I have always had a hard time getting through an entire First Doctor story on TV. You can blame the short attention spans of millennials if you like, but I just find them so slow. Combine a snail’s pace with questionable effects (even by Doctor Who’s standards) and you have a recipe for me not getting very far into Season 1 of my favourite show. Sacrilege, I know. There is no mandate that we must all love every aspect of the show, but I always felt like a bit of a charlatan when I did not like the entire first era of Doctor Who.
As usual, if you have an issue with an area of Doctor Who, Big Finish will come along and set it right. I very much enjoyed the recent set of Early Adventures stories with Vicki and Steven, but I still felt distant from the original TARDIS crew of Ian, Barbara, and Susan. I have heard a few audios with William Russel and Carole Ann Ford, but certainly not enough for me to be any sort of an authority.
However, the new range of First Doctor Adventures features the actors from An Adventure in Time and Space. Would David Bradley as the Doctor, Claudia Grant as Susan, Jemma Powell as Barbara, and Jamie Glover as Ian Chesterton be able to change my mind?
Well, sort of.
The Phoenicians by Marc Platt
It is always fun to see Marc Platt’s name on an audio release. He gets to write for Doctors he never had the change to on TV. The Phoenicians bring us a historical story for the TARDIS team to get themselves embroiled in, just like back in the 1960s. We travel back to ancient Tyre and learn how myths and history are not quite as different as you may think.
I use the word, “learn” very specifically. This story is a pure historical in the true Newmanian sense of the word. I confess to knowing very little about the period and I came away from the 2 hours feeling educated. There are elements of The Aztecs, particularly in the TARDIS crew’s protestations about human sacrifice; you’d think they’d just be expecting it by now.
The Phoencians centres around Pygmallian and his sister as they vie for power. As usual, our regulars get caught up in the local affairs and are in danger of changing history or losing their lives. This is compounded by the Doctor and Susan arguing over whether seemingly-established history can be trusted, with the Doctor never trusting a history book, despite having an extensive library in the TARDIS.
It took me almost the entirety of this first story to get used to the accent Claudia Grant uses for Susan. I know she is impersonating the type of pronunciation that led to “Dalek” being pronounced “Darlek”, but it just reminded me of Princess Beatrice from The Windsors.
I felt that the story dragged a little over its 2-hour run time, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. The performances from the guest cast are all very good, but I thought that there was just not enough story to go around.
Tick-Tock World by Guy Adams
After their adventure in the ancient worldm the TARDIS suddenly falls out of the vortex – just another Wednesday, you may think, but this time the ship has disappeared. Everyone is confused, not knowing quite how they got there or where they are. They appear to be in a place made up of a random collection of buildings smashed together in a haphazard way. The crew slowly piece together what has happened. They meet other people stranded on the world, as well as ghosts that bring dire warnings.
A little too much of this story consists of people standing around describing their environment to one another. I understand that this is necessary for the medium, and to convey the weird locations of the story, but I found it to be a little annoying – particularly at the beginning when they are setting up the world. The area they are moving about in is an interesting concept, but one that could have benefited from some traditional narration.
There’s a surprising amount of interesting character work in this story. Ian gets all flustered when Barbara points out that the two ladies they just met are a couple. Ian tries very hard to be perfectly fine with it and stammers his way through, saying he’s okay with it. There are a couple of instances of Barbara challenging Ian – she understands that he wants to protect her, but she does not need it. She is fully able to take care of herself, thank you very much.
It’s surprising that a story set on a desolate world focuses so much on the relationship between Ian and Barbara, and the TARDIS team in general. The lack of very many supporting cast members means that the regulars get to play off one another a lot and explore what they mean to each other. They come out of this story a much tighter unit than they came in.
Carole Ann Ford features in this story as The Woman; I won’t spoil the surprise here, but she gets to have some very interesting scenes with the other members of the cast.
David Bradley is excellent at the First Doctor in both stories. It is very easy to visualise him taking on the mannerisms of the impish Hartnell as well as adapting it for his own portrayal. He stammers the occasional line and is constantly trying to make everyone believe he knows what he is doing. He is certainly miles better than Richard Hurndall.
Overall, I enjoyed this new set. There are some excellent ideas and interesting stories that maybe went on a little too long for my taste; however, if you’re a fan of this era, then I recommend you give it a listen.
The First Doctor Adventures: Volume 3 is available from Big Finish for £20.00 on Download or £23.00 on CD.