This is not a weekend for continuity. This is a weekend for celebrating 50 years of what is almost certainly the best TV show (and not forgetting also: books, feature films, audio productions, comic strips, stage plays – the list goes ever on) ever created. And for those who would rather point out the long hiatus between 1989 and 2005, I say again – books, feature films, audio productions, comic strips, stage plays – Doctor Who may have been off-screen for 16 years, but never once has it been dead.
Because Big Finish Folly is dedicated to the continuing audio adventures of Doctors 5-8, it makes a fair degree of sense for me to focus on Big Finish’s epic multi-Doctor celebration story – The Light At The End. Eight Doctors. The Master. More companions than you can shake a stick at. And a story full of twists, turns and perils. Read on below, but be warned – here be spoilers…
So. Where to begin? All eight iterations of the Tardis have suddenly developed a flashing warning light that was never there before, flagging up a certain space/time coordinate as a possible trap. One by one, the incarnations of the Doctor head for November 23rd, 1963… and one by one they discover that particular coordinate is a gateway to a pocket dimension used by the alien Vess as a showroom for their weapons factory. But now that they are here, they can’t get out. And time is collapsing in on the Tardis…
The Master’s trap is, as ever, cunning and malign, a gem of simplicity surrounded by layers of confusion. A conceptual bomb, designed to destroy the Tardis and wipe the Doctor himself from history. Once one Doctor triggers it, the bomb goes viral and spreads itself through the Doctor’s entire timeline. Companions disappear mid-sentence, as time discovers they have never met the Doctor at all. The Tardis disintegrates, second by second, but in no particular temporal order.
This takes more than one listen to appreciate. The first time around is purely for the joy of hearing all the Doctors together, whether as a great team or as different working pairs (Tom Baker & Paul McGann bounce joyfully off each other, like a tremendous Byronic explosion of fun). Colin Baker does strident anger; Peter Davison does “ah” – which translates loosely as “I see what’s happening here, I can’t do anything to stop it, and we’re all basically really deep in the shit, aren’t we.” Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred blow things up with vigour… but the real shivers up the spine come when they interact with the avatars of the first three Doctors, trapped in a different part of the decaying Tardis. William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar do magnificent work in capturing the Golden Age essence of those first three incarnations. Credit where it’s due at this point too, to Jamie Robertson, whose sound design & post-production gives each era its own particular edge and makes the Golden Age Doctors sound like they’re shouting all the way from Lime Grove.
If by this point you aren’t absolutely blown away by the scale of this production, you might want to pause here, and listen to the first episode again before carrying on. Now that Briggs, Robertson & company have set up all their pieces, it’s time to move ahead and follow the Light right to the end of the tunnel…
Episode two is where Ol’ Sixey and Sly Seven come into their own and we discover that the Timelords themselves, in the form of the Celestial Intervention Agency, have been negotiating with the Vess and have actually allowed the Master to pick the weapon he requires. Oh dear – silly Celestial Intervention Agency, for trusting the Master, as Sixey makes clear. And at this juncture we’ll mention Geoffrey Beevers’ silky smooth performance as the Master – gleefully watching the chaos he has caused as ever, but still irredeemably evil enough to destroy an entire family with his tissue compression gun.
There’s plenty of room, even with eight doctors in the play, for larking about and in-jokes. Sixey is caught giving himself a compliment; 4 and 8 trade one-liners; Ace disses every single incarnation except Sly Seven with a string of quips – but you don’t need to be steeped in Whovian lore to appreciate the humour. The climactic turning of tables is filled with handwaving technobabble, but with the conceptual bomb disabled, the Master finds himself faced by the wrath of all eight Doctors.
It could all end there, but of course it’s time for a good old-fashioned extended curtain call, as each Doctor gets his own turn in the spotlight. If you aren’t stirred by the time the music finally rolls, then there’s something definitively wrong with you. The only thing missing is the Daleks, but hell, who needs them, eh?
As multi-Doctor stories go, there’s no beating this one. Two Doctors? Three? Five? No, I’ll stick with Eight, thankyouverymuchindeed.
Happy 50th anniversary, Doctor Who. Here’s to many more.