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Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Fifth Doctor Boxed Set (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Jonathan Morris and John Dorney
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, released August 2014
This box set sees the reunion on audio for the first time since 1982 of fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s original team of companions; Janet Fielding as Tegan, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and the much anticipated return of Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. Consisting of two brand new four part stories both set during season 19 it is very much a box set of two halves. As this is no longer a brand new release I am considering this review fair game for any spoilers that follow.

Jonathan MorrisPsychodrome is set in the immediate aftermath of the TV story Castrovalva with the Doctor’s companions still coming to terms with having been brought together and witnessing the Doctor’s recent regeneration. Morris cleverly plays with the fact that the four characters don’t know each other very well yet as established by the opening scenes. The first obvious comment to make is that Waterhouse is still finding his voice in this play as he faces the challenge of recreating his juvenile persona. However, after the first few scenes it becomes easier to adjust to this slightly deeper voiced than usual version of Adric, especially in the context of three other regulars who all occasionally sound thirty years older. The script’s clever placing of this story very early in these characters’ established adventures makes it easier to overlook this and enjoy the references and hints of what is to come. On first listen, the plot of what befalls the TARDIS crew when they land becomes a little confusing. This is because they encounter several sets of four characters who are each played by the same four actors. Whilst the actors concerned give solid performances, this does leave the listener with occasional moments of vocal confusion until the explanation of what exactly is going on within the Psychodrome is revealed. A particular mention should go to Robert Whitelock for the triple role of Professor Whitelock, Denyx and King Magus, the last of whom comes to dominate the third and fourth episodes of this story. An exciting misdirection occurs at the end of part two when it is suggested that Magus might infact be a new iteration of The Master but whilst Whitelock does have elements of the Ainley incarnation to his performance the reality is that Magus is a composite of Nyssa’s imagined view of both the Doctor and the Master allows for a more satisfying resolution. The only slight disappointment is in Magus’ final scene where Morris gives him the rather too knowing final line “is this death?” The listener is left feeling that this story has been a little too clever for it’s own good and perhaps there should’ve been another way.

John Dorney’s Iterations of I is set later in the season, in the aftermath of Black Orchid, and picks up the season’s arc with Adric attempting to rectify the Doctor’s continuing failure to return Tegan to Heathrow in 1981. The travellers find themselves separated from the TARDIS after landing on a remote island where they are forced to take shelter in a seemingly abandoned old house. Featuring a small cast including Being Human star Sinead Keenan the stories setting of Autumn 1981 is cleverly and quickly established and becomes a virtue of the story as the Doctor, by this stage bereft of his sonic screwdriver and stuck in a world that is still years away from inventing mobile phones is forced to make use of the limited technologies available such as a pocket calculator.

The main enemy of the story, the I, are a unique invention in that they exist in a dimension of numerical information and thus when they start to kill it becomes quite frightening. The Doctor’s technologically minded companions Nyssa and Adric come into their own as they come to terms with the mystery contained within the old computers. This story also takes an opportunity to foreshadow Adric’s impending exit in Earthshock with an touching scene in which he and the Doctor discover some graves. Towards the end of the story Adric is injured but the revelation that Alzarians heal faster than Humans allows for some fun action scenes. Waterhouse’s recreation of Adric seems more comfortable in this story which leads this listener to hope that our favourite Alzarian may yet return for more audio adventures. Overall this second story is a much more satisfying listen than Psychodrome although both stories very strongly evoke the feeling of season 19. This feeling is reinforced by clever use of music and sound design which feels very much of the period. Whilst not always hitting the mark, the Fifth Doctor box set is a rewarding listen and fans of the early Davison era will certainly be left wanting more.