Destiny of the Doctor Review
Gustaff Behr gives his verdict on the Big Finish and AudioGo audio drama series.
This year, Doctor Who has been celebrated in a huge variety of ways, even though it didn’t always look like it. For the new series, you had the 50th Anniversary Special which featured David Tennant and Matt Smith along with their companions. Big Finish celebrated the Classic Series by bringing together Doctors 1-8 for an audio adventure called The Light at the End, the Doctor Who short E-Books went around and even the former companions got a chance to shine in the Destiny of the Doctor series.
For those of you who’ve missed out on Destiny of the Doctor, it was a joint effort by Big Finish and AudioGo to bring eleven stories to life featuring each of the Doctors. The core of these stories revolved around the Eleventh Doctor sending messages to his past selves and generally mucking up whatever they were up to at the time by sending them on some other stiffer assignments. Each Doctor received a story, but the real stars here are the actors and actresses who played the Doctor’s companions as they read and perform most of the stories. The sagas are set up like Companion Chronicles with the narrative generally following the exploits of the companion after they’ve been routinely separated from the Doctor. In a way, these stories are Doctor-lite episodes, but not that light.
Altogether, this was a great way of honoring the side-kicks/assistants/companions and the fact that they were given the spotlight in each story just proves that they aren’t just playing second fiddle, but first chair. I will not be spending a lot of time going into in-depth analyses of each story, but instead highlighting which elements worked and which failed.
A Companion and their Doctor!
The first thing that you’ll attempt to judge when you listen to these stories are the actors/actresses’ impersonations of their respective Doctors. I dub this the most important element of the story because without it, no matter how brilliant the story turns out to be, it just won’t feel like Doctor Who. For the most part, the actors/actresses seem to know their respective Doctors well enough to get the voice and mannerisms correct, but Frazer Hines, Nicola Bryant and Lalla Ward run away with this category. Nick Brigg’s Ninth Doctor also makes the cut. Lalla’s portrayal of the Fourth Doctor is eerily convincing, as is Nicola’s take on Colin’s Doctor, but it really is Frazer who kidnaps first place. In fact, if you didn’t already know he was dead, you’d have a difficult time believing Patrick Troughton wasn’t actually in the studio recording his lines.
People who didn’t fare so well with impersonating their Doctors also exist unfortunately. Carole Ann Ford’s First Doctor is very unconvincing and so is Richard Franklin’s Third Doctor and even India Fisher fails to capture the abstract-absentmindedness of the Eighth Doctor. Unfortunately Sophie Aldred’s Seventh Doctor also makes the cut, but this (in my opinion) comes down to Sophie’s failed attempt to mimic McCoy’s strange Scottish accent which the actor has mentioned isn’t full-on Scottish, but rather a mixture of just rolling his R’s and emphasizing certain words which can be tricky.
When Eleven met the Classics!
As covered earlier, the arc is that Eleven cameos in every story, barring the first, and gives his predecessors something to do. Now listening to eleven people each try and do an impersonation of the Eleventh Doctor is fun and all, however, there can be no doubt that by the end of the series, only Matt Smith can do it properly. He is the Doctor after all, but this element of the story is extremely important, even if the role is a cameo one. Most writers tried to write Eleven during one of his abstract nutty professor moments, which turned predictable rather quickly, but then again, it must be difficult to write for a Doctor that you have zero experience with. Steven Moffat even confirmed that whenever a writer pens a script for a new Doctor, they default to their Doctor. However, the winners here are most certainly Nicola Bryant and Janet Fielding. They manage to capture the funny-duddy Doctor expertly.
Obviously the stories themselves are also very important. I must admit though, I am gutted about some of them being doomed to audio format as there are particular ideas that could’ve worked very magically on screen. Here are the story rankings from worst (my opinion) to best naturally:
Vengeance of the Stones
How can a story featuring the Brigadier and Mike Yates end up first (which is actually last) on this list? Easy! It bored the hell out of me. Ironically, it’s also the story I best remember as I was listening to it in the gym (took me three goes though). The story is UNIT based with two fighter planes disappearing at the start of the story. At this point, you can already smell the repetitiveness of the plot and guess what’s going to happen in Act 2 and 3 before Act 1 is even through. UNIT is called in to help, the Doctor is without Liz Shaw, but Mike Yates is ready, willing and able. A few positive remarks about this story are that it acts as an introductory story for Mike Yates and explains how he joined UNIT. If you’re a fan of Yates, then this little backstory will hook you.
The set up is fine, the execution and suspense is well thought-out, it’s just that the whole Those Wacky Nazis angle has been done to death in Doctor Who. Seriously though, given all the times he’s run into them, one would think the Doctor likes being around psychotic German people. Apologies to all you non-psychotic German people reading this. The story does win first place for misleading titles though as it’s not a tale about aliens, but actually about…Germans! How’d you guess? It does however have the Doctor jumping from trains, jumping into trap doors, coffins, cellars and bridges. There is a lot of running in this story…running and jumping.
Shadow of Death
It’s official! The Second Doctor has been typecast as a Base Under Siege Doctor. Shadow of Death substitutes an earth base with an asteroid base while Ice Warriors get replaced by creepy timey-wimey shadow monsters. Frazer puts in a powerful performance as his Doctor, but the story is just too repetitive to properly enjoy, unless of course you adore base under siege stories and don’t mind the same situations and actions occurring over and over again. This story isn’t bad per se, if it had been one of Pat’s first B.U.S stories, then it would’ve been one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately it isn’t, so it isn’t I guess. The best thing about it is: Two comments on how cool Eleven’s bowtie looks!
Smoke and Mirrors
The Doctor and company meet Harry Houdini! Now this is a story that I would’ve loved to have seen showcased on the television screen. The Doctor and company arrive in the roaring 20s to meet and help out an old friend of the Doctor’s. There are people being chased by tigers and a couple of lions, betrayal, temptation and a very welcomed return from a villain who hasn’t been around since 2010.
Hunters of Earth
This first installment actually holds up rather well on this list. Like a lot of the stories, it has a theme that empowers it. Here, it manifests as racism. It is a concept that hits rather close to all our hearts. The Doctor has yet to meet Ian and Barbara, but his granddaughter meets some people who at first seem rather nice, but it soon turns into a witch hunt to find any aliens on earth and kill them. Anything more than that spoils the story, but I will say that I found it particularly interesting to hear how accurately and responsibly the concept of racism was handled in this story. It is a serious topic and always has been.
Night of the Whisper
The Doctor, Rose and Jack are playing cops, journalists and waitresses while they investigate a werewolf gangster named Wolfsbane and a vigilante calling himself the Whisper in New Vegas in the 23rd century. Remember those plots that needed to be showed onscreen? Well here they are! This story’s budget would’ve been off the charts had it been made, but it would’ve been awesome! Unfortunately, I found this story lackluster. This is a bias opinion as I am someone who now solves crimes every day and someone who loves crime drama in general. For that reason, Night of the Whisper just felt like a bad parody of one of those rough-tough 20s mafia movies. It sounded like they just shoved every gangster story cliché into a big pot and let it settle for a few hours. Again, this one is a very bias opinion.
Do you have the right to decide whether other people should die with you? That is the main theme in this story as the Doctor and Ace board a spaceship just before the planet it’s escaping from is blown up. They are trapped on board and try desperately to keep everyone else alive, while a saboteur is running around, thinking that oblivion equals salvation and is determined to save everyone along with themselves. This story also serves as a bit of a life lesson for Ace and really feels like the Doctor arranged all of this in advance just to teach it to her. I will defend the Doctor by saying that I doubt even Seven would put them both in this kind of danger just to educate someone.
Strangely enough, it’s also the name of the planet the Doctor and Donna are visiting. In fact, Death’s Deal is the most dangerous planet in the galaxy. Everything that moves want to kill you in some gruesome way and the TARDIS crew has just been separated from the TARDIS. Cue ‘This Shoulda Been a Series Four Episode’ thought! Death’s Deal is more gripping than I first imagined it to be and it manages to combine running (from everything that moves) with a long lost reunion plot. The only sour bit (in my opinion) is the I Know You’re In There Somewhere Speech which I generally dislike in any type of fiction.
The Time Machine
This story personally annoyed me because even though Jenna Coleman performs it, Clara is not even in it. Instead, she’s replaced by a one-off scientist called Alice Watson (cool name though). I do like the story’s setting – 23 November 2013 – as well as the monsters the Doctor faces here. Like the Weeping Angels, the Creevix feed on abstract temporal potential, but not because they’re hungry, but because it makes them stronger and allows them to see and predict anyone’s future actions. The questions that you gathered from listening to the previous stories also end up being resolved in this story about the day humanity first discovered time travel.
Trouble in Paradise
The Sixth Doctor and Peri meet Christopher Columbus! How awesome is that? What makes this story so terrific is the fact that I learned that CC wasn’t the hero I always heard people make him out to be. He was actually a pretty evil human being. This story shows us what most history books care to leave out about the man who discovered America. It has pirates, aliens trying to alter history and a goat named Neddy! The goat makes sense in the story. Trouble in Paradise also takes a little from The Fires of Pompeii by dealing with the concepts of fixed points. It combines this with an emotionally driven storyline that focuses on the Doctor and Peri’s still-evolving relationship.
The concept behind Babblesphere is just…mind blowing! It really is! Imagine a society where private thoughts are against the law, where everyone, everywhere is obligated to share whatever they’re thinking about all of the time! Imagine a society where everyone has access to everything about to you. I suppose for some of you who have Facebook or Twitter, it’s not so hard to imagine (burn!), but for those of you who don’t think that such widespread information sharing is a bad thing, just remember that all those impure thoughts that include for example undressing someone with your mind and picturing the body underneath the clothing is now public knowledge as well when you live in the Babblesphere. The Doctor and Romana meet the aforementioned society and jump into action, discovering the Babble Network, a system which enables everyone to know all your most inner (and outer) thoughts. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave it at that, but Babblesphere is truly remarkable and deserves this place on the rankings for its sheer imaginativeness.
It’s not all good news though. One thing that disappoints is that this series wasn’t released weekly, but rather monthly. Despite what conclusion some of you have already drawn, this is an arc series. As someone who has already listened to the full set, I advise you to re-listen to the first 10 stories before attempting The Time Machine. Running 11 months in total, I found it difficult to remember all the plot threads that make up part of the Doctor’s scheme concerning why he sent his past selves messages. This is partly because I couldn’t remember all the way back to January! Had this series been transmitted weekly, things might’ve turned out differently.
For those of you who have listened to the full set, but still don’t understand what the Eleventh Doctor was up to, read ahead. For those of you who haven’t, spoilers: show