Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: Entanglement – Starring Maureen O’Brien, Peter Purves, Mark Edel-Hunt, Sam Woolf, Philip Fox, Richard Braine & John Rowe. Written by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky. Directed by: Lisa Bowerman – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
To many sci-fi geeks, there’s a game to be made of the Star Trek episode Darmok – reference two names and a place, and see what memories you evoke in whoever is with you.
Guy and Kim, at Cambridge.
That’s one that will divide the fandom in two, depending almost entirely on the age of the reader. Younger Who-fans may not have the first idea what’s being referenced there, but to older fans, even the surnames Burgess and Philby will be unnecessary to give the context to two young men out of a collection of five who would go on to play a very…distinct part in history in their own right.
Google is your friend. Sort of.
Thankfully though, it’s not really necessary to know who Guy and Kim go on to become, because Entanglement, the latest in the Early Adventures series from Big Finish, takes them back to 1937, before they began to carve out the careers for which they would eventually be known. Here, Guy and Kim are merely two Cambridge students who get caught up in a whole world of trouble when the Tardis materialises in their world.
Writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky actually give us a proper, absurd, anything goes First Doctor landing, though subsequent scenes which have the Doctor abseiling down a building and then dropping to be caught by friends might possibly have stretched William Hartnell’s abilities too far by the time Vicki and Steven were in the Tardis.
There’s something altogether irresistible about bringing the Doctor to Cambridge. In many ways, it feels like exactly the sort of place to which several incarnations might have retired, the First among them. A Cambridge college is almost, to this 21st century day, a world in and of itself – in fact, you could even go so far as to say it’s like a mini-Gallifrey, a place of quiet, patient study, with a wild flood of youth undermining everything it stands for as they grow to understand what it is, and then become a part of it themselves.
Anything could happen in a Cambridge college.
Here in Sedgwick College, there is random deadly aggression which dissipates like a storm. There’s a camera that really isn’t from around here. There’s a suspiciously missing Master of the College, Sir Isiah Hardy, and a peculiar inability among everybody else to remember how long he’s been gone. There are a pair of Proctors who make almost comically little effort to disguise the fact that they’re not from round here either. And there’s a contest. A contest to see who, in the continuing absence of Sir Isiah, who will become the new Master of Sedgwick – the sharp, driven Professor Lewis, played by Philip fox, or the woolly, forgetful don, Professor Woolf, played by Richard Braine.
The opening sequence puts the Tardis irritatingly out of reach, meaning the crew have to go about finding ways to get it retrieved. That means mixing with the locals, and it’s not long before both Vicki and Steven are reporting unusual goings-on, but this Doctor, seemingly willing to take the universe at face value, tells them they’re talking nonsense, and goes off, in the guise of a visiting professor from King’s Lynn, to teach a class full of undergraduates.
That…doesn’t go as well as he expects, and the Doctor joins them in their suspicions.
The odd thing about Entanglement, and one that makes it agreeable, is that while its most natural TV comparison would be with Shada, it actually has the feel of a pure historical for much of the running time – there are mysteries aplenty along the way, but it’s not until quite late in the day that we learn of the researches in which Sir Isiah was engaged, and things start to get altogether more ‘aliens out to destroy the planet’ than ‘The Doctor and friends do Cambridge.’
There is one scene that will stick in your mind though – and in the age of #MeToo and the fightback against male violence aimed at women and girls, it will leave a tinny, unpleasant taste in your mouth. Because whatever is making Cambridge undergraduates into rampaging mobs whose only wish is to tear each other apart also effects Steven and Vicki. It remains to be heard whether Vicki can see Steven in the same way she saw him before this adventure, but be aware, there’s a moment here that will tighten your chest if you’ve ever been vulnerable. Episode one cliff-hanger, should you need a marker.
As the contest to become the next Master of Sedgwick goes on, the Doctor throws in his lot with one of the pretenders to the crown for reasons of his own, and Guy and Kim are ready to stoke the student body to his cause.
Then, in case you didn’t have enough to process already, things get weirder still when ‘the entanglement machine’ – a nice touch of the Sixties basic-as-all-get-out style of technobabble – is revealed, its power activated, and Sir Isiah discovered, at least by one of the Tardis team.
That’s perhaps the oddest thing about this story – it’s built of a large number of peculiar elements, (one thing you can always guarantee of a Khan and Salinsky script is it’ll never be short of elements! This script, for the initiated, is also crammed to bursting point with references to the Alice adventures by Lewis Carrol) and sees Steven, Vicki and the Doctor each take a storytelling strand, with two rival professors, two dodgy proctors, two Cambridge students, two space MacGuffins, one stranded Tardis and a field of intense vi-o-lennnnnce – and yet it flows for the most part with the energy of a pure historical, the Doctor and friends getting involved in things which no doubt shouldn’t concern them, riiiiight up to the point where aliens want to destroy the world.
The ending is a game of find-the-villain, with contender after contender seeming to fit the bill until, right at the crisis point, the Tardis itself comes to the rescue, and Something Clever traps all the potential villains together, the latest in a series of First Doctor actions that have Steven and Vicki questioning the ethics of his choices.
Entanglement is a story of a kind which was rarely told back in the First Doctor’s time, but which this particular Tardis team would be familiar with – alien interlopers hiding in deep cover and preparing to Do Something Dreadful to the Earth. It has something of the feel of The Time Meddler, in that it spends a while establishing the normality of its world, and then pulls reveal after reveal that shows things are not by any means normal here, and need to be stopped.
More than anything, Entanglement is an alien historical romp in a Cambridge college with something interesting to say about the state of humanity, which flies by in very agreeable bites as element after element is revealed. Brace yourself for the episode one cliff-hanger, and Entanglement is a wild pre-war ride among the Cambridge cloisters. Tony Fyler