The original TARDIS team is back for another boxset of adventures, this time featuring a familiar face. The first two First Doctor Adventures sets are some of my all-time favourite Big Finish releases, but does volume three manage to be just as good? Read on to find out!
1. “The Phoenicians” by Marc Platt
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in the Phoenician city of Tyre and become acquainted with Princess Elissa, who finds herself beset by masked hoodlums. Little does she know, her brother, the tyrannical Prince Pygmalion, is the cause of all her problems, and soon the TARDIS team also fall foul of his petulance. Split up across the Phoenician empire, the travellers must find a way to reach each other again, before Pygmalion’s influence makes it impossible to escape.
As with the previous two sets in the First Doctor Adventures series, Volume Three consists of both a sci-fi and a historical story. The Phoenicians is part of the latter camp, and offers an intriguing glimpse into a civilisation that I knew little about before listening to this. It’s because of stories like this that I love the First Doctor’s era so much; featuring no science fiction elements bar the TARDIS and its occupants, The Phoenicians is almost like a documentary, exploring the epoch in which it’s set in a way that’s both educational and dramatically interesting.
As with the other historical stories he’s written for Big Finish, Marc Platt emulates the style of a First Doctor tale perfectly, combining a vivid setting with colourful characters (both fictional and real) to create an enthralling and educational look back into the past. This is the kind of story that could fit perfectly into the show’s first couple of seasons, alongside historicals like Marco Polo and The Crusades.
The entire TARDIS team is well-written and performed here, but Jemma Powell and Claudia Grant get some particularly interesting material, with Barbara becoming suspicious of Ian’s relationship with Princess Elissa, and Susan having to deal with becoming separated from her grandfather. David Bradley is also excellent during his confrontations with Pygmalion, while Jamie Glover is suitably indignant at Elissa’s suggestion that Susan and Barbara become ‘acolytes’ at Kition’s temple for the goddess of love.
The main quartet is complimented by a brilliant guest cast, the standouts of which are Ajjaz Awad as Elissa and Jo Ben Ayed as Pygmalion, who convey the petulant bickering of a brother-sister relationship perfectly. Awad gets a little more airtime than Ben Ayed, joining the three companions on their journey to Kition, and gives a delightfully nuanced performance, simultaneously sympathetic and ignorant.
All in all, The Phoenicians is a solid historical which, like the eagle on its front cover, soars above average due to its novel setting and impressive characterisation of the regulars. Though a slightly sluggish plot (particularly in the second half) means it doesn’t get top marks, this is still a great story from Marc Platt and the team.
2. “Tick-Tock World” by Guy Adams
Tick-Tock World is the second story in the set, and the more science-fiction based episode of the two. Set on a mysterious world where time and space are out of joint, this is another great installment in the series.
This story is full of some great ideas, though sometimes I found myself wondering if there was too little plot for the runtime. Nevertheless, the character work here is excellent, and continues the trend set in “The Phoenicians” of really fleshing out the original TARDIS team.
Claudia Grant is served well as Susan here, this probably being the best story for the character yet. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara are also given a lot to do, each of them having several moments of character development that really elevate this story.
The guest characters, played by Mina Anwar (aka Gita Chandra from SJA), Susie Emmett and Belinda Lang are also well-written, and add to this story’s success.
This story also features an appearance from Carole Ann Ford: the original Susan. I’ll give no spoilers here as to what her role in the story entails; all I’ll say is that she does a brilliant job bringing a most beguiling character to life.
The sound design and music is particularly brilliant here, with Joe Meiners bringing the mysterious world in which the story takes place to life stunningly.
Directed by Ken Bentley who, as usual, is on top form, this boxset is another in one of the strongest series Big Finish are currently producing. Taking us from the ancient and vivid world of the Phoenicians to a mysterious and shadowy planet populated by terrible creatures, the stories in this set are brilliant and leave me clamouring for a Volume Four as soon as possible.
The First Doctor Adventures: Volume Three can be purchased on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com