Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Anneke Wills (Polly Wright/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Elliot Chapman (Ben Jackson), David Sibley (Josiah Morton), Kerry Gooderson (Jemma Morton), Ewan Bailey (Blazzard / Copeland), Alan Blyton (Dexter).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Released: November 2017
The Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Jamie land in 1860s London (much to Ben and Polly's disappointment that they are not home in their own 1960s), and they soon find themselves trapped when the TARDIS is stolen. They track it down to a man named Morton, who runs a private museum in his home filled with plenty of exotic items...and while it is clear he has the TARDIS, they aren't sure how to get to the workshop where he is keeping it. The plot thickens as there are mysterious deaths around town, with Morton as the prime suspect. The Doctor and crew must somehow keep him out of jail, at least long enough for them to find the TARDIS. So they make an attempt to solve the murders, become increasingly weary of an artifact in Morton's collection, and foil a couple of crooks who attempt to steal from the collection. The story is decent, there are some nice character bits here and there, but I think it is the format of these Early Adventures that holds it back.
I'm not sure I see the merit in moving halfway between the Companion Chronicles style of "enhanced Audiobook" and the Full Cast Dramas I am (admittedly) more familiar with. Having narration describe things that could be easily illustrated by one of the characters via creative dialogue seems odd, particularly when the rest of the story is presented like a regular Full Cast Drama. The narration slowed the pace, and while a slower pace makes some amount of sense for a story trying to replicate the 60s era of the show...it just doesn't really flow like an episode from that era, so the whole operation doesn't really work. While I still didn't really enjoy the narration in the Third Doctor boxset, it still seemed to work better than it does here, and in general, it just managed to capture the era's feel much better. Really, when the whole concept of the Companion Chronicles was to skirt around the fact that some actors are no longer with us, it seems odd to then try and move on from that idea and replace actors yet still hold back and do that narration thing. If you're going to do it, go full throttle.
Up until this moment, I had not yet found any time to give Big Finish's Early Adventures series a real go. I think the concept is actually really novel. But while Frazer Hines' vocal inflections often have that Troughton feel, sometimes I found it too hard to distinguish when exactly it was The Doctor that was supposed to be talking. Clearly Hines is doing his best, and he certainly remembers his old friend's vocal inflections well...but it might have been less distracting or just easier to know who is who by finding a better Troughton impersonator, much as they did in replacing the late Michael Craze with Elliot Smith as Ben (or Tim Treloar's very good Pertwee impersonation from the Third Doctor sets).
Personally, I found the story hard to engage in, and I really think it is the format of this particular Big Finish range. If the goal is to recreate the tone and feel of the 60s episodes, it doesn't really do that, nor does it feel like a modern and exciting story featuring characters from a totally different kind of era. It is just middle of the road, and there is nothing more forgettable than middle of the road.
The Second Doctor ranks among my favorites, but it is always going to be hard for Big Finish to ever really capture that spark, when there is no possible way to bring back the man who made the part so fun and alive.