Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: Daughter of the Gods – Starring Peter Purves, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury & Ajjaz Awad. Written by David K Barnes & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – CD / Download (Big Finish)
Well…there’s nothing like setting yourself up to fail.
The stakes for fans in Daughter Of The Gods are ridiculously high. You’d have to be incredibly brave or stone barking mad to go anywhere near the storytelling territory it covers.
Naturally enough, it’s a freakin’ triumph.
I mean, right up there with all the high water-marks you think of as outstanding Big Finish triumph.
Given the cover art which you’d have to have seen to buy the story, it’s no spoiler to tell you this is a multi-Doctor story, almost literally crashing the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe into the lives of the First Doctor, Steven and Katarina.
She who came from Troy after Vicki stayed behind in the city.
She who laboured under the moderately morbid assumption that the Doctor was a god, the Tardis his temple and that, at least to some degree, for both of these things to be true and for her to experience them, she herself was probably dead.
She who shockingly died not long after she arrived on board the Tardis, during the events of The Dalek Master Plan.
The thing about Katarina of course is the lack of wiggle room to fit any additional stories into her Tardis time. With Jean Marsh’s Sara Kingdom, another casualty of the Master Plan, Big Finish found a way to give her some additional adventures with Steven and the Doctor. With Katarina, it’s fairly cut and dried – she joined, she had the on-screen adventure of the Master Plan, and she died during its time. The end. It’s part of what makes her time on board the Tardis so shocking, the fact that she had little time at all to see the wonders of the universe before she was killed by it, the first person to travel with him that the Doctor, in some sense, failed to save.
How to you deliver a Katarina story while staying true to the power of all of that?
More or less, you do it just like this. A time crash in the vortex, narrowly avoided, takes the First Doctor and his crew to a world where they have to stay for some time so that Steven can recover from some injuries, the Doctor can earn some money and prestige as an academic, and the Tardis can repair itself after such a close temporal shave. Katarina, too, has the chance to immerse herself in the local culture and exercise the wits no-one in Troy ever gave her particular credit for having.
But she has bad dreams.
Bad dreams that continually tell her she is dead, or should be dead, that none of this amazing life so far beyond her birth and station was meant to be.
And then their comfortable, productive break is interrupted by hostile aliens.
Aliens with a weapon that ages whole populations to death in an instant. Aliens with whom it’s useless to plead for your lives or your liberty.
Aliens the Doctor and Steven have met before.
When the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe turn up on the planet in the middle of a mass exodus, there are too many Doctors for a single planet to cope with, and the story zeroes down to one moment, one decisive moment that set this timeline going. One moment that changed the future for the entire universe.
The question is, when all is revealed, digested and understood, will Katarina have the strength to do what is called on her to do? And perhaps more importantly, will the First Doctor have that same moral fortitude?
It takes them both, ultimately, to set the timeline straight, and it takes the multi-Doctor nature of the story to teach them both what ‘straight’ looks like in this circumstance. It’s huge and moral and tiny and personal and if you don’t end up sniffling at the end of this story, you might need a Grinch procedure to grow the size of your heart, because the balance is perfect – half of you will want one thing to happen, half of you another. There’s no winning in this situation, but losing either way will wet your eyes.
Ajjaz Awad steps into Katarina’s sandals for this story, and while it’s not a straight impersonation of Adrienne Hill, she delivers a highly accessible version for a modern audience, without sacrificing any of the rigidity of belief in her gods and her understanding of the universe that Hill established back in the Sixties. Katarina comes across as a warm, likeable innocent, with much to learn and a straightforward view of the world, but an increasing ability to understand the places and the company in which she finds herself.
The story, by David K Barnes, is importantly not that grandiose in nature. It’s almost Dennis Spoonerish at the start – the First Doctor and friends hanging out somewhere over an extended period for perfectly logical reasons. But the establishment of that normality, where Steven gets an engineering job while the Doctor hob-nobs with the highfalutin’ academics, allows for the building of strong character relationships that kick in when the world goes to hell in a very rapid handcart, and add to our emotional buy-in to the terror of the mass evacuation when death drops out of the sky.
Meanwhile, the Second Doctor’s strand of the story is for the most part significantly calmer, not least because he and his friends don’t come into the panic until late in the game. Nevertheless, there’s plenty going on with the Troughton Doctor and his friends, and once they turn up and meet Katarina and Steven, it’s almost as though they bring a calming influence with them.
They don’t, though.
That’s not what they bring at all.
What they bring is the central moral dilemma of the piece. It’s a dilemma not dissimilar to that in Nikos Kantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ. Which life is better? That where you live, maybe, and everyone else lives in fear? Or that where you die, definitely, but are remembered forever as having done the right thing?
What David K Barnes has delivered with Daughter of the Gods is an absolute hymn to Katarina’s worthiness for the wider universe, for her place on board the Tardis, without making it a soppy, heavy-handed mourning. It’s an action-packed, character-rich belting slice of Sixties Who with 21st century complications and sensitivities, and the budget of your whole imagination – which also happens to sing a hymn to Katarina, the Daughter of the Gods. Finding the best of Big Finish in any given year is tricky. This may not make it to your absolute top spot, but if it’s not in your top five, we’d be very much surprised. Tony Fyler