Torchwood is back with a brand new seventh series, following from the Aliens Among Us and God Among Us series previously released. Now considering that I had not heard either of those two series before this point I thought I would be hopelessly lost but rest assured that this boxset feels like a good enough jumping on point since the writers do a good job at getting you up to speed quickly. The four stories here all have a strong linking theme of prejudice, and the set takes the themes to some interesting places. As a continuation of what we have seen on television, this is a worthy successor to the four series we got on our screens.
I ask, dear reader, to indulge me a moment before we get into this review proper for just a moment with a few pieces of context for this review.First and foremost, I am of the firm belief that the first series of Ninth Doctor Adventures should have ended as subtly implied with the Ninth Doctor going into the events of the television story Rose and the beginning of those adventures.Second, I am also of the belief that the Ninth Doctor especially is a character who works best when there is a companion or companion figure to be attached too.Finally, the third story of this set deals with the historical establishment of football leagues and I am an American, so take any of my takes on the history of that third episode with the largest pinch of salt you possibly can.Pioneers opens the third series of Ninth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish Productions and marks the first set in this range to not be released on vinyl as well as CD and download.This marks a very important shift for the style of these three episodes, mainly because they are not bound by the vinyl format of strictly being 45 minutes in total due to technical limitations, so these three episodes are expanded to an hour.While I personally prefer my Doctor Who stories to be generally longer than that, this jump in runtime really helps this set feel like each episode is expanded just enough to provide greater depth than previous releases had allowed.
Water Worlds and Purity Undreamed comprised the start of a brand new story arc for the Sixth Doctor and Mel, ushering in the new era of box sets for the characters under the helm of producer Jacqueline Rayner and script editor Robert Valentine.Purity Undreamed ended with the “reveal” of the story arc’s villain through slightly messy means, more importantly new companion Hebe Harrison being written out of time as if she has never existed and the implication of a rewritten future timeline where a eugenics regime has deleted any sense of disability.This implication is dark and executed at least a little messily, simplifying disability quite a bit to physical disabilities.The third set, Purity Unleashed, creates an interesting setup, it’s the Doctor and Mel searching for the infraction in history that led to Hebe’s disappearance and the further development of Patricia McBride, played by Imogen Stubbs, as Purity.While the three episodes in this set only work in the confines of this being the third set in this story arc, the timing of this set actually helps lessen some of the issues I had in particular with the previous set.Purity Undreamed was a set that as the title states is the character of Purity becoming real and not just the biases, conscious and subconscious, of Patricia McBride, yet it ends without much of a sense of the character’s villainy.Purity Unleashed is quick to rectify that in the two appearances of the character in the back to stories included, making it quite the shame that this wasn’t released soon after Purity Undreamed, the nine month wait not so much keeping tension as just questioning what exactly was going on.
Its time to dip back into Doctor Who’s most prominent bit of space-opera; The Time War. Another set of War Doctor stories are upon us and, as the title of the box-set suggests, we’re really focusing in on the relationship between the Doctor and Dalek cyborg warrior Case that first brought up in Warbringer. Across the three stories we get to see the level of trust and mistrust that plays on the minds of these tow characters, finally getting a true glimpse of how far the War Doctor is willing to go to stop the war and save his friend. But his friend may not think she needs saving from what she is, and by the final story you begin to question; is Case finally embracing the Dalek side of her personality?
Doctor Who has had a great history of short fiction, this particular range is a testament to that and quite a few of my favourite stories in the franchise have come from Big Finish’s output on the Short Trip front. It’s nice to have these shorter stories which deal with smaller scale sci-fi concepts, often putting character and theme above all else to give us more intimate narratives. In recent years they’ve even been willing to experiment with the format with stories like How To Win Planets and Influence People and Regeneration Impossible essentially being more like mini audio dramas rather simply a prose story. On a side note I would really recommend giving both of those stories a go since they are pretty cheap and help ease you into the style of story seen in this particular boxset. We’ve got six stories here so I’m not going to bore you with any more details, just know now that this boxset is going to be hard to recommend despite my overall positive response to this set.
Award-winning actress Indira Varma is crossing galaxies as she joins the new series of Doctor Who. First entering the world of Doctor Who as Suzie Costello in Russell T Davies’ spin-off series Torchwood, Indira now steps aboard the TARDIS in her new mysterious role as the Duchess.
Let’s take a moment to discuss integrating a theme into a story and how an author’s intent may perhaps become muddled by a production. Once and Future is the overarching name given to Big Finish Productions’ 60th Anniversary miniseries, planning to release monthly installments until the anniversary month and a coda in 2024. Like all anniversary specials the announcement came with a slew of guest stars and returning characters, with the premise being some incarnation of the Doctor has been attacked and is degenerating into previous incarnations of themself. This is the overarching plot of the miniseries, established at the start of Past Lives, Robert Valentine’s introductory story.
With the title and behind the scenes interviews, Valentine lays out this idea about anti-nostalgia and the pain of nostalgia, which is a laudable idea to inject into an anniversary story, especially one for a franchise that has been going for 60 years and shows no signs of stopping. It is especially prescient for an audio drama which is supplemental to the main show and whose company has had criticisms for an over reliance on nostalgia in recent years to stay in business.
This could have been an interesting examination of the need to keep referencing things and drawing people in as Valentine clearly intended, however, Past Lives just doesn’t do anything to explore those themes in its hour-long runtime. There are hints, Sarah Jane, played by Sadie Miller, is brought in right at the end of The Hand of Fear and the UNIT characters of Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood, played by Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver respectively, right before The Day of the Doctor, is a clear choice to parallel characters from after and before their involvement with the Doctor proper (though Kate had appeared in The Power of Three). The Meddling Monk being the antagonist of the story, played by Rufus Hound, also could have been a larger presence of preserving some sense of nostalgia but the script never crystalizes any of its ideas. As it stands, the plot of Past Lives is actually quite condensed, the opening and conclusion being dedicated to introducing the central idea and mystery box of Once and Future’s arc which means that Valentine only gets about 40 minutes to actually tell his story from front to back. A lot of the introduction feels incredibly rushed, with points where it feels as if Helen Goldwyn in the director’s seat has realized how tight the script needs to be to fit in the CD time limit and has some scenes just move quick. The recreation of the end of The Hand of Fear is perhaps the biggest example of this, Sadie Miller almost rushing through her lines before she is brought into the story. The conclusion is also just a lead in to the fact that the Doctor, played by Tom Baker here, is changing his appearance again and going off to find his daughter.
When the story is actually dealing with the Meddling Monk and the Hyreth invaders, crocodilian invaders whose leader is voiced by Ewan Bailey with aplomb, there’s a pretty fun story to be had there. Okay so it’s a bit standard but it genuinely feels like Valentine had a much bigger scope story to tell, but having only an hour means that a of the five major players of the Doctor, Sarah Jane, the Monk, Kate, and Osgood are competing for time in the spotlight while also exploring a new species of alien invaders and setting up a mystery box. The resolution of the story is great, with the Hyreth turning themselves into UNIT which indicates maybe there’s hope for peaceful existence with aliens which is nice. The downfall of the Hyreth feels like the point where Valentine meant to explore the idea of holding onto the past, but it just doesn’t get enough time to shine. Past Lives as a story is a perfectly fine story on its own, but as the beginning of a story arc it strays far too much into just setting up a basic premise, when more time should have been given to Valentine to actually tell the story he wanted to tell and expand on the themes that suffer from only being a small thread in the corner of the story. 5/10.
Once in a blue moon, we’ll get a story with Suzie Costello. And every time this I immediately become very interested. I’ve always thought Suzie had the potential to be one of the most interesting Torchwood agents, she’s far more morally warped than your typical agent and she often revels in the brutality she uses to get what she wants. This was used to great effect in Sync and They Keep Killing Suzie, she’s a very selfish character at heart so doing an emotionally charged character piece like what we have here could go a good way to humanise her. Marcus gets that aspect down perfectly, however there is a bit of a problem with the general narrative flow.
It’s always really cool when an actor gets to write for the character they’ve spent so long embodying and studying; Tom Baker of course gave us one of the best Fourth Doctor stories in Scratchman, Colin Baker has given us numerous short stories, Matthew Waterhouse has given us a pair of novels and Gareth David-Llyod has perfected the Ianto story. So now its time for Tom Price to pen a story for PC Andy; a comedy story making fun of modern dating practices. And you know what, it really is quite good.