There’s an old dictum that states that the Doctor is fundamentally the same character, no matter what the incarnation – some elements remain the same, come what may, even if the outer trappings (the clothes, the speech patterns etc.) differ. That’s very definitely not the case with the latest Doctor to join the Big Finish line-up.
John Hurt’s Doctor may have come about following rapid last minute changes to plans for the show’s 50th anniversary, but he was definitely one of the key elements that made The Day of the Doctor work so well: a classic era Doctor in the worlds of the new series. As we discovered then, that was his final story, and otherwise all we’ve had is George Mann’s enjoyable Engines of War. Now Hurt has committed not just to a single guest appearance in the Big Finish line, as you might have expected, but a full batch of box sets, the first of which is written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.
Briggs has written for many of the Doctors and knows what makes a good Doctor Who story work (as well as being responsible for some of Big Finish’s more unusual stories – Creatures of Beauty is still one of my favourite Davison tales). It means he knows the tropes to play with and how to make this one of the most unpredictable stories Big Finish has done – which other Doctor would turn on his “companion” in the way Hurt’s Time Lord does here? And yet, beneath it all, much as he may rail at anyone who calls him by that name, this “no-one” can’t help being the Doctor, and coming to the aid of people who aren’t necessarily caught up in his all-encompassing fight…
Hurt is, as you’d expect, excellent in the role – perhaps a little too enthusiastically over the top at times, but not so much you’re pulled too far out of the story – with the world-weariness of this ninth incarnation ever-present. Lucy Briggs-Owen makes a good foil for him, and it’s great to hear Jacqueline Pearce back in action, this time as Cardinal Ollistra (though this first story does make her feel a little too Servalan-esque – something I’m guessing will be addressed down the line once we spend more time with her). Howard Carter’s sound and music – and particularly the appropriately martial version of the theme – contribute to the scope.
Verdict: A very strong start. 9/10