Voyage to the New World (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

Voyage to the New World
Big Finish Productions
Written by Matthew Sweet
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released December 2012
Following their eventful voyage to Venus, the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot are looking forward to a celebratory pint, but the TARDIS has brought them astray. Stepping onto the shores of a new world, they are immediately embroiled in the mysterious disappearance of the colony of English settlers on Roanoke Island. Who are the ghostly children that haunt this unfamiliar land? And what do they want with Jago?

From the Mary Celeste to the Loch Ness Monster, Doctor Who has long delighted in creating its own solutions to notoriously unexplained events. Here writer Matthew Sweet has turned his eye to a somewhat obscure historical mystery, the English colony of Roanoke, which was found deserted in 1590. The play is also (as the new series would put it) a ‘celebrity historical’ with Sir Walter Raleigh putting in an appearance, and many of the other characters based on real life figures. This being a lesser known section of the past, a history lesson from the Doctor would have been useful at the start of the play, rather than at the end, when he assures his companions that history is back on the right track.

With three lead characters and only an hour’s running time Litefoot takes a back seat in this adventure, leaving most of the interesting stuff to Jago and the Doctor. The scenes of Jago being haunted by the sinister children are the play’s highlight. Creepy kids are one of the standard horror movie convention, and one that Doctor Who has used surprisingly little in its 50 year history, and they are effectively used here, with their presence signified by unsettling indistinct giggles.

While the chemistry between Jago and Litefoot is typically strong, their pairing with the Sixth Doctor doesn’t feel right. The Sixth Doctor has propensity for pomposity and grandiose turns of phrase, traits he shares with Jago and they don’t quite work together. Wisely Matthew Sweet separates them for most of the play, teaming the Doctor with the more sedate Litefoot.

The play is oddly structured, which can at times be confusing. The pre-credits see the TARDIS arrive on Roanoke and a flash forwards to later events in England. Following the credits there is an ellipsis with the audience left to piece together what has happened in the gap. This is a trick the current TV series often uses, and here it feels rather clumsy and confusing. Rather than a clever trick to speed up the narrative or play with narrative structure, it feel more like a judicious cut has been made to get the story to fit its running time, especially as the rest of the play unfolds at a normal speed. The 'flash forward to England' scenes exacerbate the problem, as they further fracture our sense of what is happening when.

Like many recent Big Finish plays, the plot hinges on what we’ve come to call ‘timey-wimeyness’. Such plots are hard to get right without the audience feeling cheated, which is sadly the case here, especially as the plot all hinges on the TARDIS, rather than a force separate from the Doctor. The conclusion feels rushed and unsatisfying, and after listening to it twice I’m still not sure it makes sense.

Despite these faults this is a well produced play which is strong on characterisation, performance and atmosphere. The previously mentioned scenes with the children, especially the exposition scenes of Jago and fellow captive Eleanor are decidedly creepy. Overall it’s an average slice of Doctor Who, (which neatly leads Jago and Litefoot on to their next series of adventures without the Doctor) but not one of Big Finish’s greatest offerings.