Part Six of Big Finish’s Doctor Who 60th anniversary event, Once and Future, sees the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) teaming up with the Unbound Doctor (voiced by the late David Warner), the Lumiat (Gina McKee), and Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker). Isn’t that fantastic!
The Doctor tries to track down the Union, who are supposedly behind the weapon that caused the Time Lord’s degeneration crisis, only for his parallel counterpart to suddenly appear in his TARDIS. Well, it does get very confusing for the two Doctors; obviously having no memory of each other, but in a similar vein to a certain plot twist in Fugitive of the Judoon. As the multiverses converge, their TARDIS console rooms shift from one interior to another.
Meanwhile, as Liv has a fairly lighthearted encounter with the Lumiat, at a beach on Solaris Hexis, they are soon faced with peril as the sand invigorates into sentient beings. (Nope, they’re not the Sandmen from Series 9’s Sleep No More, despite having slightly similar appearances and abilities.) And yes, they get swallowed by the sand creatures without being disintegrated.
In a race against time, like sand in an timer — which makes sense in context — the two Doctors convene with Liv and the Lumiat inside the Hall of the Time Lord Immemorial (the titular character voiced by Robert Powell). So, to clear things up… the Ninth Doctor recognises Liv but she doesn’t reciprocate (more on that later). The Lumiat, however, easily deduces that the Unbound Doctor is from another universe (see Masterful), with both Doctors not recognising her. Then again, the four become temporarily separated into pairs at different points…
As the Ninth Doctor and the Lumiat get to know each other, we are treated to a reunion between the two Our Friends in the North co-stars, a show which also featured future James Bond (Daniel Craig) and the First Doctor (David Bradley). It’s a sharp contrast to the friendship between Nicky Hutchinson and Mary Cox. Well, I watched the entire serial on BBC iPlayer a few months ago, and it was superb. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Ninth Doctor mentioning Missy and Gallifrey by name (Christopher Eccleston finally said “Gallifrey”!), with him encountering the Master for the first time. Like in her titular debut from Missy Series 2, also written by Lisa McMullin, I love that the Lumiat has displayed more redeeming qualities as a future incarnation.
And as script editor Matt Fitton brilliantly puts it:
“The Lumiat is Lisa’s creation who is, in a way, the Master’s version of the Valeyard in that she’s the opposite of everything the Master stands for. The Lumiat is an insufferably good version of the Master or Missy!”
Lisa McMullin’s script brilliantly integrates some of Big Finish’s best creations whilst capturing the four main characters. It makes further progression to the overarching narrative by digging deeper into Time Lord mythology. Personally, I very much prefer this to the fourth chapter, Two’s Company, but it’s definitely as good as my favourite Ninth Doctor audio Girl, Deconstructed (from Respond to All Calls) — one of her best scripts.
As an avid fan of Liv Chenka, I’m glad she was featured in the story. A strong companion playing a key part in the Doctor’s degeneration crisis, despite the confusion surrounding the Doctors and the Lumiat. We should note that, while it’s the second time that the Ninth Doctor meets her, production wise, the story chronologically takes place before Flatpack (from Hidden Depths); presumably during Doom Coalition or Ravenous.
(I once met Nicola Walker after a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the National Theatre, back in 2012, which happened to be on the same night Series 7’s The Angels Take Manhattan first aired. We had a very friendly conversation, but I knew nothing about Liv Chenka at the time, sadly. Nonetheless, she remains a dear companion to the Doctor, regardless of whichever incarnation she encounters.)
Like having the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) appear last month, I was ecstatic when they announced Christopher Eccleston for Time Lord Immemorial. He’s the first incarnation who I grew up watching, back in 2005, shortly after his departure. That’s two RTD era Doctors in a row! After reprising his iconic role for Big Finish, since 2021, I feel very happy for Chris that he’s enjoying the experience of doing audio drama. Truly a fantastic addition to the Whoniverse.
And what would it be without David Warner? It’s so nostalgic, yet heartbreaking, that his face has been featured on the Time Lord Immemorial Special Edition cover artwork, alongside Christopher Eccleston, mirroring his Big Finish debut in my favourite Unbound audio Sympathy for the Devil, which also starred the late Nicholas Courtney with David Tennant and Mark Gatiss (credited as “Sam Kisgart”) as the Unbound Master. I’ve always loved his unique incarnation; not just in Sympathy and Masters of War, but also the brilliant series of boxsets with Bernice “Benny” Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman). Not to mention his onscreen guest appearance as Professor Grisenko in Series 7’s Cold War by Mark Gatiss, featuring the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). We should also be thankful for Christopher Eccleston, who announced his involvement with the 60th anniversary celebrations and paid tribute to Warner; shortly before his untimely passing, alongside Bernard Cribbins — another legend.
Overall, I consider Time Lord Immemorial to be a top entry in Once and Future, up there with its predecessor, The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50. Two Doctors from different universes; one “good” Master; one fan favourite companion; an unseen Time Lord with a deep, booming voice; and a strong, tight plot that goes straight to the point… absolutely fantastic. And despite it being the shortest in the run so far, the story works very well at 52 minutes.
We may be getting closer to the conclusion of the eight-part story arc but, later this month, the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), River Song (Alex Kingston), and, once again, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) will get to the bottom of the degeneration crisis in The Union…
Once and Future: Time Lord Immemorial 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.