You know you need this title.
You just feel it in your time-sensitive bones, don’t you? It’s more or less written and designed to maker Doctor Who fans from two peak eras lose their wibbly-wobbly minds and yell “Oh hell yes, take my money right now, thankyouverymuch.”
Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor.
In an exciting adventure with Daleks.
That’s a hell of a pitch to both your imaginative hearts and your Big Finish money pockets.
But actually, if you’re going to make it work, it’s harder to deliver than it might at first look.
The obvious way to smash these two together is to go the Two Doctors route and just produce a series of ‘Ta-Dah!’ moments to please every fan from each era, then swagger off smugly all the way to the bank.
That’s not really Matt Fitton’s style.
Or, if it is, and who could blame him, he disguises it well with a story that has some good oomph and guts to it, and some hefty running down corridors – because that’s one of the mandatory checkpoints you really need if you’re getting these two together with Daleks. And in another increasingly cool tradition as time goes on, the two Doctors dance around their claim to their identity, and eventually clash on their approach to things.
We’ve recently had a story in which the Fifth and Eleventh Doctors meet up (no, we’re by no means going to tell you which story that is – happy hunting!) , and the Fifth gains some perspective on his life by very definitely not wanting to the same thing as the Eleventh does. Here, there’s a fairly similar riff with Doctors Four and Ten, but the Fourth Doctor delivers his verdict with rather more philosophical warmth, a bit more of a nostalgic ‘aww’-factor, which people traditionally allow from both Tom Baker and his Doctor than they do from many others.
Why the Fourth Doctor has at least a twinge of disapproval of his later self would be telling, but it comes down to an urge the Doctor has relatively frequently in the new series, and to which the Tenth Doctor was perhaps most perfectly emotionally fitted. The “Woe is me” fleeing from the consequences of his responsibility for his friends. Out Of Time #1 is, almost by necessity, set in a somewhat sketchy temporal relationship to everything else, but the Tenth Doctor that bounds up to the Cathedral of Contemplation is the one who’s traveling alone to his ultimately regenerative destiny.
There’s a certain echo of Donna Noble’s original advice – “I think you need someone to stop you” about the Fourth Doctor’s admonishment in this story, but, as we say, there’s a softness and a kindness to it that makes it less a scolding, and less a warning, but more a kindness and a moment of sentiment for which the Fourth Doctor only rarely had the time.
But while all this character interplay is more or less why you buy the ticket to Out Of Time #1, there’s a solid story here too, with an incredible, plot-anchoring MacGuffin – the Cathedral or Contemplation itself. A cathedral, sitting outside time and acting like a giant Rubik Cube, shifting and moving through time, so it can be opened and accessed from any point.
It’s apparently a refuge for tired trans-temporals, where they can go to re-centre themselves in their relationship to time and rediscover who they are when freed from the here and now and what-the-hell of a temporal existence. The Doctor, we discover, is a frequent visitor (which we’re not going to lie, feels like a New Who thing, as the Classic Doctors generally wore their relationship to time rather more lightly in their boundings and stridings through the universe of space-time), to the point where the Abbess who runs the place warns the Tenth Doctor not to bring any trouble with him. Though in fairness, she gives that warning with a degree of certainty in its futility. The Abbess is played by Clare Rushbrook, assaying another role in the Who universe with her trademark assurance. She’s regularly too good to leave alone with a one-shot appearance, and here too, we’d cry precisely zero tears were the Abbess to get a return gig.
Of course, while it might be a relaxing getaway spot for those whose relationship to time is on the complicated side, the idea of a giant cathedral into which you can walk at one point in time and emerge at some other, programmable temporal point is prrrrrobably going to be attractive to a race of creatures bent on trans-temporal universal conquest too.
Enter Nicholas Briggs and his one-man Dalek army to add chaos, oomph and a time dimension to the storytelling. And cue some classic Doctor Who – doing A Thing to make sure A Different Thing happens, and the Daleks don’t get what they want. Two Doctors, working verry much in harmony as one another’s assistant – each with a story-thread, a vital task to complete, and a godawful, universe-unravelling paradox to avoid. Without going into too much detail, both the Fourth and Tenth Doctors are out of time while they’re in the Cathedral trying to stop the Daleks. If either or both of them die while they’re there, time as we think we know it begins to look entirely different, and the stars going out would just be the start.
Matt Fitton delivers a script that starts with a joyous meander, goes entirely tonto before the second half really kicks in, gives plenty of peril and pace and Dalek-screamery and still makes room for the Double-Doctor moments of personal and incarnational reflection and fun.
And it’s worth giving an extra-special scarf-twitch and hat-tip to Nicholas Briggs here. While his Daleks have always been ridiculously spot-on, to the extent of course that he’s defined what the Daleks sound like for generations of TV and audio Who fans, they’ve rarely sounded better than they do here. The range, the grunt and screech and sheer performance that comes through the modulation here is impressive enough to take you out of just fan-joy at the appearance of the Daleks. Like the moment you first heard the new Dalek Emperor in the first series of New Who, you’ll actually pause a moment here to appreciate the performance, and go “Ohhhh, that’s just…wow.”
It’s a thing of joy, Out Of Time #1. That joy isn’t just the by-product of getting David Tennant together with Tom Baker, and letting two impressively powerful actors bounce off each other’s energy. There’s craft in here too – and that’s more crucial than you might imagine. Everybody wants to hear these two Doctors together, so the chances are it could have worked whatever the script was. But by paying attention to storytelling points, mood beats, punch, pacing and characterization, and by filling the script with little diamond parts, so you care about the characters as well as the Doctors and the fate of the universe, Matt Fitton and Big Finish have gone beyond fan service.
They’ve delivered a cracking story that stands on its own merit. The Cathedral of Contemplation is absolutely a MacGuffin, but it’s such a huge, impressively central, neon-signed “Look, Look, I’m a MacGuffin” MacGuffin that it works perfectly well. Like the Gate in Warriors’ Gate, it’s a MacGuffin big enough to have its own gravity and anchor the story – the reasons people are there, the reasons the villains show up, and the way in which the villains are (slight spoiler alert) defeated at the end. Out Of Time #1 had the potential to be pure fan-service fluff. Instead, it delivers a tense, philosophically engaging story with lashings of hot Dalek action. AND it brings Tom Baker and David Tennant together in a single Doctor Who story where both of them sound as good as ever they were.
You always knew you wanted to get this release. By taking the storytelling challenges and opportunities of the premise seriously, Big Finish has delivered a story that gives you more fore your money than even you probably hoped for. Tony Fyler