The Time Meddler (Audiobook/ Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 8 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Time Meddler (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Nigel Robinson

Based on a TV story written by Dennis Spooner

Read By: Peter Purves

Published: 6th October 2016

Duration: 240 Minutes

1066, Planet Earth. The Doctor and Vicki must now move onto new journeys without the company of lively and brave Ian Chesterton, and wise, protective Barbara Wright. The two Coal Hill School teachers have finally made it back to their home time and place after the Doctor's team made a close escape from a Dalek execution squad.

To their surprise another has immediately joined their crew (in somewhat stowaway fashion): pilot Steven Taylor, who was a prisoner in the city of the Mechanoids, and had begun to lose his grasp of reality. As they explore their new surroundings in north-east England, the Doctor repeatedly is forced to convince Steven Taylor that he pilots a craft that is both capable of space flight, but also time travel.

What none of the new arrivals can anticipate is that a member of the Doctor's own race has landed sometime earlier in this pre-Renaissance era, and is posing as a native monk. And this individual is both scheming and manipulative, yet perfectly jovial and charming. He is also determined to use his awareness of future events to execute a scheme whereby the Viking invasion never went ahead. This would allow reigning King Harold to comfortably defeat William (of Normandy), and thus the whole course of future history both in England and the whole world changes irrevocably...

The Time Meddler has been something of an acquired taste for this reviewer. Soon after Doctor Who's cancellation, a repeat season on BBC 2 was commissioned, and this particular black and white story was chosen as the representative of the Hartnell years of 1963 - 1966. One reason was that no episodes were missing, and another was its relatively brief episode count. The copy shown on TV was serviceable for those fans used to the BBC Videos, but certainly would not stand up today on modern TV screens (many of which support high-definition).

To my (then nine-year-old) eyes, this was quite hard to watch for other reasons. The lack of frenetic music and the long, talky scenes meant I struggled to keep myself in the moment as I normally did. I would watch the episode once or twice and quickly move on. By contrast my viewings of the next couple of stories that followed in the season, saw me re-watch each and every episode many times on home cassette. The week long wait for the next repeat seemed an eternity.


Now however, watched in context of a marathon of the Hartnell era, or at least a number of consecutive stories, this serial is easily one of the more thoughtful, well-crafted and realistic (in terms of then-production facilities). The Time Meddler may be relatively small stakes compared to various other tales, but it still was at pains to show how dedicated the Doctor was in terms of protecting the web of time that was integral to planet Earth. 

Many Classic Who fans cannot help liking The Chase  despite all its problems, but only would one dare show the final episode (and possibly the opener for those that like Shakespeare or the Beatles) to a 'newbie'. By contrast this story had director Douglas Camfield who always throve on the pressures and made each and every cast and crew member feel part of a team.


Nigel Robinson was one of the better contributors to the TARGET novelisation range, and later went on to produce two very enjoyable early entries in the Virgin New Adventures book line (Timewyrm - Apocalypse and Birthright). Robinson understood what the essence of Doctor Who was, but also what material would be worthy of expansion and exploration in book form. A lot of the two-dimensional characters of the source material are given that bit more meat on their bones. I also appreciated the use of both a prologue and epilogue - the former to give a sense of Steven's terrifying ordeal escaping Mechanus and stumbling upon the TARDIS, the latter to fully portray the just desserts the Monk has been served by his fellow (but far more moral) time traveller.

One aspect of the story which really was unusual for 1960s Doctor Who was its exploring of adult themes. Yet - by contrast to the very first season of Hartnell - some stories in the 1964-1965 run had a rather more adult side to them: Susan's relationship with a human that made her leave the TARDIS and her grandfather, and the politics and morality aspects of Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in Palestine, were certainly more than mere teatime escapism.

One section of The Time Meddler saw a rather disturbing 'after-shock' scene of Edith conveying that she had been sexual assaulted, or raped, with the actual crime taking place off-screen. In the original story this was rather brushed under the carpet soon after and it appeared that all was more than well by the time the TARDIS crew have won their battle of wits with the Monk. In this book Robinson commendably tackles the topic in some detail, and was surely aware of portraying keystone morals for the youngster/child demographic that was essentially the target readership. The final violent end for the two Vikings who committed the despicable act feels justified. But there is that tinge of 'two wrongs do not make a right' which is part of the laudably strong characterisation at work by the adaptor.


Peter Purves once again shows his all round skills as a narrator and voice artist. I had the pleasure of reading his enthusiastic and detailed memoirs some years back. The former Blue Peter presenter had a varied and interesting career, with a lot of fast paced training/ performing in theatre in his formative years. Consequently the alter ego of Steven Taylor is able to handle both high pitched and bass voices with equal aplomb, and has the uncanny sense of when to speed up the tempo of his reading and when to allow some meaningful silences. Some of the music used is familiar from other BBC Audio releases, which is welcome, as so few TV Hartnell stories were linked to each other through recurring musical themes. Suspense and excitement are punctuated well, and the sound effects continue to be employed with good judgement.

So in short, this is yet another entertaining and atmospheric audio gem, and you could do far worse in choosing an item for the impending Yuletide gift list.

The Early Adventures: The Ravelli Conspiracy (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 23 November 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Ravelli Conspiracy (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)
                                Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
                                     Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Cast: Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor/The Doctor/Narrator), Mark Frost (Niccolo Machiavelli), Jamie Ballard (Guiliano de Medici), Robert Hands (Pope Leo X), Olivia Poulet (Carla),
Joe Bor (Guard Captain).
Big Finish Productions - Released November 2016 

This month’s offering in this mini-season of First Doctor stories sees Ian and Barbara give way to Steven Taylor, once again reprised by Peter Purves who also vocalises William Hartnell’s Doctor and provides most of the story's narration. He is joined for this historical adventure by Maureen O’Brien, who once again brings the youthful Vicki to life as if she were only on television last year rather than fifty years ago.

A failed attempt by the Doctor to take his companions to the 2784 Olympics results in them instead finding themselves in early 16th century Florence, where the TARDIS just so happens to land in the cellar of a house belonging to none other than Niccolo Machiavelli, a man whose infamous reputation in print, largely exceeds his actual achievements.Mark Frost gives an enjoyable performance as Machiavelli who is by turns charming and devious as he attempts to regain favour in the eyes of the influential Medici family who are represented in this story by Guiliano de Medici, ruler of Florence and his brother, the newly elected Pope Leo X.

The two brothers make an enjoyable double-act of contrasting characters. Jamie Ballard is ruthlessly cutthroat as Guiliano whilst Robert Hands gets to enjoy being a clever pontiff who forms an interesting friendship with Vicki. This allusion to Leo X’s historical reputation as “the gay Pope” is only hinted at, but this is one of several moments that make this story feel that it is not quite as contemporary to the TV series of 1965 as some of the other Early Adventures releases. There are some fun scenes with the Guard Captain played by Joe Bor, although his estuary accent seems a little out of place compared to the other RP speaking characters who are more typical of the TV series.

There are definite shades of Dennis Spooner in this story although thankfully it does not at any point descend to the level of farce experienced in The Romans. It is welcome to see that Big Finish have encouraged new writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky to produce a story of a not often visited area of history.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable historical tale with a strong cast which occasionally feels a little more post-modern than the 1965 series it is attempting to emulate. However, it is nonetheless a welcome addition to this range.


TheRavelliConspiracy is available now from Big Finish and is on general release from December 31st 2016.

The Early Adventures: The Fifth Traveller (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Fifth Traveller (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)

Written by Philip Lawrence

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Cast: William Russell (Ian/The Doctor), Maureen O'Brien (Vicki/Narrator) Jemma Powell(Barbara/Fula), James Joyce (Jospa), Kate Byers (Sharna), Elliot Cowan (Gark) and Orlando James (Krube)

Big Finish Productions – Released October 2016

This reviewer is still something of a newcomer to Big Finish’s Early Adventures range. The premise of producing something closer to a full cast audio drama, but still with narration so that the finished story resembles the soundtrack to a missing television adventure is enjoyable one and on the basis of this release there is just a much potential for new adventures for the first two Doctors as with the popular Companion Chronicles range.

It is quite difficult to review this particular story without straying into what might be considered as spoiler territory but this reviewer will attempt to avoid giving away too much.

At the centre of this story is the Fifth Traveller of the title. Jospa is a potential new companion, who is enjoyably brought to life by James Joyce. Joyce is a clearly versatile actor who has made a number of previous Big Finish appearances and is already established as a series regular in both the Charlotte Pollard and UNIT – The New Series spin-offs. Jospa is introduced as already being a member of the TARDIS crew having apparently joined during a previous unseen adventure set on 31st Century Earth, he is a young man of a similar age to Vicki. However, there are clues for attentive listeners which sign post the mystery at the heart of this story which become more obvious during the third and fourth episodes. Whilst the resulting revelations may not come as a complete surprise, they still make for an exciting listen as the story builds to its climax.

The other regular cast are on great form with elder statesmanWilliam Russell doing a sterling job voicing both the Doctor and Ian and Maureen O’Brien managing a wonderfully youthful Vicki who shares some excellent scenes with Jospa, whilst also providing the story’s narration. They are given excellent support in her second Big Finish appearance in the role of Barbara by Jemma Powell, who portrayed Jacqueline Hill in An Adventure in Space and Time. This reviewer had not experienced the “new” Barbara before but was pleased that she fitted in well and seemed to very much embody the charst acter rather than attempting to overly impersonate Hill’s original portrayal. The remaining cast, Kate Byers, Elliot Cowan, and Orland James were an excellent ensemble and as ever with this series and many of the Companion Chronicles before it, benefitted from clear direction from Lisa Bowerman. The sound design and music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson felt very much in keeping with the television series of 1965.

Overall, this is an excellent contribution to Big Finish’s expansion of the adventures of the First Doctor. This reviewer is writing on the fiftieth anniversary of William Hartnell’s final regular appearance in the part he loved and one cannot help but reflect that it is a fitting tribute that his portrayal is still inspiring such great storytelling so many years later. Long may it continue.


This story is available to buy now directly from Big Finish and will be on general release from November 30th 2016.

The First Doctor Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 27 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The First Doctor Companion Chronicles (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)
Written By: Martin Day, Ian Potter, Simon Guerrier
Starring: Carole Ann Ford, Maureen O'Brien, Peter Purves, Alix Dunmore, Alice Haig, Darren Strange
Producers: David Richardson & Ian Atkins ("The Sleeping Blood")
Script Editor: Jacqueline Rayner
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Released by Big Finish Productions - June 2015

Of all of the eras of Doctor Who to select as the basis for a dedicated Companion Chronicles box-set, William Hartnell’s tenure as the eponymous “wanderer in the fourth dimension” mightn’t immediately strike fans as the most obvious choice. After all, for every fan favourite or show-defining serial like An Unearthly Child, The War Machines and The Tenth Planet, there were at least two stories which failed to capture what was to be the series’ essence, with The Rescue and The Space Museum amongst the most commonly referenced offenders.

At the same time, though, there remains an inherent charm and refreshing innocence about those first twenty nine adventures whenever one re-watches them, both qualities which Big Finish clearly sought to capitalize on with The First Doctor Volume One. Taking its listenership from alien offices to intergalactic research facilities and from 18th century London to the dying days of one Steven Taylor, none of the four contributory serials come up lacking in terms of overall scope, but each boasts a surprising level of creative minimalism in terms of its premise and narrative structure, perhaps so as to echo the storylines of the 1963-66 runs.

Yet when viewed as a collective whole, does Volume One match the studio’s strongest output to date – not least their stunning 50th anniversary First Doctor tale, TheBeginning – or join the ranks of the studio’s promising but ultimately unsuccessful works of audio which didn’t quite manage to fulfil their potential? To find out, let’s examine each serial in isolation before this reviewer delivers his final verdict on the set:

“The Sleeping Blood”:

Confining the First Doctor to the TARDIS after an encounter with poisonous alien fauna leaves him almost critically wounded, this opening instalment initially centres on his granddaughter Susan’s quest to obtain the necessary medicine to heal her ancestor in an extraterrestrial research facility. Events soon take a turn for the unexpected, however, as she becomes embroiled in a pseudo-civil war between the resident colonists over contrasting medical approaches, leading to a fascinatingly morally ambiguous tale with some engaging commentary regarding our race’s tendency to interweave modern technologies with healing practices without a second thought.

Offering up as confident a performance as ever, Carole Ann Ford once again seems to relish taking the helm here, rendering Susan as innocent yet as intelligent as ever as she matches wits with the sinister Butcher, a character whose seemingly antagonistic motivations get cast in a surprisingly sympathetic light thanks to the nuanced performance provided by co-star Darren Strange. Indeed, Strange deserves just as much credit as Ann Ford for keeping proceedings engaging, not least by ensuring that we’re never quite certain whether or not his construct is necessarily as malevolent as his foes would initially have Susan believe, with the dialogue afforded to him by scribe Martin Day only serving to strengthen his case as one of Big Finish’s more compelling ‘villains’ of recent times.

If there’s one criticism that needs laying at Day’s feet, it’s perhaps that the Butcher’s narrative turn from seemingly by-the-numbers adversary to a far more philosophically layered beast comes rather abruptly in the piece’s second half, but that aside, “The Sleeping Blood” serves as a stunning opening outing which will leave virtually all of its listenership desperate to see what’s next from Volume One.

“The Unwinding World”:

Unfortunately, though, what’s next doesn’t exactly whet the audience’s appetites to nearly the same level as its predecessor. To some extent, “The Unwinding World” marks a refreshing departure from “Sleeping Blood” thanks to its inspired implementation of a narrative framing device in the form of 15785’s Vicki finding herself subjected to an interrogation by her new employer at a factory hiding secrets galore, an approach which yields flashbacks aplenty. It’s a great starting point to be sure, and one which writer Ian Potter could easily have developed into a story every inch as memorable as both “Sleeping Blood” and the First Doctor’s finest televised hours of television.

Yet the core plot itself doesn’t do nearly enough to support this innovative structural flourish, instead presenting us with a fairly mundane caper-style adventure which separates the Doctor, Vicki, Ian and Barbara, only to then pair each of them with a relatively forgettable band of supporting characters such as rebels without much in the way of a compelling cause or the employer who doesn’t have much to offer beyond underlying malice. O’Brien’s enthusiastic performance benefits the overall serial to some extent, particularly when she’s voicing her own character from the TV series, but her renditions of the voices of Hartnell’s Doctor, Jacqueline Hill’s Barbara and particularly William Russell’s Ian Chesterton don’t seem nearly as accurate in comparison to those actors’ televised portrayals, leaving this reviewer curious as to why the studio didn’t bring Russell back into the fray so as to allow the pair to re-establish their compelling on-screen dynamic in this instance.

Whereas “Sleeping Blood” kicked off Volume One with a bang, then, its immediate successor fails to maintain that momentum, instead coming off as a colossal missed opportunity to take an instantly intriguing premise and turn it into an unmissable addition to the First Doctor’s audio adventures in its own right.

“The Founding Fathers”:

Like “Unwinding World” before it, one can’t fault Volume One’s penultimate storyline in terms of its conceptual ambition from the outset. “The Founding Fathers” not only transports its listeners – and the TARDIS crew, now comprising the Doctor, Steven and Vicki once again – back to 1760s England for a chance meeting with iconic American politician Benjamin Franklin, but in addition forms only the first half of a two-parter centring on Steven’s post-TARDIS, post-kingly exploits as he attempts to resolve the mystery of how the Doctor’s consciousness has come to be trapped in a mysterious jar before his very eyes on the planet first glimpsed in 1966’s The Savages.

Better yet, rather than stumbling in its execution as was the case with the previous instalment, “Fathers” sports a cracking opening episode steeped with intrigue, temporal manipulation and deft characterisation, delving into how a Time Meddler-esque wanderer in the fourth dimension has come to impact upon Franklin’s life in potentially catastrophic ways, much to the predictable ire of Hartnell’s ever-cautious Time Lord, whilst equally making ample use of the rare opportunity to bring the First Doctor face to face with arguably one of the greatest minds of the 18th century. The problem is, once we enter Part 2, Simon Guerrier – who takes on playwright duties for both “Fathers” and the boxset’s finale – doesn’t seem totally assured when it comes to resolving his undoubtedly audacious narrative, prompting a disappointingly low-key denouement that neither makes great use of Peter Purves nor does the exciting premise justice.

Unsurprisingly, this leaves a rather sour taste in the listener’s mouth come the credits, yet if nothing else, “Fathers” deserves a try for its accomplished first half, compelling – if limited given the source material’s conclusion – work from Purves on voicing duties as well as its admittedly tantalising lead-in to Guerrier’s second story of the set.

“The Locked Room”:

Rather than using an elderly Steven’s recollections of the past as a framing device for the second time in a row, “The Locked Room” puts Mr Taylor’s campaign to solve the aforementioned dilemma surrounding the Doctor’s latest plight front and centre, with Alice Haig joining Purves as the second granddaughter of the collection, Sida, better known as the president of Steven’s new home-world. The premise here is a simple but instantly engaging one – hot on the heels of the events of “The Founding Fathers”, Steven and Sida must work to reunite the Doctor’s consciousness with his body in time for him to put a stop to an intergalactic conflict kicking off on Earth.

Much of this series finale’s supposed appeal lies in its re-introduction of a classic Doctor Who adversary taken from Tom Baker’s era, yet this places a lot of pressure on Guerrier to ensure that the recurring antagonist’s first appearance makes a considerable impact. It’s a challenge to which he struggles to rise, as he attempts to reveal the monster in question right at Part 1’s end in a vein similar to the TV show’s classic days – think how we first met the titular foes at the end of 1975's Terror of the Zygons Part 1 in terrifying style and you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here – only to evidently realize how flawed an approach this seems when the listener can’t actually see the monster in question, at least until the script describes it in further detail or offers up its fan-appeasing name.

This isn’t to say “Locked Room” falls wholly flat as a work of audio drama, since Purves and Haig undoubtedly strike up a great rapport which more than keeps the storyline alive, yet as anthology denouements go, one can’t help but think that actually ending with the far superior “Sleeping Blood”, thereby taking us back to the First Doctor’s beginnings as the compilation neared its end, would have been a wiser choice.

The Verdict:

In contrast to this year’s by-and-large compelling Companion Chronicles collection, The Second Doctor Volume One, this Hartnell-oriented anthology doesn’t so much pack a captivating first half that’s let down by the remaining two instalments as start out spectacularly with “The Sleeping Blood”, which ranks without any hesitation as one of Big Finish’s strongest First Doctor-driven audio dramas to date, then sadly start to notably peter out from “The Unwinding World” onwards.

As such, whilst true enthusiasts of the show’s freshman era will surely find plenty to like at first and enough to like later on to make this flawed compilation worth their while, anyone who’s struggled to see the appeal of the First Doctor won’t likely have their minds changed by any instalment but the first, making the prospect of them shelling out £20 for that lone great feel implausible at best. By all means take a look at The First Doctor Volume One if the studio slashes its price in a future sale or promotion, yet until then, suffice to say that there’s far more satisfying content to be found in their main range, New Series or Worlds of Doctor Who releases than what’s on offer here.

Short Trips - Flywheel Revolution (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Short Trips: Flywheel Revolution (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Dale Smith
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Starring: Peter Purves (Narrator)
Producer: Michael Stevens
Script Editor: Michael Stevens
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Released By Big Finish Productions - January 2015

“And you, Doctor – you are called “the monster”. The robots are afraid you even exist…”

Somewhere in the depths of outer space lies a nameless planet, and somewhere on that stellar body’s surface lies a desolate wasteland known as the Scrapheap, a seemingly endless junkyard where the time never changes. Sound familiar? On the basis of that premise, listeners who hadn’t read the plot synopsis for FlywheelRevolution – the freshman instalment in Big Finish’s 2015 run of Doctor Who: Short Trips releases – might justifiably expect a tale akin to 2011’s televised Who serial The Wedding of River Song. Quite to the contrary, though, this standalone First Doctor outing from Dale Smith couldn’t stay truer to the era from which William Hartnell’s incarnation derived, paying homage to the 1963-1966 seasons from the outset via key iconography like the An Unearthly Child-esque setting as well as with the point at which time freezes – 23 seconds past 5.15pm – to deliciously nostalgic effect.

Far from simply crafting an ode to the First Doctor’s time aboard the TARDIS, however, Smith deserves credit aplenty for creating a unique, tangible capitalist society-turned-dystopian setting with an endearingly flawed protagonist – namely Frankie, a courageous robot confined to the Scrapheap by intergalactic colonists whose rampant curiosity soon lands him in the Time Lord’s metaphorical crosshairs – which combine to ensure that his allocated 30-minute running time passes faster than a Weeping Angel moves. Better yet, he finds the time to integrate an especially intriguing concept never touched upon in the Hartnell years, as Frankie reveals his robotic cohorts to view the Doctor as a “monster” with little to no regard for the machinery he co-opts in order to escape his latest stint of imprisonment. It’s a notion which works brilliantly in casting a remarkably brasher version of Theta Sigma than his successors in a darker but equally believable new light - somewhat akin to that of the "predator of the Daleks" conceit raised in 2012's Eleventh Doctor blockbuster Asylum of the Daleks, in fact - not to mention allowing the scribe to essentially pitch our usual hero as a makeshift antagonist for the first 15 minutes, thereby lending a truly fresh tone to proceedings that most won’t have anticipated.

Admittedly, without the right voice actor signed up to narrate Flywheel Revolution, all of Smith’s efforts to broaden his listeners’ perspectives on what to expect from First Doctor tales might have been for nought, hence why Peter Purves’ agreement to step up to the podium comes as a wholly welcome relief. Rather than struggling to confidently distinguish the three-strong ensemble of constructs’ individual voices in the absence of his TV character, Steven Taylor, from the storyline – we’re firmly in Foreman, Chesterton and Wright territory here, although only the Doctor himself makes a physical appearance – Purves clearly relishes the opportunity to branch out into a wave of new roles, instantly setting his take on Hartnell’s aged, oft-cold but ultimately compassionate time traveller apart from the far more innocent, frightened tones of Frankie and his comrade Toby as if he’d been voicing each of these key players for years on end. Indeed, if anything, this reviewer left Flywheel behind eager to discover whether Purves had lent his talents to further Short Trips vignettes aside from this one, since judging by his stellar contribution here, Big Finish would be utter fools to let such opportunities past them by.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, this captivating premiere tale’s shortcomings are far and few between, paling when juxtaposed with the myriad strengths of Smith’s occasionally haunting, occasionally effortlessly sweet script as well as Purves’ similarly creditworthy verbal contribution. Were we to ascertain those contributory elements which – as with virtually any work of literature, printed, televised or broadcast over the radio airwaves – hold Flywheel ever so slightly back from the realms of perfection, then there’s an argument that in only having 30 minutes to convey his protagonists’ struggle for liberation from capitalist tyranny, the playwright has to draw limits on the amount of character and setting development he includes. Meanwhile, for all its haunting undertones, the accompanying soundtrack doesn’t exactly inspire the same sense of chilling paranoia during Frankie’s initial encounter one would have hoped for if Smith was aiming to almost fully invert the Doctor’s traditionally calming personality, although given the understandably short-lived nature of this perception-orientated plot thread, this slight technical hiccup can’t be said to in any way represent enough of a deal-breaker to warrant giving the piece a miss.

Indeed, to dwell on such miniscule chinks in the armour of an otherwise impeccable audio drama such as this would be nothing less than a prime example of one missing the forest for the trees, since whenever Flywheel Revolution comes even within inches of making a noteworthy slip-up, its admirably intelligent script, gracefully developed world or accomplished narration can’t help but draw the listener back into the action moments later, to the extent that come the end credits, the vast majority of the audience will have a tough time recalling such insignificant shortcomings anyway. Expect to see further verdicts on last year’s Short Trips releases – as well as those gracing the Big Finish website over the course of 2016 and beyond – in the coming months, but suffice to say that if other contributors to the series’ array of scripts take Smith’s lead in crafting richly detailed, consistently engaging minisodes, then the range has an incredibly bright future ahead. Sure to entertain hard-core followers of Who’s off-screen output and those dipping their feet into show’s aural spin-offs for the first time, this captivating short story is, above all, a magnificent showcase of the programme’s merits all but guaranteed to keep the faith among fans until the still-distant 2016 Christmas Special rears its eyebrows on our screens in five months’ time.

Next up on stage? LittleDoctors, which this reviewer can only assume will see all fourteen incarnations of the titular eternal protagonist – not to mention his big-screen and Unbound alternative selves – portrayed by David Walliams and Matt Lucas, landing one another in an all manner of satirical situations with the help of Tom Baker’s ever-hilarious bookending narration. Or not - only time and Frazer Hines will tell.

Short Trips: This Sporting Life (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 June 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
This Sporting Life (Short Trips) (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Una McCormack
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Sound design and music by Steve Foxon
Cover art by Anthony Lamb
Narrated by Peter Purves
Released by Big Finish Productions on 31 May 2016

I’m not really a football person, and until inspired to do some factchecking by ThisSportingLife, Una McCormack’s new Short Trip for Big Finish, I had only the faintest glimmer of a memory that the World Cup had been stolen when on display in London in March 1966. While This Sporting Life has Steven Taylor dismiss football as an ‘idiotic sport for idiotic people’, Una McCormack’s tale displays her awareness of the power of mythology, of memory and of human kindness, and their role in the layering of the human experience.

Mythology is honoured largely in the juxtaposition of several elements from the lore of Doctor Who and from the popular history of England. Steven arrives sceptical about Dodo’s vaunted ‘swinging city’ and he doesn’t find it, appropriately as this story is set before The War Machines and Doctor Who has not yet started to swing. Similarly Peter Purves’s Lancashire accent is audible here in his narration, his Steven and also his Dodo, a reminder that when Jackie Lane was cast someone thought that to be hip and edgy teenagers still had to dance to the Mersey Beat, or if not sound as if they came from within a few miles of Coronation Street. It's early in 1966, and Dodo shows no awareness that the World Cup will be won by England that year, a victory which became part of a bittersweet legend of misplaced national glory indulged in by some over succeeding decades. Within the context of the story London is superficially still a dusty, fusty city which doesn’t yet boast of its cosmopolitanism.

The title is an irrestistible nod towards the film remembered in Doctor Who histories as the one in which Verity Lambert saw William Hartnell and thought that he was a strong candidate for the part of the Doctor. It’s also an oblique reminder of the initial presentation of the Doctor – a nervous refugee, his presence undisclosed to the authorities of his host world, his granddaughter attending a London school under an identity which doesn’t draw attention to her origins. As far as this story is concerned, the theft of the World Cup is to the benefit of some other refugees who are very anxious to reach their goal, and who bear ready comparison with the Doctor as audiences first knew him.

Employing a character and the actor who played him from the Doctor Who of fifty years ago works very well here. Steven was a man of the future, in some eyes awkwardly placed as the identification figure for the audience of 1966. However, our Space Year 2016 feels a more earthbound one than 1960s audiences might have expected, and Steven can represent our distance from the cultural peculiarities of his and our past. We and Steven are visitors to the environment McCormack builds from elements of 1960s popular fiction, the jobsworth policeman, the solitary goldsmith exiled from pre-war Mitteleuropa, the dark and narrow alleyways of run-down warehouses along the Thames. (It’s a mark of McCormack’s skill that this is conjured up with little use of placenames.) The incidental music complements this, a contemporary sound but with echoes of first and fifth Doctor-era scores.

This all helps fuel the engine of this small but powerful story, which concerns universal values of compassion and how they can, if we choose, overcome the cruelty and cowardice which the Doctor has come to abhor. It’s about being curious but learning to ask the right questions and finding the right answers to them, something at the essence of the Doctor and Doctor Who. Unlike some longer Doctor Who stories, it wears the issue of the Doctor’s involvement in historical events lightly, but in a way which doesn’t trouble the Doctor’s ‘Not one line!’ of The Aztecs very much at all. ThisSportingLife is a happy thirty-five minutes of mystery and resolution which nevertheless makes more than a nod towards facing our own present-day terrors.