First off, it’s worth saying congratulations to all at Big Finish for reaching 200 releases on the Main Range of Doctor Who audio adventures alone. The Main Range is the core of the continuing adventures of the “classic” Doctors, as well as the main focus of the Folly. It’s not the only range we dip into, of course – the Lost Stories, Companion Chronicles, Eighth Doctor Adventures (eventually…) and more recently the themed boxsets (the Fifth Doctor Box, for example) have all wormed their way into this chronology – but seriously: two hundred adventures. There is quite literally something for everyone, whether you want totalitarian pepperpots, dark manipulative shenanigans, light-hearted romps, or journeys through canon and time.
And speaking of the latter…
Big Finish Folly, Part ∞ – The Secret History, by Eddie Robson
The Doctor should be taking Steven and Vicki to Ravenna, where General Belisarius has just won a great victory for the Roman Emperor Justinian. But this young man in cricket whites and blazer isn’t the Doctor, is he? Who is the time-sensitive girl Sophia? And why has Steven been spirited away to Constantinople by the scholarly and faintly sinister Quintus? There’s more at stake here than just the Roman Empire – the Doctor himself may rise or fall before this race is run…
Warning: SPOILERS in this post.
It needed to be the Fifth Doctor, really. The most put-upon, stressed, angst-ridden incarnation of the classic era of Doctor Who. Not impotent – far from it – but always bedevilled by doubt and the pressures of doing the right thing, haunted by the sacrifices others made on his behalf. If anything was going to go catastrophically wrong, it was going to be on his watch.
And so it is the case with the climax of the Locum Doctors trilogy. It’s difficult to place this in the context of the Fifth Doctor’s own chronology, just as it was with the other two stories, hence the infinity symbol in place of an actual number. You have no idea what this does to the obsessive cataloguer in me. This play also messes big time with the Doctor’s own chronology – here’s where we learn why his other incarnations have been replacing each other, and exactly who has been trying to squeeze himself into the Doctor’s life.
It’s the Meddling Monk, of course, as played by Graeme Garden. It could hardly have been anybody else. The Monk has been trying to make the Doctor fall off the path of his own life so he can jump in and replace him. This time he actually reaches his goal for a short time at least, giving rise to the awful vision of the Monk having lived all of the Doctor’s adventures, the Monk being Susan’s grandfather, the Monk bringing Vicki and Steven to Ravenna to witness Belisarius’s victory…. I tell ya, the worst things happen to the Fifth Doctor.
Where The Defectors and the Last of the Cybermen had relatively small casts and contained plots, The Secret History goes positively Epic – we’re looking at Spartacus-style massive chariot races, cisterns beneath the city of Constantinople, a terrible plague, floating alien stone heads, full-blown reconstruction of history… it’s not the low-budget black & white adventure that the First Doctor would have been truly at home in, certainly much different to (for example) the slower pace of the Lost Story Farewell Great Macedon (and if I ever do a chronological voyage through the First Doctor audios, I’ll have to tell you just how much I enjoyed that one).
Graeme Garden’s Monk is wonderfully, madly misguided, his efforts to change history as doomed as the Doctor’s own efforts to leave things well alone. I may have said it before – you can see the seeds of Tennant’s “I’m sorry” in this incarnation of the Doctor, but in this case it’s as a result of a constant battering of unpleasant reality against the Doctor’s five-day Test idealism.
A brilliant climax to an otherwise slightly underwhelming trilogy.