Another anniversary, this time the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who – and despite the lack of television adventures, this one was rather better served than back in 1993 – at least, as far as audio fans were concerned!
In 2003, Big Finish had been making Doctor Who audio plays for four years, and were coming up on their 50th in the Main Range.
The previous year, they had left the second season of Eighth Doctor adventures on a cliffhanger in Neverland, with the Doctor possessed by a terrible creature from Gallifreyan folklore, uttering the words: “I… Am… Zagreus!”
This cliffhanger was then not followed up for another year and a half THIS IS THE KIND OF THING BIG FINISH DOES TO US!
Leading up to the 50th title which would of course be titled Zagreus, Big Finish put out three stand-alone plays in the main range which featured each of “their” other Doctors, paired with an iconic villain from the show’s past (and no companions).
All three of these plays, Omega, Davros and Master, featured marvellous performances, and dug deep into the mythology of the show, and particularly with the Doctor’s relationship with the men who could each be described as the dark half of himself. Each also had a teasing reference to Zagreus as a character of myth and nursery rhyme, building on the idea of that being a common mythos.
Oh and thanks to a recent price drop on the first 50 Big Finish Doctor Who plays in the Main Range, you can purchase each of these as downloads for a couple of dollars/pounds. Less than the price of a cup of coffee, anyway.
In Omega by Nev Fountain, the Fifth Doctor finds himself on a cruiser in space, peopled with eager history tourists, and a scornful tour guide who informs the Doctor that no one bothers to actually travel in time any more, because the history they can present to the public is far more interesting than just going back and looking at any old past.
Welcome to Jolly Chronolidays!
So we have holographic projections and live performances to convey the history of Omega, once the great hero of the Time Lords, whose reputation is now in the ditch thanks to the Doctor’s own handiwork, and all manner of commentary on how history actually works – from the point of view of different historians.
Omega himself is played by Ian Collier (who voiced the character in Arc of Infinity) and is definitely more of a sequel to that story than to The Three Doctors, though there are callbacks to both. There’s a devastating twist round about the third episode which reveals that the story you have been watching is actually a much scarier story, and Peter Davison rises beautifully to the occasion, showing that the Fifth Doctor is more than just an affable youngster in striped pajama pants.
Oh and if you’ve ever wondered why his name was Omega, that’s in here too.
In Davros by Lance Parkin, the Doctor becomes Davros’s companion in a deeply disturbing story which looks at who Davros was back before he was horribly damaged (still pretty evil, actually, but better at hiding it) as well as playing on the way that public relations and the way that history is presented can “redeem” even war criminals.
Dug up by corporate super-couple Arnold and Lorraine Baynes (played by Bernard Horsfall and Wendy Padbury!), Davros promises to be Good and to earn his keep by using his devastating scientist brain to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and that sort of thing.
The Doctor is in the right time and place to put a stop to that sort of thing right now! Um. As soon as Davros does something evil. So he volunteers to help Davros, becoming his glorified lab assistant (passing test tubes) in order to be convenient when Davros stops helping the universe and starts being gratuitously evil again.
Any day now.
I know that none of you will be surprised that Davros adjusts to working for the public service more readily than the Doctor does.
In Master by Joseph Lidster, Geoffrey Beevers (who played the burnt/scarred Master in The Keeper of Traken) is John Smith, a doctor on the colony world of Perfugium who has made a good life for himself despite having arrived ten years ago with no memory.
His best friends, married couple Victor and Jacqueline Schaeffer, are respectively a police inspector weighed down by a horrific Ripper-style serial killer case, and a ‘Queen of Hearts’ patron of charities who helps fallen women (or at least all the fallen women in the city who haven’t been murdered yet).
John is content, despite being blatantly in love with Jacqueline (and vice versa), but an uninvited guest (the Seventh Doctor) sparks off a terrible unraveling of events. No one is what they say they are, and everyone has secrets: not only Victor and Jacqueline, the maid Jade, and John Smith himself, but the worst secrets of all are the ones that the Doctor is keeping under his hat.
This is a great play which goes a bit surrealist and ‘magical realism’ in the later parts, addressing quite literally the idea that if the Doctor is Time’s Champion then the Master is Death’s Champion, but also really digs into the origin of the friendship between the Master and the Doctor, and what sealed their fate as boys: the one to commit terrible evil and the other to save and fix the universe whenever possible.
As well as giving us a fantastic Master – Geoffrey Beevers uses his voice brilliantly to show different sides to the character, so that you never doubt when he is John Smith and when he is the Master – this story also looks at the manipulative nature of the Seventh Doctor, and why the two men are linked forever.
This is a different origin story to the Master than we get in the John Simm TV version, but I can think of many fans who would prefer this particular time track – and of course, being Doctor Who fans, we don’t have to choose between them. We can have both!
Apart from Zagreus itself, other 40th anniversary celebrations in November 2003 included: the BBC webcast Scream of the Shalka, a Weakest Link special Doctor Who Dead Ringers sketch, a Doctor Who marathon on UK TV, and from BBC Books: Deadly Reunion by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, a novel about the Brig’s early years as a Lieutenant battling Greek gods on Greek islands.
However, none of this quite lived up to the terrifying and wonderful announcement in September 2003 earlier that, you know. The show was coming back. For real.
ELSEWHERE IN 2003:
How Michael Grade (via Mark Thompson) tried to prevent Doctor Who coming back in 2003 [Kasterborous]
Dear Mark Thompson [The Huffington Post]
The coming out of Izzy [Doctor Her]
Unbound: Exile [Doctor Her]
Review of Jubilee by Robert Shearman [Docohobigfinish]