Sunday, 20 September 2015

Fifth Doctor Box Set

Tonight I’m going to party like it’s Season 19 in ’82! is something that the artist formerly known as Prince probably didn’t sing. What did he care about a brand new series and a brand new Doctor? Well in 1982 I cared a lot. I was 10 and Part One of Castrovalva was broadcast the day before my tenth birthday. I can still remember the shenanigins it caused as it was on the same time as Coronation Street, this being pre VHS would mean either I or my Mum would have to miss out. The solution was simple, we would become a two TV household all due to Doctor Who, I can still remember the £49 black and white portable TV we got for upstairs from Rumbelows in Llandudno, which is where I watched my Monday night fix of Doctor Who throughout the Davison era. Happy me, happy Mum, happy times, until I was taken to watch a Panto in Liverpool the day episode two of Kinda was on. It didn’t go down well at all, but that’s another story…
This box set is a curious thing, it brings Matthew Waterhouse as Adric into the Big Finish family for the first time and it provides a bridge between Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday. It has two full four-part stories, Psychodrome by Jonathan Morris and Iterations of I by John Dorney, and another disc full of interviews. This box set raises a question – is it better to be faithful to the era or to tell a good story?
Psychodrome is of the former, incredibly faithful to the era, it has a “Bidmeadesque” feel to it, begins with a long TARDIS scene, has Tegan moaning about getting home, Adric winding everyone up, Nyssa being concilliatory and a newly regenerated Doctor still trying to work out who he is – so far so familiar – in fact it feels so familiar that if you close your eyes you are transported back to 1982. Okay, Matthew Waterhouse sounds a bit older, but the music is so evocative of 1982, and the plot feels very, well… 1982, for want of a better description. The TARDIS crew land on the Psychodrome and are split up and meet a very very strange yet familiar group of people, form a crashed ship, a Citadel and a Monastery. To reveal any more would spoil the story, but those with a keen mind should be able to work it out.
The problem I have with this story is also its strength, as a pastiche of the Bidmead era it is faultless, its just that I am not a fan of the Bidmead era, and just as I was writing this off as  a very well written story, but constrained by the limitations of the era, I began to think, well, the resolution made me think, as the resolution is NOT Bidmeadesque at all, the resolution is decidedly “nu-Who”, so maybe I had got it wrong and this wasn’t a pastiche but a parody of Bidmead. Listen for yourselves and make your own minds up, but overall I give Psychodrome 6/10.
So we come to Iterations of I, a completely different kettle of haddock, in fact its as different as you can get from Psychodrome in that its not at all like the Bidmead era, in fact listening to it put me in mind of Image of the Fendahl or Hide. It begins again with a TARDIS scene, but this time it has Adric trying to program the ship to get Tegan home, and he nearly gets it right, nearly… The TARDIS lands in Ireland in 1982 on a remote island called Flemings Island where people have been going missing, a Cult has completely vanished from the house, and islanders have fallen victim to an invisible yet deadly predator. This is gripping stuff, and you do get the feeling that the Doctor is completely out of his depth, fighting against a rising panic as the situation gets worse and worse. The “monster” is very very clever as well, I suppose it must link in to Bidmead’s love of mathematics to have a predatory sentient number as the villain! This story is paced excellently and you really do feel the threat level grow and grow out of the characters control. The cast are uniformly excellent, with special kudos going to Peter Davison who plays a Doctor not quite sure of himself and still very much under the shadow of his predecessor. A really excellent story let down only by a very rushed ending, which is a real shame. I give it 8/10.
The final disc is the “special features” where the cast and writers are interviewed about the project.
As a piece of nostalgia for season 19, this cannot be faulted, as a box set I give it 7/10.