Everyone likes a good spin-off. Doctor Who had Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and pretty soon, Class. Buffy had Angel, and Casualty has Holby City. You can’t help but think if The Green Green Grass had had Del boy popping in once in a while, it may have been better.
Big Finish has spent many years cultivating the rich characters from Doctor Who to create some amazing spin-off series. Jago and Litefoot, Counter-Measures, and Gallifrey have all been hugely successful and, most importantly, hugely enjoyable. All of these series have the characters protecting Earth and the Doctor’s home planet in different eras when the Doctor cannot be there; they survive on their own and always pull through to make sure that everyone else is defended, just as the Doctor taught them to. But once in a while, everyone needs to be reminded of how important these various teams are. Regular listeners may need an injection of the epic; newer listeners may need a focal point having just stepped into the world of Doctor Who to find out exactly what these spin-off characters and adventures are all about.
And that’s where The Worlds of Doctor Who comes is.
To state the obvious, this box set, released in September 2014, needs to be in your collection. Each story stands up well on its own but the coming together of some of the Doctor’s closest friends is truly a wonder to hear. This is not a Journey’s End style adventure where everyone is together in the same room swapping notes and exchanging pleasantries: each story takes place in its own world and each team adds layers to the overall narrative which is, by the way, absolutely epic.
For Jago and Litefoot, there’s Mind Games, a fitting tribute to the eminent pathologist and the local impresario. The New Regency Theatre’s resident act Mr Rees seems to be behind the gruesome murders that are plaguing Victorian London, but never fear, Jago and Litefoot will save the day. This sets the wheels in motion for events that will reach as far as Gallifrey itself, but writer Justin Richards keeps things strong and simple here with a straightforward mystery for the duo to solve and a satisfying conclusion. At the end, the listener knows all too well that things are not over but it’s certainly satisfying to have these tales told in digestible chunks.
The Reesinger Process is the Counter-Measures quarter of events and again written by Justin Richards. A self contained story this may be but one can already feel that events are starting to weigh heavy on the world by the end of this very Avengers-like story. Mr. Rees (played by Jamie Glover, who portrayed William Russell in 2013’s An Adventure in Space and Time) is heavily involved here but has moved beyond the physical form and now works in thought only. His power and corruption serve him as an excellent villain – and ruthless one at that. Anyone who’s not on tenterhooks for the gripping conclusion should probably take stock of how they view high quality drama.
Moving forward from these ‘house’ styles of storytelling, we come to this boxset’s third act, The Screaming Skull. This is where things get interesting. Writer, Jonathan Morris takes the characters of Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato, previously encountered in two Companion Chronicles regarding UNIT’s top secret vault, and teams them up with the legendary Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) to head back into said vault after it is mysteriously locked down. Not only is this story rife with rich references into Doctor Who’s past, it is also incredibly well written. The stakes are high, Rees has events that have taken 50 years to move forward with rolling out and no one is safe. This is not simple Doctor Who spin-off stuff where the reset button has to be hit at the end; this is genuinely enthralling stuff. If we don’t see a spin-off with these three working together in the future, Big Finish has missed a trick.
Finally, things come to an incredible conclusion in Second Sight, the Gallifrey chapter of this set, by Nick Wallace and Justin Richards. Rees’ actions and plans have caused alarm on the planet of the Time Lords and President Romana (Lalla Ward) has dispatched her top agent Leela (Louise Jameson) to take care of things, but Leela has gone missing after arriving on Earth. Is all hope lost? Of course it’s not, because at the end of the last tale, Captain Mike Yates used the Space-Time telegraph to summon the Doctor to save the day…
Old Sixy takes charge here and wonderfully owns the room as he deals with the events that are now spiralling to a huge conclusion. Whilst mentioning earlier on in this retrospective that the separate teams are not all brought together for a big party, they come as near as possible in this final adventure and all serve part of the bigger whole with aplomb.
The boxset’s overall conclusion is extremely satisfying as well; the pace is pushed to the absolute limit; the Doctor and his friends really seem to have very little time at all to save the entire Universe and when the Doctor confronts Rees at the end for a final showdown, it’s heartbreaking. If your bottom lip is not wobbling by the end of it, you’re made of sterner stuff than this reviewer.
This wonderful set is a complete success, taking the old, the current, and the new, and brazenly showing off just how far Big Finish have come since they took on the Doctor Who license in 1999. Let’s hope that we get something equally as remarkable for their 20th anniversary…
The World of Doctor Who Limited Edition set is available now from Big Finish for £45 on CD or £25 as a download.
(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in November 2014.)