For the second time this year, the Seventh Doctor returns… and this time he’s joined by two old friends! Harry Sullivan (Christopher Naylor) and Naomi Cross (Eleanor Crooks) are back, and Sadly the last Seventh Doctor boxset, Silver and Ice (review here), was one of the weakest releases of the year so far, but will Sullivan and Cross – AWOL fare any better? Read on to find out!
1. “London Orbital” by John Dorney
After their travels with the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross are living in the twentieth century, cut off from their own time. Investigating strange goings-on on the Underground, the two uncover a whole new world hidden within London: a world inhabited by… elves?! As two factions of these mythical beings collide in a civil war that will have disastrous consequences for all, Harry and Naomi reunite with the Doctor… but it’s not the one they were expecting.
London Orbital is a very different kind of Doctor Who story, erring more towards fantasy than sci-fi. This is both a positive and a negative, making the story feel fresh and exciting, and yet almost a little too far away from what you might expect from a Doctor Who tale. The novelty of using a fantasy creation like elves is also undercut somewhat by the fact that the overall premise is quite similar to the TV story Face the Raven, with the TARDIS team stumbling upon hidden pockets of alien life across London. Nevertheless, the story is pacy and keeps the listener entertained, even if it isn’t always the most original.
Christopher Naylor and Eleanor Crooks reprise their roles as Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross, who first appeared in the UNIT: Nemesis series, and who will travel with the Fourth Doctor in 2024. In timey-wimey fashion, this boxset takes place after both their adventures with the Fourth Doctor and UNIT, so we get some intriguing hints about what’s to come in those sagas, without outright spoiling them.
We also get some nice backstory for Harry, as we learn what drove him to join UNIT in the first place, although, while she’s given a decent slice of the action and has a great dynamic with both the Doctor and Harry, Naomi isn’t given as much exploration. Despite Crooks’ compelling performance, this means Naomi still feels a little one-dimensional, which I suppose is one of the pitfalls of Big Finish releasing her story out of order like this.
The relationship between Harry, Naomi and the Seventh Doctor is an interesting one, with the two seeming relatively unfazed by the idea of their old friend having a different face. Sylvester McCoy takes a backseat role throughout the story, barely featuring in certain parts of the tale, but the interactions he does have with Harry and Naomi are promising, and bode well for the future of this Doctor/companion dynamic. After this, I look forward to hearing the beginning of their story and their interactions with Tom Baker‘s Doctor in 2024…
The focus on setting up this new TARDIS team means that, unfortunately, the side characters in this story feel quite underdeveloped. There are no fewer than eleven guest characters in John Dorney‘s script and, aside from central villain Keryth (Hywel Morgan), none really make any impression, with some only appearing for a couple of scenes. All of this means that the listener doesn’t really emotionally invest in the conflict between the elves, and that the stakes don’t feel big or important enough for any of the central plot to be meaningful.
Overall, this is a difficult story to give a ranking to, because it’s so different from what you’d expect from a Doctor Who adventure. The use of elves and magic is simultaneously inspired and slightly bizarre, while the tension between the well-characterised regulars and the one-dimensional guest characters is hard to make sense of. This certainly isn’t one of Dorney’s stronger scripts, but it’s still very entertaining, and sets up well the adventures to come for Sullivan, Cross and the Seventh Doctor.
2. “Scream of the Daleks” by Lisa McMullin
Responding to a scream echoing through the Vortex, the Doctor, Harry and Naomi arrive on Halloween in 1969, where something very spooky indeed is going on. People have been dying on the same spot across thousands of years, and so, determined to get to the bottom of it, the Doctor and Naomi travel throughout the ages, witnessing Halloweens of years gone by. But they’re about to get a very big surprise, because lurking behind the scenes are the Doctor’s oldest enemies… the Daleks!
Scream of the Daleks is one of those stories that really needed an extra part to really work because, while there are some nice ideas in Lisa McMullin‘s script, it doesn’t feel like any of them are explored properly. The idea of travelling to past Halloweens to see how different cultures celebrated it is great, for example, but once the Daleks enter the picture at the end of part one, it’s pretty much abandoned in favour of a generic, technobabbley Doctor Who story that pretty much goes in one ear and out the other.
The team of McCoy, Crooks and Naylor continues to work well, with McCoy and Crooks in particular getting some good material here. We still don’t know a whole lot about Naomi at the end of this story, nor is Harry explored further in any great detail, but there’s no denying that I’m really enjoying this new TARDIS trio. It’s just a shame that the two guest characters in the story are so thinly-drawn, and that the Daleks don’t do anything interesting…
Overall, this is quite a lightweight story, though it’s not without merit, further developing this new TARDIS team and giving us a genuinely interesting first part.
Sullivan and Cross – AWOL heralds the start of a new era for the Seventh Doctor, and indeed Harry and Naomi, and, while the stories here are nothing mindblowing, they certainly feel fresh and exciting. Here’s hoping the Seventh Doctor’s next set of adventures with Harry and Naomi feel just as novel, but with more depth and focus on the characters. Recommended.
Sullivan and Cross – AWOL is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Leave a Reply