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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who, Once and Future – The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50

Entering the latter half of Big Finish’s Doctor Who 60th anniversary event, the fifth chapter of Once and Future sees the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) encounter some fan favourites, Missy (Michelle Gomez) and the Paternoster Gang – Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey). Oh yes!

Before I resume, I would like to share a personal anecdote. On 28th July, the day when the story’s synopsis and cover artworks were revealed, I was at a funeral for an old school friend who sadly passed away in June. I didn’t find out about the announcement until I got home quite late, but it really cheered me up at the end of that very emotional day.

The first 15 minutes features a degenerated First Doctor (Stephen Noonan) meeting journalist Jessamy Moore (Hannah Genesius) at Kew Gardens, in the midst of an invaded Victorian London. When he first encounters the Martian tripods, we get to experience him regenerating into his tenth incarnation. It’s a brilliant way to expand upon Noonan’s appearance in the overarching narrative, instead of just multiple cameos.

Meanwhile, the mischievous Missy keeps Vastra and Jenny as her prisoners inside Southwark Cathedral (yes, that’s also where the climax of The Lazarus Experiment takes place), treating them like slaves in a similar manner to the events of Last of the Time Lords. Their interactions and witty dialogue kept making me laugh, as these Steven Moffat era characters cross paths on audio for the first time; not to mention that Jenny is forced to obey her “Mistress”, a deliberate nod to the cliffhanger of Dark Water. And let’s say that Vastra doesn’t have her feral, reptilian instincts like Alaya from the Silurian two-parter by future showrunner Chris Chibnall.

Going back to the Tenth Doctor’s debut, it’s refreshingly nostalgic for him to ponder the fact that he’s become a future incarnation for the first time in his degeneration crisis, hence why the eight-part story arc is titled Once and Future — revisiting old faces, whilst glimpsing new ones that have yet to come in the Doctor’s timeline. What’s more, him highlighting the change of clothes during regeneration appears to act as a call forward to the Fourteenth Doctor’s debut in The Power of the Doctor (more on that later!). And Howard Carter’s triumphant choral variant of the Tenth Doctor’s Big Finish theme… top notch.

I love that the Doctor also touches upon the adaptations of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, such as noting “several versions on the telly.” And Jessamy narrating in her journal is a nice little tribute to the unnamed Narrator from the book. I’ve only watched the three-part BBC miniseries (adapted by Peter Harness, best known for writing the Zygon two-parter in Series 9), and the contemporary British-French series with David and Georgia Tennant’s son, Ty. After watching the latter TV adaptation on Disney+, last year, I did actually wonder if Doctor Who would ever do a take on the HG Wells classic. Turns out, I guessed correctly! Well, it certainly wasn’t the first time that Big Finish adapted it. Remember The Martian Invasion of Earth, starring Richard Armitage (who currently voices Rassilon in the Gallifrey audios)? It’s worth the listen.

As the Doctor and Jessamy encounter Strax, we are treated to some comical and nostalgic exchanges between the three, including a mention of the battle of Demons Run — cleverly justified there. Not surprised that the Doctor initially shows disbelief at the only good Sontaran, considering their histories and past conflicts. Later on, when he meets Vastra and Jenny, they appear to recognise one another, with the latter somewhat remembering that he attended their wedding. Now that would be a Tenth Doctor/Paternoster Gang audio worth the listen! And while there are plenty of other continuity references that I wish to touch upon, I would prefer not spoil them here…

The last time the Paternoster Gang appeared onscreen was in the Series 8 opener Deep Breath, which saw the full debut of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Always a nice touch for familiar faces to overlap with multiple incarnations, after appearing with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) in A Good Man Goes to War, The Snowmen (with its prequels), The Crimson Horror, and The Name of the Doctor. Think of this audio as The Day of the Doctor, but set in the Victorian era. They really do make such a brilliant team!

And here’s what we’ve all been waiting for: the Tenth Doctor coming face to face with Missy. Tennant and Gomez’s chemistry brilliantly demonstrated their relationship being more antagonistic on this occasion, as opposed to her redeeming qualities in Series 10. Speaking of which, it’s very much like an audio equivalent to the Twelfth Doctor meeting the Harold Saxon Master (John Simm) in the epic Series 10 finale World Enough and Time/ The Doctor Falls. Two of my favourite Doctors meeting two different Masters from their respective eras: that’s what I love about the franchise! If their interactions weren’t satisfying enough, we are also treated to some further progress on the overarching narrative, plus a few twists surrounding Missy’s motives and Planetoid 50 itself.

Jonathan Barnes combines key elements of the RTD and Moffat eras with The War of the Worlds as the central basis. Definitely the right decision to bring in my favourite 21st Century Who incarnation, who I grew up watching during childhood. I wasn’t sure if the Tenth Doctor encountering these Moffat era characters were possible, but I’m very pleased that Big Finish has found a way to bring them together for the 60th.

According to Barnes and producer David Richardson, the story was conceived in 2019 before the COVID pandemic, with a “completely different” incarnation in mind. It’s amazingly serendipitous that Tennant was able to record it remotely during lockdown in 2020, alongside The Tenth Doctor and River Song boxset and the entire Dalek Universe miniseries (another favourite of mine). And considering that this was done way before The Power of the Doctor and the forthcoming 60th anniversary specials were filmed, I say it was perfect timing.

Overall, The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50 is, by far, the best entry in Once and Future. Not only because it’s the first to feature a 21st Century Who incarnation, but it’s also a love letter to fans of the Tenth Doctor, Missy, and the Paternoster Gang — all in 70 minutes. And I’ve no doubt that next month’s Time Lord Immemorial, featuring the Ninth (Christopher Eccleston) and Unbound (the late David Warner) Doctors, will be equally fantastic.

Once and Future: The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50 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.

Andrew Hsieh

Aspiring screenwriter with Asperger's syndrome, and lifelong Whovian since (shortly after) Christopher Eccleston's reign, Andrew has written and co-edited short story anthologies for Divergent Wordsmiths. Plus, he lives near Bannerman Road.

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who, Once and Future – The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50

by Andrew Hsieh time to read: 5 min
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