The Churchill Years is another great idea from the Big Finish team that expands our Whoniverse further still. We know that the Doctor and Winston (Ian McNeice) had a history. It was made quite obvious in Victory Of The Daleks that the pair were friends, and had met before. The Churchill Years aims to fill in some blanks for the audience, and share some of that history.
Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill), Danny Horn (Kazran Sardick), Holly Earl (Lily Arwell), Emily Atack (Hetty Warner), Michael Gould (Frederick Lindemann), Derek Riddell (Lt-Commander Sandy McNish), Phil Mulryne (Able Seaman Phillips), Jo Stone-Fewings (Major Wheatley) Amerjit Deu (The Swami), Stewart Scudamore(Danvers), Alistair Petrie (Julius Caesar), Laura Rogers (Queen Tristahna), Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Whitaker), John Banks (Mr Rogers) and Nicholas Briggs (The Dalek)
Producer David RichardsonScript Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
The Oncoming Storm by Phil Mulryne
The first story in this set of four is The Oncoming Storm. We find Churchill in 1939, before he becomes Prime Minister. As the story unfolds, an unusually smooth stone is discovered on the banks of the Thames. The stone seems to briefly give anyone who touches it a Godlike amount of intelligence, but only for a very short time.
The enemy here is not only the Nazi threat, but also some strange soldiers, who speak in a very peculiar way. Churchill is helped by his new secretary Hetty Warner (Emily Atack), Frederick Lindemann (Michael Gould) and Lt- Commander Sandy McNish (Tooth and Claw’s Derek Riddell).
Alongside McNeice, it is Atack who really stands out. Hetty Warner is a great creation that put me in mind of Marvel’s Agent Carter. I felt the alien threat here to be quite familiar, and vaguely underwhelming. They bark orders as if reading from a thesaurus, repeating adjectives in the same sentence which all the same meaning.
There is an appearance by the 9th Doctor, who when voiced by McNeice as part of the narrative, doesn’t quite sound right. I could imagine the character speaking the words, but when voiced by such a non-northern accent, I found it quite strange to hear. Although the Oncoming Storm has a few minor shortfalls, it is a promising start to a brand new entry to the Big Finish cannon.
Hounded - by Alan Barnes
We now skip forward to 1941, and find Churchill troubled by a huge and vicious black dog. Thankfully Doctor number 10 is on hand to help out, along with the mysterious Swami. Can the Doctor and Hetty save the Prime Minister? Well…that would be telling….
Guest stars here are Jo Stone-Fewings (previously seen in Bad Wolf and Parting Of The Ways) as Major Wheatley, and Amerjit Deu as Swami.
I felt that Hounded was the weakest of the four stories. For me it was the inclusion of the Swami, who is at first all potions and chanting, something that I feel doesn’t sit well with Dr Who.
The story is given added gravitas towards the end when the story takes a very serious turn. Emily Atack endears us even more to Hetty, who here works closely with the Doctor. For me McNeice’s voicing of Tennant’s Doctor was much more assured that his try Eccleston, and at times I could have even mistaken the voice for Tennant himself.
The Living History - by Justin Richards
The war is over and Churchill is no longer Prime Minister. A surprise visit from the 11th Doctor and his travelling companion Kazran Sardick (Danny Horn getting a second chance at the character) lures the eager Churchill into the TARDIS and off on to meet one of his heroes, Julius Caesar. But trouble lurks in 55 AD in the shape of a Bronze God.
The Bronze God in question, is of course a Dalek. Appearing with Ian McNeice and Danny Horn are Alistair Petrie as Julius Caesar, Laura Rogers as Queen Tristahna (who also played Isabella, along side Horn’s character in A Christmas Carol), and finally of course, Nicholas Briggs as the voice of the Dalek.
I loved The Living History, from the re-introduction of Kazran, who we find is on one of his many jaunts with the Doctor, to the idea of Julius Caesar and Winston Churchill plotting to go to war against a Dalek. The Dalek menace is at it’s greatest here as the creature is damaged and vulnerable. It needs power to recharge the circuits on it’s ship, power that is of course hard to come across in 55 AD, until it stumbles upon a couple of time travellers. The Doctor is cleverly written out of most of the plot, making this the most ‘Doctor-lite’ of the collection, but it works well. Leaving Churchill and Sardick to have their own adventure. Fantastic stuff.
The Chartwell Metamorphosis - by Ken Bentley
In the final chapter, Sir Winston is now retired, living in Chartwell, and keeping butterflies. However when a strange looking cocoon turns up things take a turn for the worst.
Although essentially an invasion story, Bentley’s entry is about clinging onto life for as long as one can. Guest stars are Carolyn Seymour as Mrs Whitaker, Stewart Scudamore as Danvers and John Banks as Mr Rogers. We also have a delightful turn from Holly Earl, who brings back her character Lily Arwell from The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Lily has been placed at Chartwell as a nurse by the 11th Doctor to watch over the ageing Churchill.
Ian Mcneice is at his best here, portraying Winston as a rather curmudgeonly and short tempered old man. It’s clear that this role is a gift to him, and he is enjoying himself immensely. The plot is quite dark, finding Churchill in the twilight of his years, desperately trying to extend his own life, even if for a moment at least it might put others in danger. This quite a change for the character, but Bentley has written it in such a way that the listener does sympathise. The Doctor turns up in the final act to save the day, and the story ends on a pleasant twist of events. I have a feeling that we will be hearing from Lily and Winston again.
As well as the four stories, we are also treated to a good hour of behind the scenes VAM, which includes features on each story, and a talk with the cast. To close, there is a massive hint from Ian McNeice himself that there will be more from Churchill Years.
The production values on all four audio stories are of course excellent, with Iain McNeice doing a fantastic job portraying the sometimes irascible Churchill.
It was great to feature the return of two characters (and actors) from two of Matt Smith’s Christmas episodes. Danny Horn and Holly Earl brought a great sense of continuity and charm to events.
Another very nice touch is that each story opens and closes with the Doctor Who theme faithful to the incarnation of the Doctor to feature in the plot.
I’m ashamed to admit that I am quite new to the world of Big Finish. Being a bit of a completist, I was very concerned at the size of their back catalogue, and how much this might dent my wallet. I’d happily recommend The Churchill Years for a Big Finish novice, but be warned, it will give you the yearning for more.