Oh, my giddy aunt! The Second Doctor has finally got his first full-cast Big Finish audio release; this time with Patrick Troughton’s son, Michael, stepping into his late father’s shoes.
Beyond War Games is an outstanding boxset, which magnificently introduces the somewhat controversial Season 6B theory with a fresh perspective. There’s a lot that I find extremely puzzling about Season 6B, overall, but I’m glad they have found a distinctive way to revisit the concept on audio.
The boxset opens with The Final Beginning, co-written by director Nicholas Briggs and producer Mark Wright, which takes place during the closing moments of The War Games with the Doctor being forced into exile by the Time Lords. He ends up on a mysterious snowy planet, where he meets a young woman called Raven (Emma Noakes) and prospectors Catrona (Anna-Maria Nabirye) and Silas (Tim Treloar).
But in a double twist of fate, the Doctor discovers that the planet is none other than Skaro, and that Raven is a Time Lord working for the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA). It’s a brilliant way to kick off Big Finish’s take on Season 6B, with the Doctor experiencing visions of his past and future, as we hear Briggs providing the voice of the Daleks and their Emperor alongside a few other familiar faces (rather not spoil it). The same goes for Raven offering him the opportunity to work for the CIA as their agent; it’s the only way for him to sidestep his exile to Earth, hence him saying, “I’m not James Bond, you know!”
The Final Beginning is a strong fast-paced story, with a chilling atmosphere (no pun intended) and tone, that goes straight to the point without any unnecessary padding. Told in an unusual format of four 15-minute episodes that was once used for the Companion Chronicles release The Blue Tooth, one might interpret it as an homage to The Mind Robber, which is significant for each episode running between 18 and 21 minutes. The title also fits perfectly for the adventure, serving as a sequel to The Evil of the Daleks by drawing a sharp contrast to what was originally intended to be “the final end.”
The second story Wrath of the Ice Warriors, by Andrew Smith, sees the Doctor reunite with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Jon Culshaw) in Cape Wrath, Scotland. It’s a lovely mix of familiarity, having this incarnation up against the titular Martians whom he previously encountered, onscreen, in their debut serial and The Seeds of Death; with his pre-exile mission serving as a prelude to working for UNIT on Earth. I call it a warm tribute to a certain few lines of dialogue in Spearhead from Space and Castrovalva.
Sheena Flynn (Lucy Goldie) makes a really good companion-of-sorts, while Mark Elstob does an authentic Ice Warrior voice for Skaar. Katy Manning, also, does an excellent job as the villainous-s-s-s-s Lady Zelanda, despite being so used to her portraying Jo Grant – right out of her comfort zone.
Michael Troughton, who made his acclaimed debut in The Annihilators, has nailed the original role of his late father. His impression is so uncanny, he gets the whimsical mannerisms and throat clearing tics without trying to sound completely identical; not to mention the reenactment of that hilarious scene in The Invasion, where a Cyberman fires three times at the Doctor. It’s very easy to picture the stories in the form of telesnaps, using the appearances of Patrick Troughton and Nicholas Courtney from The Three Doctors. Imagine that: both The Final Beginning and Wrath of the Ice Warriors being produced in 1969 but airing in colour.
Overall, I consider Beyond War Games to be one of the best boxsets of 2022. It’s a perfect starting point for anyone who’s interested in trying out a Second Doctor audio, alongside the Early Adventures release The Black Hole, if you want another sample of Season 6B. And, alternatively, you can try out the brilliant fanmade Devious (yes, it is canon, but set in another timeline) on YouTube (currently in production) and as a bonus feature on The War Games DVD.
Whatever lies ahead for Michael Troughton as the Second Doctor, I hope that future releases will see him reunite with Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and Victoria Waterfield (recasting the late Deborah Watling). Perhaps some adventures set before or after The Five Doctors and/or The Two Doctors? There is so much potential to explore!
Beyond War Games is available now from Big Finish.