Review: Seventh Doctor Adventures – Sullivan And Cross – AWOL

Review by Jacob Licklider

Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross have been interesting characters. Harry was a companion of the Fourth Doctor played by the late Ian Marter in Season 12, leaving in Terror of the Zygons with a brief reappearance in The Android Invasion and despite being a companion of one of the more popular Doctors, he only appeared as a companion in a handful of Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures partially due to Marter’s passing in 1986. Big Finish Productions has recently used Harry in stories like Return of the Cybermen and Kaleidoscope casting the wonderful Christopher Naylor in the part. Naomi Cross on the other hand is a Big Finish original companion played by Eleanor Crooks, who also travelled with the Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan at some point. I say at some point as the characters haven’t had their technical debut as companions with the Fourth Doctor yet and are not set to release until 2024. Further complicating the characters, they have had appearances in the spin-off UNIT Nemesis in both sets with Naomi to appear in the third set later this month. So, it comes as a complete surprise that the second Seventh Doctor set to be released this year is exploring the Doctor finding Harry and Naomi again in Sullivan and Cross – AWOL. This is set either during or after UNIT Nemesis, the writers aren’t exactly clear on how everything fits together in terms of continuity but this set spends much of its first episode focusing on Harry and Naomi in 21st century London.

This is the opening of our first story London Orbital in a nutshell, Harry and Naomi investigating weird happenings on the London Underground due to a proposed expansion to some of the lines, hence the orbital of the title. John Dorney’s title is interesting as it’s one of the few things about the audio that doesn’t really work, while yes the London Underground investigation is a starting point for the story, the story very quickly goes down a Neverwhere-esque route revealing that there is a hidden world living in parallel with Earth, a world of elves, both light and dark, who have been at war for centuries. A pair of lovers had worked towards ending the war when they were attacked in the 1970s, something that a young Harry Sullivan witnessed just before joining UNIT. London Orbital, after the opening flashback, takes place in the present day dealing with the Seventh Doctor’s machinations to end the war. McCoy’s performance here strikes a very nice balance between the master manipulator and the lighter version of the Doctor that he prefers which makes for an interesting look as this is supposed to be near the end of his life. The Doctor isn’t cruel in his manipulations of people here, but there is explicit manipulation of Harry through the events of the story to get to the war ending while it is implied he has had everything worked out from the beginning.

Dorney’s script is especially interesting as it follows a long tradition of urban fantasy tropes by wrapping them in a Doctor Who coating.  He doesn’t attempt to really explain any of the magic or society of the elves, just going along with the idea that they have always been living in secret though not with any real attempt to stay hidden from humans.  The implication that humans just haven’t been paying attention to the world living just underneath the surface is a great one and I wish Dorney could have explored it more but the story doesn’t really allow for much world-building.  There is a reliance on the listener already having the familiar plot dynamics between groups of elves throughout fantasy but not enough so that Dorney takes the time to explain it which makes some of this story’s pacing feel a bit dragged out, which is especially odd for a four parter.  Truncate this story down to three episodes and the only issues I had with it would easily be fixable, as well as a strengthening of the entire set as the second story could really use a third episode to explore what it was going for.  London Orbital does excel at allowing a great establishment for the Doctor, Harry, and Naomi.  Harry as a character is played here as less of an outright idiot and more like someone just trying the best they can which is a nice foil for Naomi’s more cynical scientist.  This is also the only story I can think of that actually uses the fact that Harry Sullivan is a doctor and is the first to show some real hints of his ability to think on his feet.  Dorney makes it clear he has grown since his initial travels (on television, I can’t say anything about the audios because I am not a time traveller).

Lisa McMullin’s Scream of the Daleks also struggles from having an unclear title, but while London Orbital could have used a little less time on redundant world-building, Scream of the Daleks is a story that could have used more time as McMullin clearly was enjoying the story she was telling.  This is a story set in multiple time periods but mainly surrounding Halloween 1969.  Combining that setting with the urban fantasy of London Orbital is feels like this set was designed around for a Halloween release making it feel kind of odd to be listening to this in the middle of November.  The use of the Daleks here is perhaps McMullin’s standout, using the first episode to build mystery and separate Harry from the Doctor and Naomi meaning he is allowed to really stand on his own and build some competence in a world ending situation.  The second episode is a springing of a trap of the Daleks, who break through a rift in the space time continuum that the Doctor and Naomi accidentally release due to jumping back and forth through various Halloweens.  The Daleks themselves needed a second episode to really make the story enter one of the greats however, as the second episode really feels like it’s two compressed into one which is a shame.  McMullin’s script and ideas are wonderful and the cast is all brilliant, Eleanor Crooks really shining when she is allowed to bounce off McCoy while Naylor’s Harry is goofier (though still capable) on his own.

Overall, Sullivan and Cross – AWOL is a set that starts a grand new era for the Seventh Doctor very well, so much so that it is a shame that this was the only set featuring this team to be released this year. It’s big problem is two stories that really don’t work well with the format of a 2 hour story and 1 hour story, as both would be improved by running to an hour and a half which would have allowed both author’s strengths to shine to their fullest. The cast is wonderful and despite being a sequel to stories that are still two years out, the TARDIS team is brilliant. 8/10.

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Review: The Seventh Doctor – The New Adventures (Vol 1)

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