Doctor Who: the Early Adventures: The Outliers – Starring Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Elliot Chapman, Alistair Petrie, Debbie Chazen & Matilda Ziegler. Written by Simon Guerrier & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Having been away from Big Finish for a while, I was a bit nervous about the recasting of well-loved characters from the show, but I needn’t have worried. It obviously helps that it’s on audio, so there’s none of the physical impersonation which led to Reece Shearsmith’s painful Second Doctor in Adventures in Time and Space in 2013, but it’s mainly down to the vocal performances of the actors. Everyone knows that Fraser Hines’ Troughton is brilliant, and it is (scarily so, at times), but Elliot Chapman is equally superb as Ben. There’s no point at which I didn’t think that I was listening to Michael Craze, and you can’t ask for better than that.
I’d also not come across this format before – a sort of cross between a full cast audio and a Companion Chronicle-style read story – but it’s a real winner. Anneke Wills switches from older Narrator to younger Polly with aplomb, and is ably backed by a decent sized cast of supporting characters.
The story’s solid too, as one might expect from an old hand like Simon Guerrier. The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie (and how pleasing to get more stories from that particular crew) arrive at an apparently deserted underground town, in which a river has flooded the brand new, empty houses which line the streets. Of course, things are not as they seem and our heroes are soon plunged into an adventure with echoes of Fury from the Deep, Enemy of the World and sundry other Second Doctor stories. It’s all beautifully done, with nothing too overt, but a tone judged to perfection, and a warmth between the four leads which is a joy to hear and wonderfully reminiscent of the Troughton era as a whole. The setting is interesting, the sound design simple but effective and the story itself has the legs to last for the full four parts. Clearly, there is life in the Base under Seige formula in the right hands.
Nothing’s perfect, of course. There’s a bit of a stumble in the ending of the first episode, in which disbelief needs to be suspended in order that to accept that Polly (and even Jamie!) immediately spots a fundamental and very obvious flaw in a computer program which nobody has ever noticed before, and the story as a whole has something of a problem with scale, caused in part by the needs of that first episode cliffhanger, but these are minor quibbles which can be forgiven when the rest is so enjoyable (and besides, they fit in perfectly with the actual Troughton eta, so perhaps it’s deliberate?)
It’d be remiss of me not to mention the well thought out life-cycle of the main alien species, and the lovely dramatisation of one of my favourite Who short stories, Mondas Passing, which pops up at one point, but really there’s little need to pick out highlights when the whole is such a pleasure.
If all the rest of the Early Adventures are as good as this, I can feel a subscription coming on… Stuart Douglas