The end is nigh for the Seventh Doctor as he faces his ultimate foe… Ace
In 2015 Big Finish released The Last Adventure, an attempt to give the Sixth Doctor a fitting capstone to his era beyond ‘carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.’ Now they’re doing the same for Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation with The Last Day. Unlike Colin Baker, McCoy did get to film his own regeneration. But all the same, he was very much a supporting player in the Doctor Who TV Movie. But the twelve episode The Last Day sets out to provide an appropriately epic penultimate adventure before he sets course for Skaro to recover the Master’s remains.
It’s perhaps a little surprising then that this set, containing the first six episodes, sidelines the Doctor so much. Even when he does appear, he’s scarcely recognizable as the Time Lord we know. Following on from 2020 release Dark Universe, the Doctor here is one who has given into the temptation of ultimate power. From his citadel on Gallifrey he monitors the entire history of the universe. More than that, he continuously tweaks and adjusts its path to suit his design. That might sound like he’s simply lost a little perspective. But those tweaks are measured in billions of lost lives. Scenes of him touring his private prison, each cell containing the last member of a species he’s exterminated, make clear that this really is the Doctor’s darkest timeline.
The Last Day features an appropriately epic cast, introduced at dizzying, even confusing, speed
However, the bulk of The Last Day Part One concerns itself with Ace’s quest to assemble a team to overthrow the Doctor and free the universe. With a strong debt to the Seven Samurai tradition, it’s unavoidably episodic. As a result it takes a long time for the narrative to gather pace. More concerning, however, is how often that narrative teeters on the edge of incomprehensibility. Big Finish have brought together a suitably grand cast to match the epic sweep of the story. But combined that with the frequent switches from one location and group of characters to another, you’d be forgiven for getting a little lost. Blogtor often found themselves listening intently for someone to mention characters’ names out loud. At times it’s genuinely hard to tell where a scene takes place and between whom.
The early episodes use the familiar Seven Samurai format as Ace recruits heroes and villains both familiar and obscure
Indeed, The Last Day asks a lot from the listener’s previous knowledge. The concept of the Seventh Doctor’s final adventure would seem ideal to draw in as wide an audience of Doctor Who fans as possible. Matt Fitton and Guy Adams’ script instead casts its net as narrowly as possible. The target audience here clearly only the hardest core of Big Finish listeners. Yes, Ace, Mel, and the Master should be familiar to all, with Kane from 1987’s television story Dragonfire not much more obscure.
Benny, too, has a reputation that now extends far beyond her audio origins. Even including former original audio companions Hex and Sally as part of the celebrations is understandable. Though the nature of Hex and Sally’s departure in 2014’s Signs and Wonders might not be as fresh in listener’s minds as the story would like. But by the time the cast is rounded out by the likes of Lysandra (from the Forge arc of the early 2010s), Vienna (from her eponymous spin-off), Hob (Dogbolter’s robot sidekick from the DWM comic strip), Garundel (from an early Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter episode), and Finsey (who met Tim Treloar’s Doctor in a 2016 story), The Last Day begins to feel like a story designed to be heard with a notepad in one hand, and Tardis Wiki open on your phone in the other.
Things finally come into focus in the final episodes as the board is set for the Doctor and Ace’s final chess game
Fortunately, the plot starts to get some much needed focus in the later episodes. The characters finally begin together into two main groups, and there’s finally a sense of events gathering pace. On Earth, the paths Hex and Sally and President D. McShane, the alternate version of Ace serving as dictator of Earth on the Doctor’s behalf, collide in a battle to decide the planet’s future. Meanwhile Ace’s dirty dozen of Doctor Who villains arrive on Gallifrey to pull off a high stakes heist right under the Doctor’s nose.
Those two Aces are very much at the heart of The Last Day. If anything this is more their story than the Doctor’s. Between them they provide an opportunity to resolve Ace’s multiple endings over the years, even if only thematically. One the hardened soldier forged by the Doctor’s manipulations and schemes into a cynic. The other older and wiser than she used to be, but still the idealist rebel at heart. Sophie Aldred differentiates between them with impressive ease too, without falling back on any overtly actorly tricks.
It all promises a much more compelling second half for The Last Day when it arrives in June. And ultimately, many of the first half’s issues result of being weighted so heavily towards setting everything up. It will only when we can listen to all 12 episodes together that we’ll able to truly say if this is that fitting final adventure Sylvester McCoy deserves.
Doctor Who: The Last Day Part One
There is always injustice to fight. There is always a new danger for the universe. But what if the Doctor found a way to put things right, once and for all? Would it really be so terrible to take a stand? Would the end justify the means? And would his friends agree? The Seventh Doctor’s last day is coming…
Doctor Who – The Seventh Doctor Adventures: The Last Day Parts One and Two are available to pre-order together in a bundle for just £41 (collector’s edition CD box set + download), or £35 (download only), exclusively from www.bigfinish.com.
Listeners can also purchase each box set of The Last Day separately. Part One is available now for just £19.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £16.99 (download only). Part Two, due for release in June 2024, is available to pre-order for £22.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £18.99 (download only).