The Four Villains [WHO-50—2003]

2003Another 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.

omegaIn 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.

b048_davros_big_cover_largeIn 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.

b049_master_bigIn 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.


Jane Tranter tells the story behind bringing Doctor Who back to BBC in Doctor Who Magazine [Digital Journal]

Richard E Grant & Sophie Okonedo as Doctor & Companion in webcast Scream of the Shalka

Richard E Grant & Sophie Okonedo as Doctor & Companion in webcast Scream of the Shalka

How Michael Grade (via Mark Thompson) tried to prevent Doctor Who coming back in 2003

Dear Mark Thompson [The Huffington Post]

Miranda, the Doctor’s Daughter [Doctor Her]

Deadly Reunion
[Nicholas Whyte book reviews]

The coming out of Izzy [Doctor Her]

Confession 26: I wish we’d seen more of the Shalka Doctor [NeoWhovian]

Unbound: Exile [Doctor Her]

Review of Jubilee by Robert Shearman [Docohobigfinish]





5 replies on “The Four Villains [WHO-50—2003]”

  1. Grant Watson says:

    I’d love to see the Shalka Doctor explored somehow one day. In my own personal canon, he’s what happened to the future of Doctor Who if the Time War hadn’t happened.

  2. I loved this trilogy. The twist in Omega is a knockout – I never saw it coming! It’s great when Big Finish is able to use the audio medium to its full effect like this, as the twist would never have worked in any other medium. Master is also great. Beevers’ voice is perfect for the role: so sinister.

    It says something about the strength of Big Finish’s output at that time that once the jubilation of the show’s return had subsided, my main concern was that Big Finish’s licence would not be renewed, a la Virgin. Fortunately it seems they were looked after.

  3. tansyrr says:

    they seem to continue a good relationship with the BBC which is great – and I do think they continue to produce the absolute best spin off material.

  4. Grant says:

    It got revealed a few months back that the only reason Big Finish *did* keep their license was that Russell Davies personally intervened to stop the BBC from dragging back the audio drama rights as a standard procedure.

  5. tansyrr says:

    I was just reading about that in Doctor Who Magazine!

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