Big Finish’s latest ‘Doctor Who’ audio stories reviewed: February 2017 round-up

February brought the Fifth Doctor, travelling with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, back to Earth for an adventure in the world of Victorian gentlemen’s clubs, or more specifically ‘The Contingency Club’.

Meanwhile, the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9 became embroiled with the Sontarans in ‘The Eternal Battle’, and the Third, Jo Grant and Mike Yates took a short trip to the country for ‘Gardeners’ Worlds’.

For those who have yet to sample the delights of the Tenth Doctor and Donna on audio, the 27th brought the no-frills re-release of The Tenth Doctor Volume 1. Cultbox reviewed this trio of tales starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate on its original Limited Edition release last May and called it “An unqualified triumph”.

Fans of the Tenth Doctor should also look out for his debut in the Short Trips range during March and April, alongside two familiar friends in ‘The Jago & Litefoot Revival’.

February also brought the bittersweet treat of John Hurt’s final outing as The War Doctor, in Volume 4: ‘Casualties of War’ which also stars Louise Jameson, reprising her role of Leela. He also took the title role in a thrilling adaptation of ‘The Invisible Man’, launching the company’s year-long HG Wells season.

In addition to audio releases, February also saw the eBook re-releases of two Bernice Summerfield novels by Jacqueline Rayner. ‘The Squire’s Crystal’ and ‘The Glass Prison’, both first published in 2001, chronicle the ongoing adventures the time-travelling archaeologist and sometime companion of the Doctor, who has her own audio series and has appeared alongside various incarnations of the Time Lord.

 

Main Range #222: ‘The Contingency Club’

After another abortive attempt to return Tegan to modern day Heathrow, the TARDIS crash lands in a private Victorian gentleman’s club and appears to have lost all power.

The Contingency Club’s members are an odd breed, drawn from the great and the good of London, its members seem unable to detect that Tegan and Nyssa are not male – not do they find anything amiss about the identical ranks of staff, all named “Edward”.

As the four-person TARDIS team are split during an attempt to eject them, Nyssa and Adric are drawn to subterranean levels to uncover the secrets of the Edwards, with the aid of Marjorie Stonegood (Alison Thea-Skot), a determined young lady who has broken in to discover the whereabouts of her missing father.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Tegan make a more conventional exit, promptly making the acquaintance of society reporter George Augustus, played by the terrific Clive Merrison (‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’, Paradise Towers’). Augustus will seemingly stop at nothing to get a peek inside.

With Phil Mulryne’s script offering plenty of historical detail, from the construction of the underground to its setting within the secrecy of clubbable, mid-Victorian society, we felt we learned a fair deal as well as laughed a lot – Tegan’s consistent chafing at the endemic sexism of the era, and her puns on the word club providing plenty of mirth.

It was not all comedy though; Nyssa’s heartbreak at being unable to do anything for the Edwards rang true to her character, and there were an excellent series of performances from Olly McCauley who voiced them.

‘The Contingency Club’ is an entertaining tale with an unusual premise, as the threat posed to humanity by villain, deliciously played by Lorelei King, is almost incidental to her goal. Her plan, while dangerous, seemed possibly no less cogent than that of Josiah Samuel Smith’s in ‘Ghostlight’ and in some ways this felt like an opening encounter, so perhaps we are destined to meet this particular alien Queen again?

 

The Fourth Doctor Adventures 6.02: ‘The Eternal Battle’

Cavan Scott and Mark Wright make an overdue return with an action packed Fourth Doctor Adventure, ‘The Eternal Battle’. Apart from Tom Baker’s Doctor, Lalla Ward’s Romana II and John Leeson as Romana, we also have Sontarans; cue Dan Starkey. To supplement the ranks of the clone warriors John Banks has a few roles, and there’s a human army to fight, led by Captain Nina Albiston (Jane Slavin).

So, all the pieces for a straightforward Doctor helps beat off the Sontarans story, and this is nothing like it. Instead we get a strong smattering of mysterious and a tinge of horror as once more Big Finish finds another angle on the Sontarans. Not only that but the humans have no interest in the Doctor, instead everyone is intent on fighting a battle that never seems to end. And did we mention the strange creatures in the darkness?

Of course the TARDIS goes missing and the Doctor has no choice but to figure things out and the second half twists the setting remarkably to give a story better than the sum of its parts. There’s action and mystery, and probably enough material for a longer story, though that might have had less impact.

Overall an impressive instalment in the range and another triumph for all involved.

 

Short Trips 7.02: ‘Gardeners’ Worlds’

In a slight break from the norm, this month’s story is not performed by a companion actor, but rather by Tim Treloar, the actor Big Finish have chosen to take on the role of the Third Doctor (and a second volume of his adventures was released in November, with a third due in July).

Summoned to the sleepy English village of Colston Burghley by UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates, the Doctor and Jo investigate some mysterious occurrences – not least the arrival of a medieval stone cross which newly appeared on the village green.

While the Doctor is initially reluctant, fearing it to be a case of mumbo jumbo, his interest is quickly caught by a bout of dimensional dissonance he receives when touching the monument.

George Mann’s story captures the Third Doctor’s superior attitudes brilliantly, and as the story spins into talk of alien flowers, potential futures and the many worlds interpretation of parallel universes, we are ever reliant on Jo Grant who superbly joins the dots for us.

It is really Jo’s story too, for while the Doctor can be aloof and inpatient, and Mike occasionally derisive, it is she who truly listens and leads them to the heart of the matter.

Tim Treloar’s warm Welsh tones narrate the tale and he does an excellent job in bringing both the Doctor and his companions to life – making for another rewarding Short Trip.

 

What was your favourite Doctor Who release from Big Finish this month? Let us know below…

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