Released a month earlier than expected, this is the jewel in the crown of Big Finish’s celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who – there are also trilogies in the main range (1963) and the Companion Chronicles which also specifically reference elements of the start of the series, either in the real world or the fiction of the series. It’s been released in multiple different formats, and there will be a separate review of the Limited Edition with its assorted extras to follow – for now, this deals purely with the story.
As has been proved on more than one occasion, creating a multi-Doctor story is nowhere near as easy as some fans would believe. It’s not just a question of booking the classic Doctors (has anyone else heard that we’re meant to start calling them “Heritage Doctors” soon to include Eccleston and Tennant, by the way?) and sticking them in a studio where by some magical process of writing osmosis a brilliant story will evolve which will give all of them equal billing? Terrance Dicks produced both one of the best and one of the worst of these team-ups (The Five Doctors/The Eight Doctors – delete as applicable to taste), and Big Finish consciously went a different route for the 40th anniversary, using the actors in different roles in the often-maligned Zagreus. Peter Anghelides’ The Four Doctors (a subscriber bonus in recent years) worked well, although there wasn’t much interaction between the incarnations – indeed, one had to be added to the story to avoid the Powers That Be from being lynched, from all accounts.
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs – whose time on the range began with a multi-Doctor tale, The Sirens of Time, it should be remembered – is writer and director for this, based on ideas by David Richardson and John Dorney. The central concept, that time is being folded in on itself (I found myself imagining it like an accordion squeezing together at times), is a terrific notion for justifying bringing the Doctors together – after all there’s really only one thing that completely connects the first and the eighth Doctor’s eras, and that’s the TARDIS. As Big Finish have made abundantly clear, this isn’t a Five Doctors story, with Tom Baker added to the mix – all eight Doctors play their part, and one can easily choose to believe that the scenes focusing on what the first three get up to were simply reduced in the edit. Credit to the actors bringing Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee back to life – William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar respectively.
The Master is behind events, as all the publicity makes clear, and it’s interesting to contrast his role in this story with The Five Doctors, where, albeit reluctantly, he goes to help the eponymous Time Lords. In the Ainley incarnation, a cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bore thinking about; for Beevers’ twisted madman, it’s not just something to bear thinking about, but something to be actively sought. The depths of his embitterment against the Doctor(s) is laid bare here as are his difficulties in believing that the tables can be comprehensively turned.
Each of the Doctors faces their own problems before contact is made, which allows the designated companions a chance to shine – Louise Jameson’s Leela, Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa, Nicola Bryant’s Peri, Sophie Aldred’s Ace and India Fisher’s Charlie don’t get as much to do as they might within a standard adventure (the Doctors almost become their own companions in an odd way for part of the story), but these are not “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos. There are a few of those early on, but it’s good to hear a lot of very familiar voices making even a brief appearance.
The Doctors do work together, in sometimes interesting teams (the reason for the pairings is explained in the documentary, and is almost comic in its mundanity!) and although there’s a bit of the sparring that you might expect, this is nearer the way Steven Moffat talks about Tennant and Smith’s Doctors’ pairing than the Troughton/Pertwee spats which is somehow what people seem to expect. The self-congratulation, though, is picked up on by one of the other characters. All the Doctors seem to be thoroughly enjoying working together and that comes across within the play.
There’s an appearance too by another Big Finish regular, although not the one I’d half expected – there’s no Brax popping up, and unless I missed it, no Benny either. There is a limit, even with two hours to play with, after all.
The sound design is all-encompassing, with special treatment for a number of the voices, and music given a chance to breathe from time to time: it almost feels as if Jamie Robertson has provided a short overture! The arrangement of the theme seems to try to pay homage to multiple different versions of the show (appropriately enough) and although it was a bit of a shock on first hearing, it’s grown on me.
Of course it’s not going to satisfy everybody but I can see myself returning to listen to this one a few times in the years to come.
Verdict: It’s the multi-Doctor team up most, if not all, of us have (I suspect) secretly wanted for this year. Congratulations to all involved. 10/10