Review: Doctor Who: Big Finish Audio: Novel Adaptations 2: The Highest Science

highest-science_cover_mediumThe Doctor and Benny investigate a Fortean Flicker and find themselves caught up in the evil schemes of Sheldukher …

As has been said on a number of occasions recently, not least on the CD extras of this release, The New Adventures produced by Virgin Publishing in the 1990s have a very important role to play in the history of Doctor Who. Many of the key players in the show’s return made their debuts on the line, not least of whom is Gareth Roberts, the author of The Highest Science.

This was Roberts’ first novel, and at times it did feel as if everything, including the kitchen sink, had been thrown into the story. This no doubt made Jac Rayner’s job much harder as adapter, and she can’t have been helped by the BBC guidelines insisting that a drugs-related plotline had to be removed from the story. This has meant quite a lot of reworking of both characters and situations, and it’s to Rayner’s credit that this version holds up really well. Many of the moments which you remember from the book are still here, and you can see the story’s effect on the contemporary series: there is one particular discussion between the Doctor and the villain which is echoed in a debate between Clara and the Doctor in Death In Heaven.

Producer Cavan Scott and director Scott Handcock have pulled together a great cast for this story, to accompany Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman as the Doctor and Benny: Sinead Keenan, Daniel Brocklebank and Sarah Ovens make a well-matched trio particularly.  The Chelonians – who make their first appearance in the Doctor Who universe in the story – are played by Wizards vs Aliens’ Tom Bell, and have a rather different voice treatment from the standard Who aliens, a nice touch by sound designer Neil Gardner.

You may feel that there are loose ends that should’ve been tied up, but this is in fact something that’s in the original book. I somehow, though, can’t see Big Finish ever adapting the 50th novel, Happy Endings – although of course the thought that these stories would ever be dramatized with McCoy playing the New Adventures Doctor would have been deemed impossible only a few years ago!

Verdict: A welcome dose of nostalgia – but with enough reworking for the format to keep it fresh. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order The Highest Science from Big Finish

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