The Wrong Doctors (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 - Reviewed by Richard Watts

The Wrong Doctors
Big Finish Productions
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Released January 2013
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains minor spoilers.

Chronologically speaking (the UNIT dating controversy aside) the majority of the Doctor’s companions from the television program’s classic era have a fairly straightforward relationship with the Time Lord. Dodo, Jamie, Sarah Jane – they all meet the Doctor, travel in the TARDIS for a limited time, and eventually depart. Not so Miss Melanie Bush, a computer programmer from the West Sussex village of Pease Pottage, who travels with the Doctor before she meets him – at least from his perspective.

When the Sixth Doctor first encounters Mel during The Trial of a Time Lord, she has been plucked from his future, during an adventure on the planet Oxyveguramosa – a future in which she has already been his companion for approximately three months (as detailed in Pip and Jane Baker’s Target novelisations, Terror of the Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe). Thereafter, once the trial has ended, the two depart together, despite the fact that their first proper meeting hasn’t actually happened yet. What happens next in the Sixth Doctor and Mel’s temporally complex relationship forms the basis of this new Big Finish adventure (and directly contradicts the ending of the Bakers’ The Ultimate Foe novelisation, which may frustrate some purists).

The Plot

Travelling alone, having recently bidden farewell to his former companion, Evelyn Smythe, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) decides it’s finally time to meet Mel (Bonnie Langford) for the first time. Unfortunately, the TARDIS materialises in Pease Pottage on the same day that the Doctor’s brasher younger self is dropping Mel home after the events of The Trial of a Time Lord – despite her protestations that he should be taking her back to the planet Oxyveguramosa.

In addition to the dangers of crossing his own time stream, the Doctor – or rather, Doctors – soon discover that all is not well in Pease Pottage. Former village postmistress Mrs Muriel Wilberforce (Patricia Leventon) appears remarkably spry for a woman who supposedly died in 1964; dinosaurs roam the streets, as do a gang of violent young ruffians clad in ragged Victorian costumes and led by one Jedediah Thurwell (James Joyce); and the younger version of Mel the two Doctors discover working at the Pease Pottage radar station seems distinctly not herself...

Observations

Written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs, The Wrong Doctors has the difficult job of filling in a missing piece of a story never told on television, while also trying to avoid any major conflict with alternative iterations of Mel’s story as told in other media (in particular, Gary Russell’s BBC Past Doctor Adventure, Business Unusual, in which Mel’s first encounter with the Sixth Doctor takes place in Brighton in 1989). From this perspective it’s a success; unfortunately as a stand-alone audio adventure, it doesn’t completely satisfy.

The story begins well; its tone is light, almost playful, and characters are swiftly and easily introduced, though unfortunately Fitton fails to develop them well – all are predominantly two-dimensional, more caricatures than well-rounded characters in their own right, save for the lead roles of Mel and the two Doctors, on whose dialogue Fitton seems to have focussed most of his energies, resulting in successful and well defined evocations of the characters at different points in their own timelines.

Performances from Joyce and Leventon as Mrs Wilberforce and Jeb are strong despite the characters’ flaws; less impressive are Beth Chalmers as Facilitator Vaneesh and John Banks as Captain Ksllak, two members of an economically aggressive alien race, the Mardaks, described by the Doctor as "an entire species dedicated to one of the most despicable occupations in the entire universe".

"Robbers? Arms dealers? Pirates?" Mel asks.

"No," the Doctor replies. "Business consultants!"

Joyce and Leventon struggle to convincingly portray the faux-American accents demanded of their characters; nor is Fitton’s satire of modern business-speak particularly compelling. With the Mardaks’ talk of ‘probjectives’ and ‘incentivisation’, there’s a sense that the writer is attempting a satire of the contemporary business world akin to Robert Holmes’ spin on the British tax system in The Sun Makers; unfortunately Fitton lacks Holmes’ wit and skill, resulting in blunt, unsatisfying dialogue and thinly written characters.

Nor is the villain of the piece especially memorable. As Stapleton Petherbridge, Tony Gardner does his best with the over the top dialogue he is given, but some of his line readings are particularly melodramatic, a fault which could have been muted by stronger direction. The revelation of Stapleton’s true nature is frankly silly, though the script nonetheless scores well on the continuity front at this point thanks to its references to "vortisaurs, chronovores, pantophagens; the creeping, swarming things of the vortex". Awkward dialogue aside, references like this are still bound to bring a smile to most fans’ faces.

Despite these flaws, The Wrong Doctors still entertains thanks to its central conceit of two Sixth Doctors and two Mels featuring in the same story. Baker is in magnificent form, clearly delighting in playing two versions of himself, and in her long awaited return to Big Finish, Langford charms. Her subtle differentiation between an older, wider Mel and the ditzy younger version is impressive, and the chemistry between her and Baker is immediate and obvious.

Conclusion

This tale of cauterised time and pocket universes, temporal anomalies and characters meeting themselves starts strongly but ends poorly. A lacklustre villain, poorly developed characters, and a muddled and over-wrought climax detract from what could have been an engaging and memorable addition to the Big Finish range; nonetheless the adventure entertains thanks primarily to the verbal dexterity and charisma of its star performers and the well-written banter between them – and between different versions of themselves.