Logicians, it seems, were not the only ones interested in looting or learning from the Cybermen’s second home.

To tell you much more would be to spoiler some of the new developments Matt Fitton has added to the Telos legend, but suffice it to say the Fifth Doctor encounters a character played by none other than Barbara Flynn – who both worked with Davison on A Very Peculiar Practice, and of course was recently revealed on-screen as Tecteun, the Doctor’s adoptive ‘Mother’ in the Timeless Child era.

Her character in Secrets of Telos, Professor Vansom, brings a similar haughtiness to bear, a similar sense that her work is more important than any other concerns. And the whole section that deals with her work – and indeed her presence in the vicinity of Telos – feels like the last two episodes of a six-part story that, up until that point, you’ve thought was about something entirely different.

If the majority of Secrets of Telos has the feeling of a classic Troughton Cyber-story with a bit of 21st century oomph, when we meet Professor Vansom, the tone shifts significantly to something much more in-keeping with the on-screen Fifth Doctor era, and early Fifth Doctor, at that. Comparisons with the like of Kinda are not the kind of thing to throw about lightly, but there are distinct ripples here, as we visit a planet where indigenous life-forms and super-civilised scientists exist in a very uneasy relationship.

But even here, there are threads through from Tomb of the Cybermen. While the Brotherhood of Logicians had their own warped ideas about what could be gained by defrosting the Cybermen, Professor Vansom comes at the question from a whole different direction – though whose ideas are ultimately more monstrous, you’ll decide for yourself.

If your life has been missing the sound of Barbara Flynn and Christopher Timothy bickering about Cybermen, while Peter Davison referees, Secrets of Telos will push all the right buttons for you. But before you even get to that point, your nerves will have been put well and truly through the wringer by the escape from a ship positively crawling with Cybermats, and you’ll have got more than your money’s worth out of the character dynamics between Parry, Morton, and Hopper, all of whom are written in the style of the Sixties show, but with a bit more grit and modern humanity, to keep their arguments interesting.

There are also some great scenes for Nyssa and Tegan in this story, the pair reflecting on life as a companion, and the oddness of seemingly having the younger Fifth Doctor back again. And Peter Davison himself makes the most of the tonal differences between his ‘first season’ performance and his later characterisation, particularly at Big Finish. The result is a freshness, an intuition and an uncertainty balanced just beneath the surface of the performance, which is an energetic treat.

If there’s one particular flaw in Secrets of Telos, it’s an entirely unavoidable one. The Cybermen’s voices in the Tomb era were created by a particularly tricky piece of kit. The modern equivalent that gets you the same effect is still a tricky piece of kit, according to the voicebox of half the galaxy’s wrong ’uns, Nicholas Briggs, as revealed in the Behind the Scenes content for this story.

The point of which though is that these Cyber-voices sometimes make it difficult to decipher the actual words they’re speaking under the electric effects. That’s a thing made particularly noticeable on audio, and even more noticeable when two Cybermen have a conversation. There are a few moments here where you have to just assume you understand what they would be saying to one another and move on.

That’s a trap you can’t escape when you’re creating a direct sequel to Tomb of the Cybermen, though – having any other Cyber-voices in this context would be ludicrous and would destroy the tone of the piece.

As a first story to pitch us into a new sequence for the Fifth Doctor, Secrets of Telos is a thing of brilliance – the story paying all available homage to Tomb of the Cybermen, but also keeping the hooks for the Forty sequence strong and present. We’re always left wondering WHY the Fifth Doctor is suddenly jumping through his timeline. If you’re going to have a celebration of Peter Davison – and why in the universe wouldn’t you? - then combining old-style Cybermen, time-jumps and two of Davison’s leading co-stars in the 1980s, Christopher Timothy and Barbara Flynn, is a cracking way to set about it.

The homage to the Troughton era continues in fine form in Sarah Grochala’s God of War.

It’s no secret that this story features the Ice Warriors – they’re right there on the cover, after all. And while Troughton’s original Ice Warriors story took a future human civilisation into a ‘second ice age,’ Sarah Grochala takes a logically opposite approach, whisking the Doctor and his friends back to 9th century Iceland, before largely replaying many of the beats of the original Ice Warrior story.

That’s not in any sense to say she’s fallen down in the creativity department. Not at all – in fact, the title goes some way to explaining the crux of the difference between the two adventures. When second ice age humans met the Ice Warriors, they were clearly aliens. To the settlement we visit in this story, an Ice Warrior, having awoken, is hailed as a god, and it’s not long before he has the settlement digging deep into the ice to recover his crashed spaceship – and his comrades.

That difference of tone makes for a great deal of the drama here, but even more than that, this story is a case of “Never mind the aliens, feel the characterisation.” The settlement is composed entirely of women and children, and we learn some lessons about Icelandic domestic protocol and justice as we find out how that has come about. It’s poignant – and not for nothing, it will make you think about our own society and its persistent patriarchal underpinnings.

Bringing Belinda Lang into your cast is more or less always going to be a good idea – she can bring both brightness, and as here, a firmness of purpose to her performance that, for instance, makes her ideal as Revna Ulfdottir, the leader of the settlement. Revna’s been hard done by in her life, and has a primal need for the gods in whom she believes to answer her prayers – something she believes they’ve done when she encounters her first Ice Warrior.

And while listeners of a certain age will know Belinda Lang by name, by sight and by voice, keep an ear open for Matilda Tucker as Revna’s daughter, Inga. She becomes more or less the story-specific companion here, and the dynamic she delivers is a match for Lang’s Revna, so you really believe their mother-teenage daughter squabbles. Once you’ve heared her here, you’ll keep an eye out for the name Matilda Tucker in future productions, because her performance is nuanced and entirely believable.

The Ice Warrior plot is fairly straightforward – crashed ship under the ice, one Ice Warrior revives, gets humans to dig out his ship and comrades, then things go…significantly pear-shaped.

But the underlying story of the Forty arc is pulled along too, by the fact that having learned of Adric’s death on his previous timeline jump, the Fifth Doctor gets catapulted back into an era before the Alzarian met the Cybermen, and has to reconcile himself to interacting with the boy despite knowing his future.

That leads to tangential apologies and an almost paternal tenderness in the Doctor’s scenes with Adric here – and it’s also a good story for the boy genius from the pocket universe, as he saves lives and frees a spaceship from an ice-prison, proving himself much more than an exposition-engine – always a challenge in a Tarids as full as Peter Davison’s initially was.

As with Secrets of Telos, while the essential Ice Warrior action has a pleasingly retro feel, evoking Troughton-era monster story plotting, it’s energised by modern writing sensibilities and character-depth.

Forty promises to be both a hell of a ride and a festival of individual joys, celebrating the history of the Fifth Doctor, the history of Doctor Who, and to some extent the history of Peter Davison as an acting icon. The first set in the sequence gives you Second Doctor plotting and monsters, with Fifth Doctor energy, and the best elements of character-driven 21st century adventure writing. If you’re a Fifth Doctor fan, you’re going to want the whole Forty sequence, and in Forty 1, the adventure’s off to an impeccable start.

Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor Adventures: Forty 1 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 28 February 2022, 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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad