Doctor Who: Unbound returns! For the first time in fifteen years, Big Finish takes a sideways step into an alternate Doctor Who timeline, exploring what would happen if the Fourth Doctor did destroy the Daleks on Skaro, before regenerating into an incarnation known as the Warrior. Colin Baker stars in these three new audio adventures, which we’ve been promised will be timey-wimey to the extreme. But are they any good? Or should Doctor of War: Genesis have been destroyed alongside the Daleks? Read on for our thoughts!
1. “Dust Devil” by John Dorney
History has changed. The Doctor, having averted the genesis of the Daleks on Skaro, has regenerated into the Warrior and is thrust into a universe of chaos and destruction. On the planet Aridius, the Time Lord finds himself pursued by sinister enemies. Will he be able to find what he’s looking for beneath the planet’s surface before time catches up with him?
Now, there’s not much I can say about Dust Devil without going into major spoiler territory. As has been revealed in promotional materials, the story opens with cameos from Tom Baker, Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor as the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, recreating scenes from Genesis of the Daleks, which is one of the best parts of not only this episode, but the entire boxset. All three excellently recreate this iconic scene, but Tom Baker in particular gives a blisteringly good performance, unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, making this a truly breathtaking way to open the set.
After the opening credits roll, we find the Time Lord, now played by Colin Baker, trekking through the sands of Aridius with a pair of native Aridians… while seemingly simultaneously avoiding a pair of ruthless, sentient bullets with his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) on Earth. As you can probably gather from this, this is a very timey-wimey script, but it’s remarkably easy to follow, and everything is tied up nicely by the end. While the main plot may drag a little around halfway through, there are consistent twists and turns which keep things remarkably fresh.
Colin Baker puts in a rather different performance to what you might expect here (to say more would be to spoil things!), as does Nicola Bryant, who gets to work her acting chops playing two versions of the faithful Miss Brown. Sean Carlsen also cameos as Narvin, his scenes putting a gripping twist on 2013’s Night of the Doctor, while David Holt and Sasha Behar are excellent in their multiple roles, though they’re particularly effective as the villainous Bullets.
Overall, this is a gripping, relentlessly-paced opener to this new series, which revels in shocking and wrong-footing the listener. Packed with some gorgeous imagery, unexpected performances and excellent sound design from Jack Townley, Dust Devil is one of the strongest Big Finish scripts so far this year.
2. “Aftershocks” by Lou Morgan
The Doctor has been reborn as the Warrior, and the universe as he knew it has been changed forever. With Skaro’s history having been altered, the Kaleds and Thals have united to form a powerful empire… one that could pose a threat to the universe at large. As the Warrior is put on trial for a crime he can’t even remember, and the Skaroan Empire grows in strength, might the Master prove a valuable ally?
Aftershocks is an odd story, both traditional and groundbreaking at once. Combining two very familiar Doctor Who tropes (the Doctor on trial + the Doctor with amnesia), the general premise feels a little stale at times, though there are some nice twists which means this isn’t a complete retread of past stories. Nevertheless, things do drag at times, which makes this a slightly difficult listen.
Geoffrey Beevers stars here as the Master, and proves a worthy opponent for Colin Baker‘s Warrior, with the two sharing some fantastic scenes throughout. It’s a shame he doesn’t appear elsewhere in the set, because his presence here is one of the highlights of this story. Another highlight is the character of the Twin Dalek, played with flair by Nicholas Briggs. Two Dalek mutants contained in one casing, the Twin Dalek is a fascinating, if a little underused, concept which I hope we see more of in the future (if that’s even possible).
All in all, Aftershocks is a slowly-paced and often confusing script which is pushed above average by a top notch cast, and some arresting interactions between Baker and Beevers.
3. “The Difference Office” by James Kettle
The Warrior is Lord President of Gallifrey… but someone’s after his throne! Advancing on the Capitol from the Drylands, the desert-dweller known as the Doctor will stop at nothing until he rules over Gallifrey. But how can the Doctor and the Warrior share a face? What is the Difference Office? And is everyone really who they seem to be?
The Difference Office is far and away the weakest story in this boxset, and quite possibly the weakest story released by Big Finish so far this year. While the plot, at least on paper, is interesting, with the Doctor attacking Gallifrey whilst simultaneously being its Lord President, the execution is hugely lacking, with absolutely no tension or excitement in the script.
The characters are equally poor, well-performed in most instances but given the most pedestrian dialogue possible. Nevertheless, Colin Baker impresses as the Warrior, excelling at the character’s more grim demeanour, while Rick Warden is the perfect fit for the villainous Styggron, giving him a wonderfully gravelly voice which makes him seem a credible threat.
Meanwhile, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rebecca Night and Georgie Mackenzie star as Borusa, Romana and Zorcha and, while all do their best with the material provided, their characters just aren’t very interesting. Because of this, some of the more emotional scenes in this episode just don’t work, because we don’t care about any of the characters. Furthermore, there seems no reason why there needed to be a new incarnation of Romana in this story, nor why Bhaskar had to be playing Borusa, instead of a generic Time Lord; it simply doesn’t matter to the plot that these are familiar characters with new faces.
Overall, this is a generic and uninteresting story, completely squandering the Unbound premise save for a couple of scenes. A disappointing conclusion to the set.
Opening with the excellent Dust Devil before going downhill with the last two stories, Doctor of War: Genesis is an inconsistent boxset with moments of brilliance. The main problem with this set is that, while the first story is suitably mindbending, the other two are pretty much regular Doctor Who stories with a couple of (admittedly very good) twists thrown in. I’m certainly interested to hear Doctor of War: Destiny later this year, as I think this series has a lot of promise, but I sadly don’t think that promise has been properly realised by Genesis. Nevertheless, on the strength of the opening story and parts of the second and third, I recommend this boxset.
Doctor of War: Genesis is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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