English Gentleman: This is the fifth Doctor I have always asked for (but rarely got). Davison is a revelation on audio, his instantly recognisable voice commanding and a little older sounding, but all to the benefit of his younger looking Doctor. You would think that surrounded by the bombastic sixth Doctor and manipulative little seventh Doctor he would be a bit lost but Davison holds his own beautifully. He is a first class gentleman, travelling with Tegan and Turlough but we don’t get to see them (hurrah, unencumbered with whining companions!), described as an educated young man and compassionate. He can think on his feet quickly too, making up lies to get back to the TARDIS. This is a very promising beginning for the fifth Doctor on audio.
Softer Six: As good as Davison is, Baker matches him beat for beat. This is the real renaissance of Big Finish, rehabilitating the sixth Doctor, a much hated incarnation of the Doctor. It has long been proposed by Baker fans (including myself) that it was the scripts and behind the scenes that spoiled what could have been a decent run for a fine actor and Big Finish has given us the proof. With Baker finally having some input into what makes his Doctor tick he makes him an amiable, polite, charming sort of fellow, travelling alone, softly spoken and a real treat to share an adventure with. He is observant, surprisingly modest for the most part, tangles with the authorities with glee and with a gift for poetry. A genuine pleasure to listen this sixth Doctor.
The Real McCoy: The most disappointing transition to audio is the seventh Doctor who relied on his brooding presence and piercing eyes to puncture a scene on television. I always felt that McCoy was the weakest performer, with some inconsistent performances unbalancing some great scripts and he is certainly the least believable of the three here. He still has real trouble shouting convincingly (its really odd!) and doesn’t really have a chance to shine in his episode, overshadowed by the plot going on around him. Still there are a few compensations, he has a melancholic tone to his voice in his first few scenes, cooing to the TARDIS affectionately and he has a few funny moments when he is with the other two, especially when he uses the more rotund sixth Doctor to break his fall at one point. Described as the thinker.
Great ideas: The Temporan, the legendary time beast that folds its way through the oceans of time, serene, sublime. A prison planet holding a war criminal. The Sirens of Time feeding on divergences in the timeline. The story cleverly allows us to enjoy an episode with each Doctor stopping at a pivotal point and we learn in the last episode that he made the wrong choices and changed the timeline, feeding the Sirens the energy they extract from such deviations. They need others to cause destruction for them and Elanya/Helen/Ellie nudged at each Doctor in the right direction to do so. That’s some ambitious plotting.
Standout Performance: Sarah Mowat because she plays four different characters and manages to make enough differences to make each feel like a character in their own right. I can completely understand why Nick Briggs gave her her own series in Dalek Empire. Maggie Stables deserves the runner up prize for her unforgettable turn as Ruthley, chewing the scenery fabulously and being just weird enough to be slightly scary!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you do obey your orders Commander you’ll be signing the death warrants of the Time Lords.’
‘The Time Lords really do want me dead!’
Embarrassing Dialogue: ‘I’d trust you to drive me naked through a cheese grater.’
Musical Cues: There is a haunting musical cue, a ghostly vocal that plays once in each episode that sounds a little like the music from Enlightenment.
Audio Landscape: The spaceship crash landing made me duck! The echo effect is used a couple of times but it is very atmospheric.
Isn’t that Odd: That the Tom Baker music introduces each episode when he was the only person who did not take part!
Standout Moment: The Time Lords taking over the German officer and attempting to assassinate the fifth Doctor – nail biting stuff!
Result: As an opening story this is probably a little too ambitious, especially since Big Finish were still finding their legs. I’m certain had they tried this story around the time of Zagreus when both the company and Nick Briggs had had much more practice at this sort of thing it would have been more dramatic and much more of an impact. It’s a nice idea to have three separate episodes with individual stories and then tie them all together in the final episode but everything feels oddly disjointed, that fourth episode is a long time coming and ending each episode on a cliffhanger that we don’t get to see resolved is frustrating and hard to move onto the next story. Saying that the story boasts some lovely ideas, some crude but still atmospheric audio landscapes and a good pace that never flags. Baker and Davison are surprise highlights whilst McCoy sounds oddly amateurish in places. It doesn’t help that the individual stories aren’t that interesting; episode two stands out and gives me hope that Big Finish will attempt more grand Historicals in the future. The final episode is okay but muted considering it is about 3 Doctors saving Gallifrey from invading conquerors. There is enough here to promise better things for the future but Nick Briggs will write and direct far better stories in the future: 5/10
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/