Series three of Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who – The Early Adventures’ range kicks off this month with The Age of Endurance.
The Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian arrive on the Vanguard, a spaceship all but abandoned…except for the dead body. When another ship – the Endurance – arrives, the TARDIS crew find themselves mixed up in a violent slave race revolution. Their encounter confronts them with genetic engineering, space anomalies and a sinister force lurking about the ship.
I Know That Voice
Carole Ann Ford and William Russell share narration duties alongside their roles as Susan and Ian respectively. Filling in for his late colleague William Hartnell, Russell also voices the Doctor with an impressive command of voice. His two roles have plenty of scenes together yet, even with narration, each voice is distinctive. Though the age in Russell’s voice grants him an impeccable Hartnell impression, it does seep into his lines as Ian occasionally. Ford sheds fifty years from her voice so well you might believe Susan’s part was constructed from old archive recordings. Jemma Powell does an excellent job playing Barbara, giving an honest performance rather than directly impersonating Jacqueline Hill.
Though the pacing is initially reminiscent of the classic series, there’s a lot of action and plot from the start. The conflict of the story is given a lot of texture early on, with distinct characters on each side. Helped, in no small part, by the narration. Big Finish’s writers are skilled at conveying visuals through dialogue, but narration definitely makes for an easier listen. It takes some load off the listener’s imagination so the dialogue and story can be more easily followed.
Harking Back and Forth
As with much of Big Finish’s work, this release adds modern elements to a story deliberately reminiscent of its time. It would have been easy for director Ken Bentley to cram in a cacophony of familiar Hartnell-era noises to force nostalgia. Instead, he carefully selects moments to insert them just to reset the tone at opportune times. The soundscape and dialogue also plays with the Sixties take on sci-fi technology. At one point, Susan marvels over a microcircuit, the ships computers use punch-cards and the engines are audibly mechanical. It’s a clever way to use the audio format and pay homage to an era of sci-fi before glowing tubes meant “spaceship engine”.
At the same time, Nick Wallace has taken the opportunity to put the characters in scenarios prohibited to classic Who. In particular, Ian’s space-walk and Susan’s chase scene stand out as moments that couldn’t have been done on TV.
Ian Chatterton? You’re goddamn right!
In some ways, The Age of Endurance is a fairly standard Doctor Who story. In terms of plot, a conflict between two races that the TARDIS team get mixed up in isn’t anything new. What elevates this story is the characterisation of Ian. He adapts to the situations by applying his 20th-century knowledge. Separated from the others, Ian is forced to take calculated risks and accepts responsibility for the consequences. He expresses sorrow over the loss of life but becomes commanding when he needs to be. Giving new facets to a character who’s been consistent for 50 years is an absolute credit to Wallace and Russell.
This is a very strong start for the new series of Early Adventures. The Age of Endurance packs tons of character development into a tense, breakneck story. It pays tribute to its era while not being afraid to break certain elements.
Blogtor Rating – 8/10
Doctor Who: The Age of Endurance is available to buy now on CD and download from Big Finish.
The TARDIS materialises on board a still and eerie spaceship. When a squad of soldiers land, they realise they’ve found themselves in the middle of a war zone. With one of their crew trapped by the enemy, the Doctor and his friends find themselves locked in a desperate race for survival. Vast warships manoeuvre around each other as both sides try to out-think their opponents, flying into ever more dangerous areas of space.
The stakes could not be higher. But as ever in war, the lines between good and evil are hard to define. Will anyone survive to claim the moral high ground?
Written By: Nick Wallace
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Carole Ann Ford (Susan/Narrator), William Russell (Ian/The Doctor), Jemma Powell(Barbara), Rachel Atkins (Myla), John Voce (Toban), Gethin Anthony (Olivan), Andy Secombe (Benya), Tom Bell (Arran/Shift). Other parts portrayed by the cast.
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs