Review: Doctor Who – Forty

Review by Jacob Licklider

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic making time feel incredibly compressed, it is now 2022, and with 2022 comes Big Finish Productions’ new format for release, something that had been slowly introduced throughout 2021. Everything’s a three-disc box set and the first release of the year, like the first release of 2021, is a celebratory anniversary set, this time celebrating Peter Davison’s 40th anniversary as the Fifth Doctor with the first of two box sets under the umbrella label Forty. The premise of what is essentially the Fifth Doctor’s consciousness being catapulted across his timeline in no particular order, both forwards and backwards from his second story, Four to Doomsday, to Season 20, and as the brief for the second set implies, Season 21. Unlike last year’s Masterful, Forty isn’t a single story, but a series of interconnected stories with this volume containing the four-part Secrets of Telos and the two-part God of War with the second not currently having all of its story details announced (only one story has a title, The Auton Infinity). The story arc of the sets doesn’t actually get close to an explanation, ending with the Doctor still being catapulted around his timeline. There is a nice thematic through-line for the first set with the Doctor being taken in the first story to a time after Earthshock where he finds out Adric’s fate while going back in the second story to several stories below the young companion’s demise meaning the Doctor has to face the fact that he knows where Adric is going and actively has to move him towards that fate.

Secrets of Telos opens the set and is like the third Big Finish story to be a sequel (or pseudo-sequel) to The Tomb of the Cybermen, and somehow Matt Fitton actually makes it work. This is done by making it a genuine sequel and less reliant than the weaker Return to Telos from the Fourth Doctor Adventures range. Matt Fitton doesn’t just reference The Tomb of the Cybermen, instead using the characters and going into the background of why the expedition to Telos happened as well as its funding and what happened as soon as the ship left Telos. The setting doesn’t take the characters back into the ice tombs of Telos, but another planet in the system which makes for an interesting setting. The true villain here is capitalism as happens to be quite a lot of Doctor Who audios recently, and Barbara Flynn, most recently seen in Flux, plays a professor colleague of Professor Parry with Christopher Timothy taking over from the late Aubrey Richards. It’s also a story of two halves, the first essentially being a base under siege story on the spaceship where the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa arrive and are understandably immediately captured as saboteurs while Cybermats have also made their way onto the ship. The second half moves to crash landing on a jungle planet where there are Cybermen, and another member of the crew being half converted giving us some great body horror. Nicholas Briggs voices the Cybermen here which is perhaps the best these versions have sounded on audio, which is great as the machinery to produce the voice is quite difficult to use for an extended period of time. That might be why the Cybermen while prominently featured are cleverly put in the background for the first half which Fitton uses to establish much about the environment, including some extended flashback sequences where Flynn gets to shine. Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding also get to shine here as both get to play their characters as intentionally hiding Adric’s death throughout the story which creates a fascinating dynamic. 8/10.

God of War perhaps has its biggest issue being packed full of ideas without having enough time to explore them all. Being only two-parts, it means that the story is essentially over before it has the chance to get going, which is a shame as Sarah Grochala’s script explores history that Doctor Who (as far as I know at least) has only covered once in The Time Meddler (albeit from the perspective of the British). This is a story about Vikings, specifically certain Viking woman who are abandoned on Iceland when their husbands divorce them beneath a volcano. I did not do any research into if these practices were historical in nature or if they were invented for this story, but its an effective way to make interesting characters quickly and keep them isolated. The premise involves Ice Warriors waking up and having to be defeated which is perhaps the closest to a standard Doctor Who story that this story gets. It’s also surprising it took this long to put the Ice Warriors into a story with Vikings due to the similarities in designs of the Martians with the stereotype of a Viking. The story really shines with how it handles the Fifth Doctor now knowing that Adric is going to die and being unable to change with that foreknowledge. Matthew Waterhouse is perfect at playing Adric here as earnest, naïve, and oblivious to what his fate is going to be, but the Doctor can’t find himself. The big problem really is that it’s a bit too short for its own good. 8/10.

Overall, Forty is a great box set to ring in the New Year with containing two distinct stories with an interesting, non-linear connection between them. The cast is on top form and the chemistry between Davison, Fielding, Sutton, and Waterhouse has never been better. The supporting casts are also essentially old friends of Davison (or old colleagues) which adds to the celebratory attitude. 8/10

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