Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: The Morton Legacy – Starring Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Elliot Chapman, David Sibley, Kerry Gooderson, Ewan Bailey & Alan Blyton. Written by Justin Richards & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
The Early Adventures range exists as a way to tell new stories with the first two incarnations of the Doctor, and also to evoke the style of the original televised stories for a whole new audio audience.
The Morton Legacy manages to do both of those things, while covered in a light dusting of Dickens. Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor has never been as uncannily evoked as he is by his long-time companion Frazer Hines in these Early Adventures, and The Morton Legacy does all it can possibly do to make you forget that Hines does double duty on these audios as both the Doctor and companion Jamie, alongside Anneke Wills as Polly and Elliot Chapman as Ben. It’s a story of Victorian values, interminable legal cases dragging on for a generation (Thank you, Bleak House), gentlemen with uncanny collections of objects from around the world and secret warehouses, criminal thugs who want the loot, inscrutable servants who know more than they’re saying, innocent daughters who just want everything to work out splendidly, expeditions to discover lost tribes, and mysterious gems with unusual powers.
It’s also a story of invisible monsters seemingly clearing someone a path to a fortune, Victorian policemen with very little imagination and ultimately, of whether you can actually trust people who seem too good to be true. Justin Richards is a writer steeped in the Victorian period through his other work, both for Big Finish and beyond, and The Morton Legacy gives you the ambience of cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages and London fogs that you’d expect in spades, while also going further along the Dickensian line, taking us up and down the social classes to weave his story.
Josiah Morton is a gentleman collector, whose life and fortune is bound up with a case in chancery, and who helps himself to a strange blue box he finds on the street, while the Doctor and Co are soaking up the 19th century atmosphere. He takes the Tardis to his private warehouse, and won’t let anyone see it, giving us a bridge into his life that, while perhaps slightly clunky to modern ears, is surprisingly reminiscent of the Troughton adventures where the Doctor would work his way into the lives and confidences of diverse people simply by turning up and not going away, and often for the sole purpose of regaining access to the Tardis.
Morton’s daughter, Jemma, seems straight out of Victorian melodrama, the well brought-up young lady who perhaps doesn’t understand much about the wider world, but wishes the right parts of it well with all the simple goodness in her heart. Here though, she also has a possibly unhealthy interest in a particular necklace Morton’s acquired from an explorer. And then, mysteriously, savaged by a wild, invisible beast, the people on the other side of the intractable Morton legal case start to die. Is the Morton legacy a blessing, or a curse?
Richards leans heavily on period atmosphere and Dickensian storytelling traditions, but he and experienced audio director Lisa Bowerman move the tale along at a pace, and you’re rarely given time to stop and ponder the mechanisms of what’s going on – distant tribes, gemstones, potential psychic links to invisible monsters and more – but it’s woven together in a way that’s essentially true to the Victorian psyche, science and reason to the fore, with murkier depths underneath, and a willingness to believe anything is possible until it’s disproved. There’s an ending which some might find deflating as the nature of what’s really going on is revealed, and our assumptions of who we can trust are toyed with, but everything that happens makes a kind of sense, and delivers the feeling of completion you get from an Agatha Christie murderer-reveal, or a Scooby-Doo mask-lift, come to that. The Tardis crew are on great form in terms of their performances here, with Hines making you forget you’re not actually listening to Patrick Troughton much of the time, and Anneke Wills doubling down too, giving us both a strong-willed Polly and an even-toned narrator to push the story along and deliver much of the atmosphere.
The Morton Legacy is a story of domestic 19th century terror, murder, mystery, legal battles and necklaces of doom. It’s an atmospheric listen that still belts along, and if the ending is odd for Doctor Who even in the Sixties, it gives The Morton Legacy a late left-turn that you probably won’t see coming. Spend your money on this story – The Morton Legacy is worth inheriting. Tony Fyler