Review: The First Doctor Adventures – The Demon Song

Review by Jacob Licklider

Alright, it’s February and Big Finish have released their first Classic Doctor set of the new year after January’s pre-1989 Doctor Who releases were limited to the Audio Novel and the Short Trips release earlier this month.  Okay so The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song was initially solicited for release in January, but it was pushed back to February probably due to production delays or time for editing.  If you can’t help, I’m stalling.  The Demon Song and The Incherton Incident make up this set are sadly stories that don’t actually have much connection, just being a two-part story and four-part story that have the same TARDIS team which is thee First Doctor and Dodo, played by Stephen Noonan and Lauren Cornelius, so as such it’s going to be a bit difficult to give the set an overall score, especially since both stories are vastly in terms of what they are attempting to do.  The first feels very modern while the second is one that takes more lengths to imitate the style of a story you would have seen in the 1960s, which makes the lack of connection between the stories feel even more stark as each story serves a very different purpose.

The Demon Song is the story that gives the set its name, the opening two-parter from new writer Bob Ayres.  It’s the modern style story of the set, set in the 2020s directly referencing the COVID-19 pandemic in its setting.  Ayres manages to naturally bring the concepts of masking and social distancing into a story that isn’t dealing with the pandemic, just integrating it as part of the “historical” setting (okay it’s a present day setting but the pandemic will end and it will be a piece of history).  The story actually deals with people going missing around Camden Town, something that only a YouTuber has noticed, a young couple is accidentally split when one of them disappears, and Dodo ends up disappearing quietly (though unlike The War Machines she still has a part to play in the story).  Daniel De’ath, played by Henry Nott, is our demonic investigator, live-streaming to an unnamed platform his escapades, most likely Twitch or YouTube, and he is a complete conspiracy nut.  He’s sadly the only person who believes people are disappearing so the Doctor is forced to work with him, and Noonan plays these scenes in particular incredibly well.  There is something great about the First Doctor in particular being increasingly annoyed by this man whose entire personality is bloviating about demons to an audience and living a pitiful life.  Bhavnisha Parmar plays Archie Pawar, one half of the couple who has disappeared is essentially in the companion role once Dodo has disappeared and honestly she fits the archetype of the 1960s companion.  It would actually be interesting if they paired two female companions and two female companions alone for the First Doctor.  Now, The Demon Song does manage to tell an amazing story full of intrigue until about the last 15 minutes where Ayres’ script starts to fall apart.  It feels like there was enough material for three episodes and the second and third episodes were combined into a single second episode.  The story feels like there is a point where the story should end but you pay attention to how much time is left in the episode and your heart sinks because the wrench that they throw into the works should be a cliffhanger.  This honestly tarnishes what could have been a perfect debut from an author, but sadly it brings the story down quite a bit.  7/10.

Nicholas Briggs provides the script for the four-part story, The Incherton Incident, and this is the story that feels like it could have been ripped straight from the 1960s in all the best ways.  The TARDIS is dragged to the village of Incherton in 1947, the Second World War has ended, and there are German bombs going off left from early on in the war (at least that’s the cover story).  This is honestly an atypical story from Briggs, it’s atmospheric and a slow burn through the first half while the second half becomes more obviously a pseudo historical story.  Packed into every scene is this tension that something is going to go off, a plot will be revealed, or the world might come crashing down, indicative of the political tension of the time in which the story is set.  There is an espionage element to the story, Dodo is accused of being a Soviet agent despite her insistence of being from Yorkshire, Genevieve Gaunt as Virginia Hancock is clearly a foreign agent from the word go.  Gaunt is wonderful in her role, despite Briggs in the behind the scenes admitting she was not the first choice for the role.  The edging of the characters towards a dangerous fate is incredibly important for making The Incherton Incident work as a story, there’s an alien influence that seems almost incomprehensible as to what it is doing.  A lot of the threat comes from the fact that ordinary people are being pushed towards acting violently, soldiers told to shoot on sight without questioning their orders, the danger of the bombs not necessarily all they seem, and the Doctor and Dodo on the back-foot.  The Doctor doesn’t have a complete understanding of the threat and is using his position as a time traveler to negate any potential damage to the timelines.  This is a story that feels as if it is going to head towards a potential end of the world scenario.  The villains of the piece don’t end up being outright aliens, though there is the alien influence, but humanity which feels appropriate for the 1960s of the show.  The entire examination of the immediate post-War tensions that would become the Cold War.  Briggs also directs the set and the performances he gets out of his actors in this story in particular are especially wonderful, helping to bring the human element further to the surface.  It’s the best story to feature Stephen Noonan thus far as the First Doctor, and here’s where it feels like he’s genuinely settled back into the role.  10/10.


Review: The First Doctor Adventures – The Outlaws

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