Big Finish: Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures THE OUTLAWS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures THE OUTLAWS Review

Matthew Kresal finds a Chesterton, he means chest full of stories.
There's something rather special about those early black and white years of Doctor Who. A time when, with William Hartnell as the First Doctor, the series was discovering itself and what it was capable of bringing to life. It's an era that Big Finish have richly explored, first with Geoffrey Bayldon's Unbound take on this incarnation, then later in-universe with the Companion Chronicles and Early Adventures before David Bradley's take on the role shifted from screen to audio. Now, there's a new First Doctor at Big Finish, one doing for later companions what Bradley's take has done for the first TARDIS crew, making his debut in this month's The Outlaws, also featuring the two-part story The Miniaturist.

That being actor Stephen Noonan. Re-casting has been a sensitive topic, especially with fans of the Big Finish audios. Yet, as the likes of Tim Trealor's Third Doctor or Elliot Chapman's Ben Jackson to Sadie Miller's Sarah Jane Smith show, it's also something that the company has handled with respectful aplomb. That's certainly the case with Noonan here, who, like Trealor before him in that first Third Doctor Adventures set, reveals solid handling of who this Doctor is in just the opening minutes of the set. The mannerisms that Hartnell brought to the part, the hmms and chuckles, even the now-famous flubs, are all present and correct. Both stories let him play a wide range of scenes, from the comedic moments of The Outlaws to more serious, even emotional moments in The Miniaturist. Like Trealor in his first set, Noonan doesn't always have the voice perfect, aiming more for the inflections and small details, but when he does, such as early in the concluding half of The Miniaturist, the results can be uncanny. Listeners' mileage may vary, but, for this reviewer, it's Big Finish's most solid take on capturing the voice of the First Doctor since those Bayldon Unbound nearly twenty years ago.

Noonan's First Doctor gets able backing from Lauren Cornelius as Dodo. Having made a solid debut in last summer's The Secrets of Det-Sen, Cornelius once more slips into the role first played by Jackie Lane all-too-briefly in the mid-sixties. Cornelius does a fine job capturing all of Lane's energy and enthusiasm while also having a meatier role to play in things, particularly in the eerie proceedings of The Miniaturist. Given Big Finish's track record, it's unsurprising is that Dodo is better utilized here than in virtually any of her TV appearances, continuing a renaissance for the character that started with Det-Sen and would appear set to continue.

It further helps that Noonan and Cornelius are blessed with the material given to them, thanks to the two scripts in this set. The Outlaws by Lizbeth Myles is a historical, but one in the vein of Dennis Spooner scripts like The Time Meddler or the more comedic ones he penned later on in the Hartnell era. As such, it's perhaps unsurprising that Myles offers both a play of sorts on the Robin Hood legend and a rematch between this Doctor and the Meddling Monk, played once more by Rufus Hound. Myles' tale is a fantastic romp of a tale, from the bardic William of Berkshire to the interactions between the Doctor and the Monk, making this a solid opener for the set.

Lizzie Hopley concludes the set with the short but potent two-part story The Miniaturist. If The Outlaws was a story straight out of sixties Doctor Who, The Miniaturist offers something that wouldn't be out of place in the realms of Modern Who. It's a spooky piece, set around the Coulton Salt Mine and a lab on the Zechstein seabed. Yet, despite the modern setting, Hopley still very much roots this story into this TARDIS crew, using this Doctor's curiosity and hinting at Dodo's troubled home life pre-TARDIS as drivers for the plot leading to an encounter with the titular character. Indeed, it's easy to picture this being made at the time thanks to the performances, including from Annette Badland (whose presence in a cryptic teaser trailer caused brief but furious speculation of her being an Unbound Doctor) but the sound design and music of Toby Hrycek-Robinson. Hrycek-Robinson does a magnificent pastiche of the electronic music and effects of the era, creating an unsettling underscoring for proceedings that makes a strong story all the more powerful.

The Outlaws and The Miniaturist offer a solid re-launch for the First Doctor at Big Finish, from Noonan and Cornelius takes on the Doctor and Dodo to showcasing the company's ability to both pastiche and expand upon the era. With indications that David Bradley will continue in new stories with his earlier TARDIS team, it appears that listeners are in for more First Doctor tales than they ever could have hoped. And this reviewer can't wait to hear more of them.

Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 May 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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