Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Sirens of Time

This was not the first Big Finish I purchased and heard. Somewhere around 2000-2001 I decided to give audio Doctor Who a try with "Davros" and "Master". While I enjoyed both of them, (though I thought and still think they each have big flaws) I didn't immediately get hooked and it would be another year or two before I made the decision to begin listening to the whole range. I decided to start at the beginning and so I started with this debut "The Sirens of Time".

Given that Big Finish came out of the gates with Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy on board to do these stories, it's only natural that they wanted to start off with a multi-Doctor story. It makes a lot of sense from a marketing standpoint. They were a mostly new company that had only previously released Bernice Summerfield adventures. They were looking to greatly expand their audience and tantalizing fans with multiple Doctors in their first story makes perfect sense. As a fan, I kind of wish they had waited a while and built to the multi-Doctor extravaganza, but it's hard to argue with their logic.

Going in, I was peeking around at some reviews and had determined that this story didn't have a very strong reputation. Well, back then and still to this day I disagree. This is easily the best multi-Doctor story ever. (Ok, ok, I am damning it with faint praise.) It really is a nice story. Nick Briggs is maybe not my absolute favorite writer for Big Finish, but I think he generally does write consistently good stories, so I generally feel confident that I will like a release when I see he's the author. I think it was a great idea to have the first 3 parts be individual (but linked) stories for each Doctor and then bring them together and tie it all together at the end. It also has a pretty interesting new villainous race (though we don't learn a whole lot about them) and the nice twist of a "master villain" manipulating everything. Not for the first time the Doctors are coming together to save the Time Lords....

Hold it. Let's talk about these almighty Time Lords for a second. In the first story where we meet them ("The War Games") they are portrayed as these seemingly all powerful, nearly god like beings that seem to be in complete control. (Well, except for that one who gets killed by the invading alien soldiers trying to save the (awesome) War Lord.) As the series went on they seemed to get a whole lot less god like and a lot more useless. Omega drained them pretty much dry sucking all their energy through a black hole (I thought Time Lords were totally expert on black holes?) into his anti-matter universe in "The Three Doctors". In the "Deadly Assassin" the Gallifreyan Secret Service was so utterly hopeless they allowed the president to be easily shot and then blamed the wrong man. Then, they actually allowed their prime suspect to run for president due to a legal loop hole. Really?! Of course, in "The Invasion of Time" they got invaded TWICE by two different sets of aliens. They are totally hopeless. It's a wonder that the Doctor even bothers trying to save them considering they are always interfering with his life and acting so superior to him. One would think the Daleks would have crushed them easily in the Time War were it not for the Doctor (and presumably the Master). They prove to be equally inept here, and can't seem to make up their minds on whether they want help from the Doctor or just to kill him.

Anyway, enough with the tangent. The first episode features Doctor #7 and is generally highlighted by Maggie Stables completely over the top portrayal as the "evil old hag". Her performance is even more enjoyable after you've become used to hearing her lovely portrayal as Evelyn Smythe. Sancroft as the old, broken down, evil bastard war criminal is pretty interesting too. It's a shame we don't find out more about him. Episode two, with the 5th Doctor being stuck on a German submarine during World War I is the least interesting episode for me. Generally I think you need more than one episode in a historical setting to really draw the audience in and make them feel the time period being recreated. It's also made a bit less interesting by the fact that the Doctor does nothing so much as try to get back to the TARDIS. Even with the Time Lords imploring him to do so, it seems a bit out of character. Episode #3 on the space ship is fun with Colin Baker being his irascible self. Already, Big Finish is keeping his general temperament from the TV series, but making him a bit more likeable. The Sixth Doctor rehabilitation begins! When they all come together and the (somewhat convoluted, timey-wimey) plot is spelled out it leads to an interesting finish. I think it's interesting that the Sixth Doctor has the guts to make the tough decision before the other Doctors would, and then confronts them about it afterwards when they are giving him a bit of disapproval. While you only get this one episode worth of inter-Doctor banter, it's pretty fun while it lasts.

One other amusing side note: when I go back and break out these older CDs, it's striking how different the packaging quality was then compared to now. The cover art in particular has come a long way from these first few plays. But the audio production quality is pretty impressive right from the get go. It's also interesting comparing the Doctors' voices. I've always felt that Peter Davison sounds the most different from his time on the TV show. Colin Baker also has a bit more rasp and age in his voice. McCoy pretty much sounds the same. All of them sound a bit older now on the more recent releases. None of this detracts from my enjoyment of these plays.

This is a very solid debut for Big Finish. I am not sure what its general reputation with the Who horde is today, but I was pleasantly surprised all those years ago and definitely thought it exceeded the reputation it had back then. Some better things were to come in the near future, but I would definitely rank this on the high end of the good scale. And our (mostly) blissful journey through audio Doctor Who has begun... 

Rating: Good

No comments:

Post a Comment