The Dream Team of 1982 reunite for two thrilling tales built on the cast’s obvious affection for each other

With The Dream Team, the latest boxset of Fifth Doctor Adventures, Big Finish have served up something special. Many stories down the years have sought to recreate Doctor Who’s various television eras in fine detail. Others have gone the other route – trying to bring a much more modern sensibility to these older TARDIS teams. But the stories in this set, The Merfolk Murders and Dream Team, succeed in doing both at once. The result is two stories that feel like they should have aired in 1982, if only we’d been so lucky.

 

The Merfolk Murders bedevil a university town, but fortunately a classic literary detective is on hand to solve the case

The first four episodes of the set take the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan to the university town of St. Andrew’s in Scotland in 1940 to investigate The Merfolk Murders. But there’s more than the fear of war on the air this blustery summer, there are whispers of murder too. The Merfolk drama and arts society (changed, for whatever reason, from their real world equivalents, the Mermaids) have been reduced over the summer break to a book club for the few remaining students. Their current obsession is the Orion Hood detective series by Sarah Joan Watson. Which is convenient, as both a real murder and the real Orion Hood are about to drop into their midst.

“Orion Hood,” (a certain curly haired, huge grinned, deerstalker wearing gentleman detective) may be a Holmes pastiche, but The Merfolk Murders draws much more on the Agatha Christie tradition. (It’s just a shame it doesn’t take its title from the magnificent line “A Queer Letter from Athena.”) There’s a plethora of suspects, and all of them have their own secrets to hide. Everyone is lying about something, and there cunning trick questions asked, and enough tiny significant details to keep your little black notebook full. Why was there a dog barking in the night? What’s the significance of the time on the clock tower? Who made the salmon sandwiches? But most importantly, how was a student strangled behind the fort ruins’ heavy gates, overlooking the unscalable cliffs, even as the Doctor and his friends stood just feet away?

 

(l-r) Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) (c) Big Finish Fifth Doctor Adventures Doctor Who
(l-r) Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) (c) Big Finish

Tim Foley provides an intricate murder mystery of secrets, lies, and red herrings to tax your little grey cells

On the commentary for Black Orchid, Davison, Fielding, Waterhouse and Sutton infamously decried the story as being a murder mystery pastiche with no mystery. But there are no such complaints here. Writer Tim Foley provides a cunning conundrum worthy of the queen of crime herself. Every clue has a payoff and every answer satisfies. And while you likely won’t guess the culprit until near the end, the solution is played completely fairly and delivers a satisfying payoff. There’s no alien menace of SF elements beyond our detectives themselves. Yet the familiar characters are so well drawn, and their personal histories so well incorporated, that it’s a story you couldn’t tell without them. The result is a genuine Doctor Who murder mystery rather than an adventure story that merely plays with the tropes.

That would normally be enough to mark the set out as an essential purpose, but Merfolk Murders has still more to offer. It’s a masterclass in how to juggle three companions. The four time travellers all play an active role, and get interesting thing to do. There’s even a strong emotional connection created for each one, which manages to help make these feel like more three dimensional versions of the same characters we got on TV. Admittedly, Adric seems particularly pompously self-satisfied today. But he also slips into a gentle queer love story subplot. It helps make him a more human figure than on screen. The Doctor even gets to swap his usual panama for his old Talons deerstalker: an image it’s hard to believe artist Ryan Alpin managed to resist putting on the cover.

 

Dream Team brings our heroes face to crab with the horrifying Kantrofarri from Last Christmas

The Dream Team concludes with Dream Team, sans ‘The.’ It brings the Fifth Doctor face to crab with the Kantrofarri from TV episode Last Christmas. When the TARDIS is targeted by a ‘hard sell’ psychic transmission promoting a tourist resort in what’s supposed to a protected cluster of planetoids full of endangered species, the Doctor investigates. But almost immediately upon arrival, things take a surreal turn. It doesn’t take him long to realize he and his companions have fallen prey to the Dream Crabs. But that doesn’t answer the questions: how are they going to wake up? And how will they even know if they really have?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that as effective as they were in their 2014 Doctor Who appearance, there isn’t a lot more for Big Finish to say about the Kantrofarri. After all, they’re basically animal predators with a particularly unnerving way of attacking and digesting their prey. They wrap themselves around the head and suck out the brain through a straw like stinger. All while feeding the victim dreams to keep them distracted. Terrifying, but likely to provide diminishing returns if revisited too often. Yet Dream Team succeeds in finding a compelling new way to utilise the beasties. It’s too good an idea to spoil here, but suffice to say that there’s a wider plan at work and a greater danger to stop.

Dream Team and its concept are perfectly tailored to its two episode length. 100 minutes or more of negotiating nested dream states would likely have gotten tiresome. However, there’s enough in these 55 minutes for a swift adventure full of unsettling images.

 

Showcasing a cast on top form, The Dream Team lives up to its name to be an essential purchase for Fifth Doctor fans

This classic 1980s team have never sounded more comfortable with each other, with the camaraderie of the cast shining through. If you’ve ever wondered what the 1982 season would have been like if the four travellers actually liked each other, then The Dream Team is the perfect Big Finish boxset for you. All entwined with two cunningly plotted scripts full of great ideas.

 

Doctor Who: The Dream Team. Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish Fifth Doctor Adventures Kantrofarri Tegan Nyssa Adric
Doctor Who: The Dream Team. Cover by Ryan Aplin (c) Big Finish

Doctor Who: The Dream Team

Mysteries come in all shapes and forms. From a small-scale murder to an alien conspiracy. But when they arise the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric are the perfect team to deal with them.

Doctor Who – The Fifth Doctor Adventures: The Dream Team is now available to purchase for just £22.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £18.99 (digital download only), exclusively from the Big Finish site here.

 

 

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