Doctor Who: The Legacy of Time – Starring Tom Baker, Paul McGann, Tim Treloar, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Ronni Anncona, India Fisher, Simon Williams, Lalla Ward, Katy Manning , Louise Jameson, Ingrid Oliver, High Ross, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, Nicholas Briggs & Jemma Redgrave. Written by James Goss, Guy Adams, Jonathan Morris, Matt Fitton & John Dorney & Directed by Ken Bentley – CD / Download (Big Finish)
If it’s one thing the Doctor WhoUniverse loves, then it’s an anniversary celebration. It goes crazy for them. Be it ten years on television or twenty, fifty years since the show began or even marking when it returned, we love to celebrate the momentous things. July 2019 sees a truly important anniversary though, as it is marking the twentieth anniversary of Big Finish, the company who have been producing Doctor Whoand its spin off universe (primarily, though not solely) audio dramas. These aren’t just any fan made audio dramas either, these are the ‘real deal’ as they feature original actors from the TV series, both the original and current series, and have been consistently produced to the highest of standards since 1999, long before the TV show had even the vague chance of returning after its disappearance from the screens in 1989.
What better way to mark this milestone than to do what Big Finish do best, and give the fans something truly special, both a celebration of the work they have done as a company, and the worlds and stories they have built and created within the worlds of Doctor Whoitself. Which brings us to The Legacy of Time.
(However, before I go any further….)
But how best to review this, because like all good parties this is chock full of surprises, magical moments and emotion that are best left unspoiled. It would be wrong of me to give you even full cast lists at times as they could take some of the magic out of it for the first-time listener, and to those who have already heard it I’m sure they would agree, so I shall try my best.
The Legacy of Time is comprised of six individual stories marrying a Doctor to one of the spin-off series from Doctor Whothat have proved so successful for Big Finish and thrilling for the fans always hungry for more. It seems fitting that the opener Lies In Ruins, written by James Goss, sees Paul McGann’s Doctor, to whom so much depth, character and dare I say, legitimacy have been granted through the work of Big Finish and McGann himself, paired up with the very first Doctor Who character to be bought to life by the company, Professor Bernice Summerfield, played as always by Lisa Bowerman. Joining these audio stalwarts is none other than fellow archaeologist River Song bought vividly to life of course by Alex Kingston.
When the Doctor puts out the call for the greatest archaeologist in the Universe to assist on the burnt cinder of a world that has appeared from nowhere, it’s no real surprise that both Benny and River end up on the scene. It’s lucky that they do as what the Doctor, along with his new assistant Rea (Alexandrea Riley) discover will nearly destroy the gentle soul of the Time Lord.
The whole cast give their all in this, along with Beth Chalmers and Okezie Morro adding their voices, but it is McGann who gets the chance to go all out and show once again why he is such a vital part of the Big Finish output and Doctor Who lore. His Doctor is as important, as valid as any who have had considerably more screen time.
The Split Infinitive by John Dorney is a high-octane crime caper spanning two decades and pitting the Doctor and Ace, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, along with the Counter Measuresteam against a gang of criminals headed by the mysterious Kazan (Vince Leigh). Counter Measuresof course is the series starring Simon Williams as Group Captain Ian Gilmour, Pamela Salem as Professor Rachel Jensen and Karen Gledhill as Doctor Allison Williams. They are joined by Hugh Ross as Sir Tobias Kinsella.
John Dorney has managed to create a story that is complex yet never loses the listener as the story unfolds across two timelines consecutively and captures all the charm and character of the era. Witty, full of energy and pleasant surprises this is a real joy to behold from start to finish.
Next in the set comes Guy Adam’s The Sacrifice of Jo Grant and this is one that takes your breath away in a completely different fashion. Teaming the present-day Jo Jones, played of course by the always wonderful Katy Manning, with UNITs Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood (Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver). They are called in to investigate strange time disturbances that see an older Jo transported back to an encounter with ‘her’ Doctor, bought magnificently to life by Tim Treloar.
Part of the magic of the Jon Pertwee era was the chemistry between he and Katy Manning, and its clear that Treloar and Manning have also captured a special chemistry together. There is an absolute spark between them that perfectly evokes those early 1970’s stories and it is in full evidence here. Guy Adams script ensures that the listener is taken on a rollercoaster of emotions and Jemma Redgrave gives possibly my favourite performance as Kate Stewart to date.
Relative Time comes next and Matt Fitton has done the impossible and made it so the dream pairing of Peter Davison’s Doctor and Jenny, the Doctor’s ‘daughter’, can happen, and yes, it is as much fun as you think it would be. Pairing Davison with his real-world daughter Georgia Moffett works like a charm, especially when pitted against the Nine, an earlier incarnation of the renegade Time Lord the Eleven, played by John Heffernan.
As the Doctor and Jenny battle to save a stricken spaceship as it rides ahead of the shockwave of a vortex detonation, the kleptomaniac Nine, aided by Thana (Ronni Ancona) complicate matters. The dialogue, especially between the Doctor and Jenny is positively fizzing with charm and captures both their characters beautifully. Heffernan has the difficult task of bringing not just the Nine but his previous incarnations to life, something he handles with seeming ease which is a testament to his skill and vocal range.
The fifth story in the set sees Colin Baker’s Doctor paired once again with the much-loved Charlotte Pollard (Charlie to her friends). Not only does India Fisher return as Charlie but Jonathon Morris brings back D.I. Patricia Menzies (Anna Hope) for The Avenues of Possibility. I think its fair to say that to any long-time fan of Big Finish its clear the original intention for this story was for it to feature Jago and Lightfoot, but the passing of Trevor Baxter meant Jonathon Morris had to revise his scripts. This he did with aplomb, and if this were a standalone story you wouldn’t know the original intention, so well realised are the characters of Henry and John Fielding (Duncan Wisbey and Richard Hansell).
Once again this is a story of fractured time and 1751 meets 2009 and a very different version of 1951. Intricately crafted this is a story that weaves through time and alternate realities but while complex never becomes complicated. Dark imagery and compelling performances give way to hope and some startling revelations as this story must tell its own tale and reveal more of the intertwining plot of the set as a whole.
All these stories are of course leading us towards the inevitable conclusion, which comes in the sixth and final tale Collision Course from Guy Adams. On Gallifrey Romana, Lalla Ward and Leela, Louise Jameson discover that during their own travels with the Doctor he took them both to the same planet, one which he should never have ventured to. Tom Baker returns and is the force of nature we have come to expect from his Doctor.
This is the story that ties together all the strands that have been woven throughout the previous pieces and it does so with a deceptive ease. By which I mean it is never something the listener has to worry about, you can just sit back and let the story do all of the work and let the pieces slot into place, leading to a conclusion that had me punching the air and almost in tears at the same time.
The Legacy of Time is everything you want from an anniversary special, and even more. Because its an audio production the budget is effectively limitless so we can have these sprawling and beautiful stories, and they all look amazing in the minds eye. Not only do all the actors involved give their all to this, but so too do those behind the scenes. The sound design and music are second to none and flesh out the worlds and action and the direction and production ensure everything is pitched to perfection for this special. The packaging and art add to that ‘big budget’ feel and guarantee that this is a set that everyone should want, be they 20-year fans or first-time listeners. Talking of first-time listeners, if you are new to Big Finish and are put off by the sheer volume of releases in the last twenty years then this set is the ideal starting point. It gives you a taste of both the spin offs and the Doctors, and it’s a remarkable collection of stories full of pathos, charm, wit, action, adventure and not a few surprises.
Congratulations to all involved on this set, it’s something truly special, and happy anniversary Big Finish, here’s to many more! Jeff Goddard