A new era begins for the Second Doctor, as Michael Troughton returns to the role originated by his late father and takes the Time Lord for the first time Beyond War Games… Read on for our thoughts on these two new audio adventures.
While this review doesn’t go into full spoiler territory, some minor plot points are discussed, so read on at your own risk!
1. “The Final Beginning” by Nicholas Briggs and Mark Wright
The Second Doctor has been captured by the Time Lords, and faces a future of exile and frilly shirts… or does he? Waking up in a snowy wasteland with no idea of how he got here, the Doctor soon begins to realise that something, or someone, has diverted the proper course of history, giving him a new lease on life. With ghosts of the future swirling around him and an old enemy rearing its head, what lies in the future for the Second Doctor?
The Final Beginning is, right from the get go, a gloriously atmospheric story, revelling in a sense of mystery and uncertainty. What happened to change the Doctor’s fate? Who is the mysterious stranger known only as Raven? Can the Daleks really have returned after being wiped out? Nicholas Briggs and Mark Wright populate the script with a series of fascinating enigmas which, pleasingly, are all given satisfying and unexpected answers by the end of the story, making this a gripping listen from start to finish.
Michael Troughton is excellent as the Second Doctor, a role we first heard him take on in The Annihilators, back in February (review here). He perfectly captures the Doctor’s bemusement at the strange new situation in which he’s found himself, and his performance really hammers home to the listener the disorienting, slightly sinister tone of Briggs and Wright’s script. As in his previous appearance in the role, Troughton doesn’t attempt to impersonate his father’s voice here, but he’s still completely recognisable as the Second Doctor, bringing the Time Lord to life with the impish irreverence the character is known for.
Troughton is joined for much of the story by Tim Treloar and Anna-Marie Nabirye as prospectors Silas and Catrona, who too are stranded on this strange, icy world. While their characters aren’t particularly interesting, they’re well-performed, and Treloar’s capacity to simultaneously play Silas and ghostly vision of the Third Doctor is commendable. Much better served by the script is Emma Noakes‘ Raven: a beguiling, soft-spoken figure who proves to be the most interesting character in the story for reasons I can’t go into without spoilers.
Sound design and music are handled by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, who does an excellent job at creating the uneasy atmosphere which makes this story so successful. He conjures up an impressive, swirling snowscape which underscores much of the play, while also effectively bringing to life the haunting apparitions which plague the Doctor, and the particularly gruesome final scene of the story, ending The Final Beginning on a harrowing note.
Overall, this is a strong, atmospheric introduction to this new story arc for the Second Doctor, which leaves me excited to see where he’ll go next. Good stuff.
2. “Wrath of the Ice Warriors” by Andrew Smith
Sent to Earth by the Time Lords, the Doctor reunites with the Brigadier at Cape Wrath, and discovers that the Ice Warriors are on the scene, planning something dastardly. Joining with local crofter Sheena Flynn, the Doctor and the Brig face off against the hawkish Lady Zelanda and her platoon of warriors, as she plots to stage a coup on Mars. Will they manage to defeat this wily foe?
Where The Final Beginning was a trippy, groundbreaking story with lots of twists and turns, Wrath of the Ice Warriors is a far more traditional affair, emulating very well the kind of UNIT stories we know from the Second and Third Doctor eras but not doing anything much more creative than that. It’s certainly competently-written, and keeps the listener’s attention throughout, but compared to the previous story, it doesn’t really add much to the Beyond War Games arc, which is a shame given we have to wait another hear to see what happens next.
Michael Troughton is joined here by Jon Culshaw, who plays the Brigadier. As usual, he does a great impression of Nicholas Courtney, even if the character isn’t given much to do aside from barking orders. Lucie Goldie stars as Sheena Flynn, the companion figure for this episode, and gives a strong performance complemented by strong characterisation from author Andrew Smith. Meanwhile, Mark Elstob and Nicholas Briggs give life to the hissing, sibilant Ice Warriors and Katy Manning is gloriously camp as Lady Zelanda, the villain of the piece.
Overall, Wrath of the Ice Warriors is a good story, but one which pales in comparison to its predecessor due to its more traditional plot and slightly overlong runtime.
Beyond War Games is a mixture of groundbreaking and traditional, giving us an eerie continuation of the Second Doctor’s travels post-regeneration in The Final Beginning, before the more familiar Wrath of the Ice Warriors, which is full of tropes common to the UNIT era of Doctor Who. Nevertheless, both stories are strong, and are held together with a barnstorming central performance from Michael Troughton, who effortlessly steps into his father’s shoes and brings the Second Doctor to life in ways we haven’t yet heard from Big Finish. After this set, and especially the tantalising post-credits scene, I’ve very much looking forward to hearing where the Second Doctor goes next… Recommended.
Beyond War Games is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com