I wasn’t expecting Big Finish’s Unbound range to make a spectacular return as a two-volume miniseries. And the results of the first boxset… explosively outstanding!
To provide a brief summary, the Unbound audios tell “What if?” scenarios set in parallel universes and timelines, each featuring a different incarnation of the Doctor voiced by a new actor. However, it’s a little bit different this time round.
The first instalment, Dust Devil, kicks off with a recreation of an iconic scene from Genesis of the Daleks – one of my favourite Classic era serials. The pivotal moment when the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) holds two strands together and hesitates to commit genocide against the Dalek race, with Sarah Jane Smith (here played by Sadie Miller) and Harry Sullivan (Christopher Naylor for this audio) by his side; you can easily picture the original scene with the near-verbatim dialogue being spoken. In a twist of fate, the Doctor succeeds with completing his mission for the Time Lords, ultimately changing the course of history. But it doesn’t end well for him and his two companions.
In the midst of the Last Great Time War, we are also treated to the return of Narvin (Seán Carlsen) whose role acts as a parallel to Ohila. It brilliantly mirrors the events of The Night of the Doctor, with Narvin interacting with a dying Doctor and giving him the Elixir of Life. And this is where Tom regenerates… straight into the next Baker, in the form of Colin – the Warrior. “Not a moment too soon,” as the Sixth Doctor would say. Because everything has been brought forward.
The story may appear to be all over the place in terms of pacing, but John Dorney’s script magnificently establishes the new, fractured timeline by providing enough room to explore the sudden shifts between the Doctor visiting Aridius and travelling with Peri (Nicola Bryant). He is an expert at writing epic introductions with plot twists leaving listeners in shock, especially after last year’s Dalek Universe two-part opener Buying Time/The Wrong Woman – which I also reviewed.
I can definitely say that Dust Devil has become an all-time favourite Unbound audio, alongside Sympathy for the Devil. Absolute perfection!
The second instalment, Aftershocks, introduced a non-decayed/non-crispy version of the Master (Geoffrey Beevers), with a peaceful alliance between the Daleks (Nicholas Briggs) and Thals on Skaro. If those aren’t pleasantly surprising enough, you’ll also find that the Master has a fondness for jelly babies unlike his N-Space counterpart; well, except for Harold Saxon. I love how Lou Morgan develops the chemistry between him and the Warrior in her script, whilst maintaining the former’s menacing personality. Same goes for the Warrior’s “trial”; it’s way more twisted than the entirety of Season 23 — in the darkest way possible.
The third and final instalment, The Difference Office by James Kettle, sees the Warrior as Lord President of Gallifrey, with the Shobogans – the planet’s indigenous species – staging a peaceful protest. They may be different from their N-Space counterparts, but I love how both Romana (Rebecca Night) and Borusa (Sanjeev Bhaskar) are portrayed, as well as the Kraals being neatly woven into the script.
Colin magnificently shines as the Warrior in the boxset, delivering a much darker take on both old Sixie and the late John Hurt’s War Doctor. The same goes for Barnaby Kay’s accomplished directing, and Howard Carter’s new theme arrangement which marvellously blends in the War Doctor and Seventh Doctor Novel Adaptations themes (first heard in Damaged Goods); they all make a nice polishing touch to the finishing product.
Overall, this boxset is a perfect starting point for anyone who wishes to try out the Unbound audios. Plenty of possibilities worth exploring!
Doctor of War 1: Genesis is available now from Big Finish.