Fanfare for the Common Men is one of those stories that so easily could have fallen apart if any single aspect of the production wasn’t spot on. More than most alternate history tales, it relies on an accurate recreation of the period both within the context of the story, and also aurally, with a use of music that rivals the TV series’ The Rings of Akhaten.
Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa are separated for a large part of this story, which allows both to build relationships with other characters – or indeed, the same characters but at different times in their lives. Writer Eddie Robson’s clever conceit that the Common Men (first mentioned in one of the very first scenes of Doctor Who ever) have somehow risen to take the Beatles’ place leads to the Doctor interacting with this ersatz Fab Four on a cherry-picked tour of the Liverpudlians’ finest (or at least in the case of John Lennon’s infamous comparison with Christianity, most well-known) moments.
The casting is one of the strengths: Mitch Benn isn’t playing John Lennon, in the same way that Andrew Knott isn’t playing Paul McCartney. David Dobson completes the Fab Three, and the singing from the group – highlighted on the music track on the end of the first CD – recreates the Mersey sound.
Director Barnaby Edwards and sound designer/composer Howard Carter take the story to a new level with the songs and incidental music. Subscribers get more from Big Finish as we know: any chance the sheet music can be downloaded as well as the script this time around?
Verdict: Setting the bar very high for Big Finish’s 50th anniversary stories, this is a thoroughly enjoyable musical magical mystery tour. 9/10