The Doctor and Steven arrive in a winter wonderland but the weather is frightful.
Finding sanctuary in a small cottage, a terrified little girl and her dying grandfather are looking for her father. If that weren’t enough to be worried about, the trees (the titular tannenbaum) are moving!
‘O Tannenbaum’ feels like a modern series Christmas special, if you break it down and look at the story elements. You’ve got trees that come to life, the Doctor befriending a scared child, a winter wonderland and a strange happy ending. Since the classic series never had an official Christmas special, seeing Big Finish take on the task is an exciting prospect. Though we did have this small fourth wall break in ‘The Feast of Steven’.
Writer Anthony Keetch, who appears as Coordinator Vansell in numerous Big Finish stories, brings us a brilliant story featuring the First Doctor and Steven. Keetch’s has a history of writing for the First Doctor, in the ‘Past Tense’ anthology story ‘Bide-A-Wee’. But this is his first time writing for the character of Steven, played by Peter Purves.
Keetch captures their characters brilliantly, though Steven comes across a lot wittier than he was on television. But that’s no bad thing and the First Doctor is a lot less brash, though Steven’s repeated bracing for the Doctor to explode pays homage to it. The First Doctor feels more comparable to a modern incarnation, most notably the Eleventh Doctor in the way he carries himself. Particularly how he handles the situation with the scared Gretta. Hartnell, on occasion, could show real charm in his performance that Keetch has captured expertly in his script.
Having played Steven in ‘The Feast of Steven’, Peter Purves is best placed to narrate this tale. He has no trouble getting back into character and obviously enjoys the fact he gets to be a bit funnier. You can almost hear Steven making a side-glance to the listener. Purves also gets to flesh the character out a bit, commenting on how Steven never played rugby. And, of course, he takes palpable delight in making a direct reference to the Doctor’s wink to the audience from the episode.
His rendition of the late William Hartnell is perfection too. Being later in this Doctor’s life, he doesn’t need to work in the grump that Hartnell sometimes would. Instead he brings the warmth that Hartnell’s later time on the series was known for. It’s clear how much Purves enjoys revisiting this time in his long career. Long may he continue to do it!
‘O Tannenbaum’ is nothing short of stellar. The perfect combination of tremendous writing, excellent narration and wonderful direction. Keetch has one last emotional punch to throw though as he takes the time to remind us that for someone this will be a last Christmas. It is a melancholy sting to end the story on. But Christmas always a slightly melancholy tint to it if you look too closely. Viewers of the classic-era never got a Doctor Who Christmas special back in the day, but ‘O Tannenbaum’ makes amends for it. William Hartnell would be proud. Very proud indeed…
Blogtor Rating – 10/10
Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly is a series of new short stories read by an original cast member.
Release #36 is a First Doctor and Steven story.
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…
The TARDIS has landed in a winter wonderland and the weather outside is frightful.
A world of dread and fear and it’s not just the frost that is cruel…
It’s Christmas Eve, but will the Doctor and Steven get to see another one?
And of all the trees in the wood, who really bears the crown?
Producer Ian Atkins
Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Anthony Keetch
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Peter Purves (Narrator)