There’s a new Doctor in town. Or rather, an old one. Or rather, rather, a young one. Or rather rather rather, a new old young one. It all gets a bit confusing, this time travel shenanigans.
On Christmas Day 2017, mere moments after his appearance as the actual First Doctor on BBC1 (as opposed to simply the mere mortal who played him in Mark Gatiss’s 2013 Hartnell biopic An Adventure in Space and Time), David Bradley’s Doctor was inaugurated into the Big Finish Hall of Fame with the release of their First Doctor Adventures volume one. Two stories, from the pens of Messrs Fitton and Adams (chained as they are, without let or relief, to the BF writing table) starring the First Doctor and his original team of travelling companions: granddaughter Susan (played by Claudia Grant [who played Carole-Ann Ford in AAISAT]) and her teachers Ian Chesterton (Jamie Glover [William Russell]) and Barbara Wright (Jemma Powell [Jaqueline Hill]). Like I said, confusing.
The first of the two stories is Matt Fitton’s The Destination Wars, in which the Tardis lands its travellers in a human city from the far future – Space Year 2003, to be exact. A city created by the mysterious Inventor, who is more than he at first seems.
Second comes Guy Adams’s The Great White Hurricane, a pure historical set in 1880s New York amid a war between rival gangs and the coming of the worst storm to hit the east coast in colonial and post-colonial history.
And both stories feel exactly of their period, complete with (what is now considered) the naive 60s view of space travel and the future, and also the show’s willingness at that time to delve into stories with no sci-fi other than the Tardis team itself. (Not something often tried since the arrival of the Second Doctor.) Similarly, both are compelling – especially in Destination Wars when the Inventor is revealed to be… (wait for it, spoiler coming – but he’s in the cast list so not much of one) …actually the Master, played superbly by James Dreyfus. One assumes this is an incarnation prior to Delgado’s; but in fact, with eyes closed and ignoring the picture of Deryfus on the cover, one can almost see Delgado in the part.
Adams’s Great White Hurricane also works really well, with some great writing giving real life to flawed but ultimately redeemable characters of all creeds. And the Doctor being mistaken for a drunk is a lot of fun.
So, the writing fits the tone of the era. As, of course, does the sound design. As ever with BF, the atmosphere created is utterly believable, both in terms of the story, and also of the original television era in which it would have been produced; similarly, the background music is both appropriate for the era, and also properly complementary.
But what of the acting and characterisation? Well, this is a sticky one. For me – and YMMV, of course – Bradley doesn’t look a lot like Hartnell, and sounds like him distinctly less. This is absolutely not Hartnell’s Doctor, and you’re on a hiding to nothing pretending it is.
Similarly, Claudia Grant’s Susan just doesn’t sound like Carole-Ann Ford’s. When Ford played the role, she was wistful, slightly bemused; a high pitched voice that sounded, yes, other-worldly. Not so Grant, who sounds throughout far more down to earth and loving every moment (not that that’s a problem, of course), speaking almost every line with what sounds like an extremely broad grin.
Jemma Powell’s Barbara is also somewhat unlike Jaqueline Hill’s: less RP, for one thing. Jamie Glover’s Chesterton, it has to be said, actually does sound quite a lot like Russell’s (at least to me), so there my tirade ends.
BUT… does any of this matter? Well, no. For all that they don’t sound like the originals, they are definitely playing the original characters. Bradley’s Doctor is absolutely the First – albeit a different interpretation. (As opposed to Tim Treloar’s Third Doctor, which to me is a different interpretation of Pertwee’s Third, rather than a different interpretation of THE Third.) Similarly, Grant, Glover and Powell are entirely believable as Susan, Ian and Barbara. So it’s not that any of them are wrong, just that it’s a different cast playing the characters. Get past that – which one does before the download has finished, TBH, just from looking at the cover – and you’re straight back to the 60s.
And it all just works brilliantly. Big Finish have, again, used their vast reserves of professionalism and love to produce something amazing – an homage to the original world-builders that builds new worlds of its own. Genuinely, I can’t wait for volume two.
The First Doctor Adventures vol 1 is available from BigFinish.com.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Matt Fitton, Guy Adams
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), James Dreyfus (The Master), Raymond Coulthard (Robac / Servers / Dalmari), Sian Reeves (Tanna), Deli Segal (Reena), Jackson Milner (Patrick), Cory English (Daniel), Carolina Valdes (Rosalita), Ronan Summers (O’Connell), Christopher Naylor (Policeman / Man with Ladder / Gang Member / Henry). Other parts played by members of the cast.