The first part of Big Finish’s Doctor Who 60th anniversary event sees the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) reunite with his former companion and dear friend, Sarah Jane Smith (Sadie Miller)… but not in the way you would expect.
It all begins with the Doctor being struck by a degeneration weapon in the midst of the Time War, causing him to temporarily switch between some very familiar faces. We are treated to cameos from the First (Stephen Noonan), Second (Michael Troughton), Third (Tim Treloar), Fifth (Peter Davison), Sixth (Colin Baker), and Seventh (Sylvester McCoy) incarnations — a nice little slice of nostalgia to kick off the eight-part story arc. And as the Fourth Doctor embarks on a journey to unravel the mystery of his degeneration, he tracks down the Meddling Monk (Rufus Hound) who may have some clues to provide.
In a brilliant recreation of Sarah Jane’s departure in The Hand of Fear, the Monk proceeds to kidnap her from where the Doctor supposedly dropped her off in Croydon (Aberdeen, to be more geographically accurate). It’s heartbreaking when you try to picture the original scene with Sadie’s late mother Elisabeth Sladen, but I love the idea of having a direct continuation to interpret what happened to Sarah in the immediate aftermath. And for those wondering about how the Monk and Sarah already know each other, it’s worth checking out the hilarious Short Trip, How to Win Planets and Influence People, performed by Hound in character.
Meanwhile, the Doctor meets Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) of modern day UNIT inside the Tower of London, 2010, where they encounter the Hyreth and visit the Black Archive… only to find Sarah with the Monk already inside. One thing that really intrigues me about Past Lives is that the Doctor and Sarah, with Kate’s father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, defeated the Hyreth decades earlier. I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Big Finish has plans for an audio adventure involving this scenario, but maybe they’ll announce something later this year. And I already have my fingers crossed for more audios with Tom and Sadie; hopefully some 4DA boxsets exploring Season 13.
Without giving away too much, the interactions between the four leading protagonists and the Monk truly warmed my heart with nostalgia (and it’s filled with Easter eggs). Although I don’t have a particular favourite performance, that’s because the cast were all magnificent throughout. The late Lis Sladen and Nicholas Courtney would both be very proud.
Overall, Past Lives is a perfect start to the Once and Future event. It’s a Doctor Who fan’s dream come true with Robert Valentine’s script bringing together the Classic and New Series eras to fulfil the hour-long reunion, including the deliberate foreshadowing of The Day of the Doctor which takes place three years later. Well, we all know it’s not the last time the Doctor gets to be with Sarah, since their parting justifies their re-encounter in School Reunion. And speaking of the 50th anniversary special, the Curator, also played by Tom Baker, isn’t involved in this storyline or the overarching narrative. Or could he be, since another Baker (no pun intended) is appearing in the next instalment? Who knows?
Once and Future: Past Lives is now available on CD and digital download. If you want extended extras and music suites for the entire series, you can purchase the Once and Future Special Edition bundle as a download only.