Review by Jacob Licklider
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.
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Big Finish announce eight-part multi-Doctor audio drama series celebrating the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who
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