Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #1: “The Sirens of Time”

I’m hoping I’m wrong in my early misgivings regarding Series 7 of Doctor Who.  I’ll find out soon enough.  In the meantime, I’ve decided that it’s time to reclaim some of the fandom I’ve built over the years since my friends and colleagues Carl and Big Dog pushed me into Doctor Who after so many years and so much effort on their parts.  Oddly, it’s not the classic series that made me a fan.  It was the incredible work being produced at Big Finish Productions.

About 6 weeks ago, Carl posted a review of one of Big Finish’s audios, “The Butcher of Brisbane.”  The background you need to know about Big Finish is there.  It’s a worthy review from a diehard Doctor Who fan, so I recommend checking it out just on those merits alone.  Since he posted that, I’ve been chomping at the bit to go back to the beginning, listen to all of them, and get caught up.  Now my plan is to get caught up, but I got the idea in my head of going back to the beginning of the run and doing one review a week.  In my humble opinion, Big Finish just doesn’t get enough press.  That said, let’s dive in and begin that long journey, shall we?

#1 – “The Sirens of Time”

From Big Finish’s site:

Gallifrey is in a state of crisis, facing destruction at the hands of an overwhelming enemy. And the Doctor is involved in three different incarnations – each caught up in a deadly adventure, scattered across time and space. The web of time is threatened – and someone wants the Doctor dead.

The three incarnations of the Doctor must join together to set time back on the right track – but in doing so, will they unleash a still greater threat?

The Seventh Doctor is in Episode 1 of this four-part story; the Fifth Doctor is in episode 2; the Sixth Doctor is in episode 3; and all three Doctors are in the final episode.

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

Directed By: Nicholas Briggs


Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor); Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor); Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor); Andrew Fettes (Commander Raldeth / Schmidt); Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell); Michael Wade (The President); Sarah Mowat (Knight Commander Lyena); Maggie Stables (Ruthley); Colin McIntyre (Sancroff); John Wadmore (Commandant / Lt Zentener / Pilot Azimendah / Sub-Commander Solanec); Mark Gatiss (Captain Schwieger / Captain / Knight 2); Nicholas Briggs (The Temperon / Drudgers); Nicholas Pegg (Delegate)

The wonderful thing about audio is that the theater of the mind will almost always improve upon the special effects that the BBC wouldn’t pay for back in the day.  Writers are not limited by conventions of budget, and actors are free and clear to demonstrate what their characters can do without real world shackles.  I’ve always been a fan of radio drama for just that reason.  A project like this is a dream come true for a fan like me.

I think it goes without saying that the Doctor is one of – if not the – most effective character in fiction when it comes to understanding concepts that would churn most brains into butter, stopping the bad guys, and dealing with epic level chaos on a level that not even Batman could deal with.  And the Doctor does it all day, every day.  No offense to the current series, but the only thing scarier and more impressive in my mind than a half-crazed Doctor, often distracted by companion domestics and shiny objects, is a fully sane and rational Doctor operating 178 moves ahead of everything, even when nothing else is happening.  One Doctor – any incarnation – is a formidable adversary.  Creative teams across the board have all asked the question, “What level of threat could possibly justify the intervention of more than one incarnation?”  Big Finish starts their now legendary run with exactly the answer to that question.

***spoilers ahead***

Gallifrey is under attack from a new and formidable enemy, the Knights of Velyshaa, whose fleet of warships possesses technology that surpasses even that of the Time Lords.  History itself has been distorted, and the only clue is the energy of the distortion itself, energy belonging to the Doctor.

The Seventh Doctor saves a young woman, Elenya, from drowning in quicksand, only to end up dealing with a hag who is keeping an old and crippled man prisoner.  The man turns out to be the war criminal Sancroff, First Knight of Velyshaa, who is slated to be executed by bio-assassins known as Drudgers.  The Doctor and Elenya are to be unfortunate casualties – there can be no witnesses.

The Fifth Doctor is searching for a signal as the Time Lords attempt to make contact, materializing his TARDIS on board a British freighter that’s lined up in the gunsights of a German U-Boat.  The U-Boat attacks, and the TARDIS is tossed overboard.  When the Germans see it, the Doctor is clinging to its side, along with a young woman, Helen.  The two are brought on board, but the TARDIS is left adrift due to British ships in the area.  The Time Lords, believing the Doctor to be the source of the time distortion, argue over the Doctor’s fate, and agent Vansell takes possession of one of the German crew in a bid to kill the Doctor.  The Doctor becomes aware the Time Lords want him dead.  He must know why.

On Gallifrey, Vansell discovers a female presence within the vortex at each of the nexus points where the Doctor has been reported.  An incident involving the Sixth Doctor and the legendary time beast, the Temperon, in the Kurgon system demands Time Lord intervention.  But the transduction barriers have been breached.  The Knights of Velyshaa have invaded, and they demand unconditional surrender of Gallifrey.  Gallifrey’s president is executed, the Knights’ technology preventing further regeneration.

When the Doctor realizes the ship is heading directly into the Kurgon Wonder by momentum, Vansell sends the Doctor a warning via the ship’s pilot: “Do not free the Temperon.”  But the Doctor’s new acquaintance, Elly, shoots the pilot before the message can be received and reveals she is part of a movement dedicated to freeing a being they believe to be trapped at the center of the Kurgon Wonder.  Deducing the Temperon to be at the center of the Wonder, and not having received the message, the Doctor uses his TARDIS to free the Temperon, who in turn reveals that the Doctor has also released the Knights of Velyshaa.  The Temperon’s final warning: “Beware the Sirens of Time…”

Knight Commander Lyena is welcomed to Gallifrey in the name of Sancroff, who begins the search for the Temperon, who has absorbed the Doctor into itself and deposited him in the Panopticon along wth his Fifth and Seventh incarnations.  Comparing notes through telepathic contact, they realize the mystery woman in their adventures is in fact the same woman.  Lyena reveals what happened at each nexus point.  In rerouting planetary shields to repel the assassins, the Seventh Doctor saved Sancroff, who would go on to inspire the conquests of the Knights of Velyshaa.  The Fifth Doctor’s actions prevented the sinking of the Lusitania.  While the outcome of the First World War was largely unaffected, a common criminal on board the ship who should have died would survive to murder Alexander Fleming.  Penicillin would never be discovered, and a plague devastated the Earth in 1956, allowing the Knights an easy conquest of the planet later on.  In freeing the Temperon, the Sixth Doctor unwittingly caused its destruction, allowing the Knights to gain the power of Time Travel.  But Lyena pleads with the Doctors to return in time and somehow reverse all the changes.  The destruction of the Temperon caused a disease that affects the Knights.  The Doctors must make some hard decisions, and all of space-time now hangs in the balance…

That’s Doctor Who should be all about.  I won’t spoil the ending.  Sure, you could probably find out by scouring the internet, but where would the fun in that be?  Get the audio.  Get the full experience.

Let me say that I’ve heard the complaints of long-term fans about how the classic era suffered in the era after Tom Baker left the TARDIS, that perhaps some of the magic of the earlier Doctors was missing.  Agree or not, blame what you will, Big Finish proves the fault does not lie in the talent.  Returning to the role that made them household names, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy slip back into the Doctor’s skin as easily as putting on a hat, each offering their distinctive spins on the character and playing off of one another in the 4th act with exactly the results you’d expect when the Doctor faces off against himself and against everyone else.  You’d never know there were so many years between their TV runs and this recording.  This is the kind of geekery that fans dream about, without any of the resulting disaster that usually accompanies such a crossover.

In short, this is a solid beginning to a line of adventures that continue to improve by leaps and bounds as the years go by.  Vansell, the Knights of Velyshaa, and the Drudgers will go on to make future appearances in the Big Finish audio line.  And best of all, each of these Doctors, as well as Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, will go on to star in adventures that, quite frankly, make both the classic and current incarnations of televised Doctor Who seem small and lacking by comparison.  My only gripe?  None of these wonderful stories are canon… yet.