With the aptly-titled Forty, Big Finish is celebrating forty years since Peter Davison‘s Fifth Doctor make his debut in 1982’s Castrovalva. As the fifth incarnation of our favourite Time Lord is flung back and forth along his timeline, he’ll encounter old friends, and face off against the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors. It’s an interesting premise to be sure, but does it pay off? Read on to find out!
1. “Secrets of Telos” by Matt Fitton
This celebration of the Fifth Doctor’s era begins with Secrets of Telos, which is… a sequel to a Second Doctor story. Right. Despite such an anachronistic premise, however, this is actually a fairly strong story. The Doctor is thrown forward in his timestream by a mysterious force as the TARDIS lands on a spaceship fleeing the planet Telos. It soon becomes apparent that the ship is manned by Captain Hopper and Professor Parry, from the 1967 TV story The Tomb of the Cybermen, and that there’s something malevolent on board…
Writer Matt Fitton does a good job with this script, giving over the first two parts to a base-under-siege type story, with the ship under attack from Cybermats, and then diverting the last two parts to the planet Telos Minor, where the team encounter the Cybermen and the villainous Professor Vansom. By splitting the story up like this, Fitton ensures there’s always something new just around the corner, and prevents it from dragging on.
The cast here are all on top form, with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton as the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa being particularly effective here. They don’t get given anything mindblowing to work with, but Davison is good as this fish-out-of-water, time-displaced version of the Doctor, while Fielding and Sutton get some interesting scenes as their characters try and keep the Time Lord’s future a secret from him.
In terms of guest characters, Ronan Summers and Christopher Timothy take on the roles of Captain Hopper and Professor Parry from The Tomb of the Cybermen, and do a good job at replicating the feel of those characters, even if the material they’re given isn’t always the most exciting. Meanwhile, Barbara Flynn (who recently appeared as Tecteun in Doctor Who: Flux on TV) puts in a strong performance Professor Vansom, who is an interesting villain with a well thought-out backstory.
Nicholas Briggs returns, of course, as the Cybermen, giving us a faithful recreation of their buzzing, monotone voices from their early TV stories with the Second Doctor. While, due to the modulation, these Cyber voices are sometimes a little hard to understand, there’s no denying that it’s a huge treat to have this particular version of such an iconic villain back. Howard Carter‘s excellent Cyberman theme returns too, having been previously heard in Gates of Hell and Monsters in Metropolis, and is as effective as ever at announcing the presence of the villainous silver giants.
Overall, while it’s a very odd choice to celebrate the Fifth Doctor by throwing him together with characters he never even met, in a sequel to a story he wasn’t even in, Secrets of Telos is a pretty strong story. It’s nothing mindblowing, but it’s a curiously effective blend of 60s and 80s nostalgia, and a traditional slice of Doctor Who adventure.
2. “God of War” by Sarah Grochala
Flung back to his early days travelling with Nyssa, Tegan and Adric, the Fifth Doctor finds himself in ninth century Iceland, where another old enemy is lurking. As Nyssa and Tegan fall in with the locals, the Doctor and Adric go exploring, and find an injured Ice Warrior: Grand Marshall Xasslyr. While they get him back on his feet, Nyssa and Tegan discover that the locals are about to uncover something else buried beneath the ice…
For the first half its runtime, you’d be forgiven for thinking God of War a stale retread of previous stories, with a lot of the elements here having been seen before. An Ice Warrior frozen in ice? Been there, done that! The Doctor telling the Ice Warrior that Mars is now a dead planet? Yep, seen that before! The Ice Warrior deciding to take over the world and turn it into the new Mars? Yawn! Thankfully, however, the second half picks up a little, at least going into some more unexpected territory, if nothing mindblowing.
The characterisation of the main cast here is the best part about this story, with writer Sarah Grochala doing a great job at tapping into what makes each character work. Peter Davison gets some great emotional material as the Doctor is reunited with Adric after learning his fate in the previous episode, Sarah Sutton gets to show off Nyssa’s scientific prowess, Matthew Waterhouse is delightfully petulant (and admirably resourceful) as Adric, and Janet Fielding as Tegan saves everyone’s lives with an impromptu aircraft safety briefing. Good stuff all round here.
Unfortunately, the guest characters are less effective. Both Revna (Belinda Lang) and Inga (Matilda Tucker) have really intriguing backstories, but God of War is just too short to delve into them for very long, which is a shame really. There are also little hints of romance between Inga and Adric, but, again, the runtime means this subplot doesn’t quite convince. Meanwhile, Nicholas Briggs is excellent as the voice of the Ice Warriors, who, if nothing else, are at least used better here than their previous appearance in UNIT: Fire and Ice back in November.
Overall, this is an average episode elevated by strong characterisation for the main cast and some gloriously haunting music from Howard Carter, some of the best in recent releases.
Interlude: “I, Kamelion” by Dominic Martin
Alongside this year’s Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor boxsets, Big Finish are releasing bonus Interludes: hour-long audiobooks with music and effects, read by actors from Doctor Who‘s history. Released with this month’s Forty 1 boxset is I, Kamelion, the first of these Interludes, which is written by Dominic Martin and read by Dan Starkey.
This story sees the Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Kamelion arrive on the planet Tairot: a world dependent on technology. Soon, Kamelion finds himself transplanted into a human body and is flung into a conspiracy involving a tech genius and his plan to create an immortal, digital life form. In order to save the day, he must come to terms with his newfound humanity and rescue his friends from imprisonment.
While Starkey is an excellent reader, giving a truly uncanny impression of Peter Davison and Mark Strickson‘s voices, the story itself isn’t particularly engaging. There are some nice moments, particularly for Kamelion, but aside from that there’s not much else to say about it, short of praising the music and sound design by Howard Carter and Jaspreet Singh.
As a celebration of the Fifth Doctor’s era I’m not quite sure that Forty 1 works, but if you’re looking a solid slice of traditional Doctor Who, this is worth picking up. While everyone involved is on top form, and there are a certainly a few high points, such as the characterisation of the TARDIS team and Howard Carter‘s music, this release doesn’t quite hit the soaring heights of some other boxsets. There are certainly worse ways to spend a few hours out there, though, and as such Forty 1 gets the following score:
Doctor Who: Forty 1 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Forty 2 will be released in September of this year