Harry and Naomi finally move centre stage in two new adventures of drama and horror
People have often said that for a show about time travel, Doctor Who is generally pretty linear. But the saga of Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross is anything but that. Harry, as played by Ian Marter, travelled of course with the Fourth Doctor and Sarah in Seasons Twelve and Thirteen. More recently Christopher Naylor has steeped into Harry’s patent leather slip-ons and cravat for more adventures from Big Finish Productions. Eleanor Crooks’ Naomi has shared those adventures with him, but for now theirs is a journey without beginning or end. Due to the juggling of the release schedules of different ranges, and Harry and Naomi’s own dancing between them, we’ve been following their exploits in an order worthy of River Song.
We know that they wind up joining Tom Baker aboard the TARDIS for adventures still to be released. And we know that they eventually leave again, only to find they’ve been accidentally dropped off in the 2020s. We know from the first two UNIT: Nemesis boxsets that, adrift as people out of time, they join Kate Stewart’s UNIT to help save the Earth once more. And now, before Nemesis is even finished, we get a post-Nemesis story of them reuniting with the Doctor again. But this time as played by Sylvester McCoy, hoping to find their way home.
The sparky, sardonic Naomi, and a typically dependable Harry make for a winning pair
In reality, it’s less confusing than it sounds. Sullivan and Cross – AWOL may reveal in vague terms that the pair help save the Earth from the Vulpereen. But, really, was that series ever likely to end any other way? While this set really doesn’t require any knowledge of those unreleased Fourth Doctor Adventures.
It does however mean Naomi remains a strangely unknown quantity even after several appearances. She’s sparky, ironical, brave and quick thinking. And she makes one half of a pleasingly mismatched pair with the more diffident Harry. But with her backstory seemingly being held back to be revealed in her past/future stories, it does sometimes make her seem a little generic as a companion. Especially next to the more clearly defined Harry.
London Orbital mixes Neverwhere and Middle Earth as an Elven civil war explodes from a secret parallel London into ours
We meet the pair again in London Orbital, which riffs on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere by way of Lord of the Rings. It adds yet another way in which the supernatural kind of, sort of, exists in the Doctor Who universe. This time it’s in the form of a Elven civil war that’s about to explode onto the streets of London. The Elves’ own version of Earth exists in a dimensional orbit with our own. One which sometimes brings it close enough for people to cross from one to the other. And then, if you know the way, that mysterious maintenance door in the depths of the Tube, or that service lift in the Shard, might be the entrance to another world.
The last time this happened Harry witnessed a massacre. So he’s understandably determined to get to the bottom of the mystery this time. Thrown in at the deep end of Elvish royal politics, he and Naomi are soon dashing around two different Londons, trying to keep one step ahead of a Elven archer determined to silence them at any cost. Fortunately they bump into an old friend, also trying to stop the war. Though he’s wearing a different face since the last time they met…
The tense political thriller casts Harry as the Human Who Knew Too Much
John Dorney’s script makes less of the Doctor’s new appearance than you might think. Harry and Naomi have read all the UNIT files and have seen this Doctor’s photo before, and read the case notes detailing him as a secretive game player. At one level that does seem a shame. But it does allow more focus on the ways in which the Doctor is the same, rather than different. The presence of Harry, in particular, means several of the scenes here where the Doctor unconvincingly defends his piloting skills, or happily admits he’s making his plans up as he goes along, sound like they’d have been equally at home in a Tom Baker script as a Sylvester McCoy one.
London Orbital’s incredibly earnest performances from the Elves teeters on the brink at times. There may be Light Elves, and Dark Elves, but there certainly aren’t any fun Elves. But set against Naylor’s and Crooks’ affable and very human performances, and McCoy setting his to maximum twinkly whimsy, it instead underlines the strange otherworldy quality of the elves. Meanwhile, the plot evolves into a kind of political chase thriller. Along the way it presents an effective mix of tension and cleverly thought out action. Most pleasingly, it remembers that while Harry might often have been on the receiving end of the Fourth Doctor’s scorn, he’s genuinely resourceful and brave too.
Scream of the Daleks drips with atmosphere and a palpable sense of evil
The four part London Orbital is followed by the two part Scream of the Daleks. Its shorter duration makes it hardly less ambitious in scope though. Whether intentionally or not, it’s also an appropriate sibling for the other story. Once more another dimension is moving in and out closer sync with ours, and again it gives rise to myths and legends of the supernatural. This time the focal point is a wood that’s long been the location of various occult traditions since the days of the druids. And every 31st of October for millennia terror and death visit the woods. Until in 1969, Halloween is marked with an entire festival of scares and music, attended by thousands of potential victims. Can the Doctor, Harry and Naomi stop a massacre?
The story positively drips with atmosphere, with a palpable sense of evil hanging over the woods as the team investigate its history of deaths. Tense too, are Harry’s attempts to warn the disbelieving crowd to clear the area as their doom ticks ever closer. So effective, in fact, is the sense of supernatural spookiness that Lisa McMullin’s script succeeds in the almost impossible – surprising you when a Dalek shows up at the end of Part One of “___ of the Daleks” story.
Ironically, the Daleks themselves are the weakest element of a story that nevertheless provides a darkly thrilling little Hallowe’en tale
The first half may manage to make you forget the Daleks were even in it. But the second unfortunately marks them out as the story’s weakest aspect. Even by the standards of Doctor Who, and the Daleks in particular, their scheme here depends on such massive coincidences that it feels less like a master plan and more like them flipping ahead a few pages in the script to see what happens next. It also adds an intriguing new superpower to the Dalek arsenal. But it’s one so devastatingly effective you’re rather left wondering why they don’t just use it all the time. And while there’s always fun to be had conniving to have Nicholas Briggs’ bark out humourously mundane statements though his ring modulator, it wears a little thin here.
A few tweaks may have made Scream a truly great non-Dalek story. But, all the same, it’s still a fun and entertaining ghost train ride. It’s also worth noting as our first chance to actually hear the Doctor, Harry, and Naomi as a proper TARDIS team, landing in new times and places and getting into trouble in that uniquely Doctor Who way. As odd as that timey-wimey-ness may be, it’s reassuring that they make such a charismatic and warm trio to spend time with.
Harry and Naomi are the real stars of AWOL, and the set leaves you wanting much more of this team
London Orbital’s political thriller with added Elves, and Scream of the Daleks’ bedtime ghost story with added Daleks, and both diverting, easy, listens. Neither feels particularly essential in and of themselves, but then the real stars here are Harry and Naomi. Sullivan and Cross – AWOL essentially provides a platform for them to move centre stage. And they prove more than worthy as the spotlight, even as some questions linger.
The set finishes, as you might expect, with our trio aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor promises to bring them home… the long way round. But based on how well this team works together, lets hope it’s a long, long way round with plenty of stops along the way.
Doctor Who: Sullivan and Cross – AWOL
Sometimes a Time Lord forgets precisely where he left things – keys, screwdrivers… companions! Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross are stuck in the wrong time, so when the TARDIS arrives, they give up their 21st-century lives to find a way home.
But as they join the Doctor – a different version to any they’ve met before – Harry and Naomi are in for a few perilous stops along the way…
Doctor Who – The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Sullivan and Cross – AWOL is now available to own for just £19.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £16.99 (download only), exclusively here.