Stephen Noonan is the Doctor in The Outlaws, offering the most faithful recreation of the First Doctor’s era yet
A brand new phase in the First Doctor’s life has arrived with the latest box set, The Outlaws. Set firmly between Steven’s departure in The Savages and Dodo’s exit in the very next story, The War Machines, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. And it comes with a clear mandate to refresh the range with the debut of a brand new First Doctor.
Stephen Noonan’s detailed study of Hartnell as an actor arms him an extensive toolkit of performance choices to draw on
The Doctor has always been a man, or woman, of many faces, but never more so than in the case of the First Doctor. The latest actor to follow in the footsteps of Messrs Hartnell, Hurndall, Bradley and Purves is Stephen Noonan. Making his debut as the Doctor in The Outlaws, Noonan has clearly made a detailed study of Hartnell as an actor that goes well beyond just watching some old episodes. In the accompanying interviews he even makes a connection to an older actor Hartnell knew while himself a juvenile actor. Moreover, he actually sought out surviving recordings of him. That’s a name, and a thrilling suggestion about Hartnell’s characterisation, that Blogtor Who will leave listeners to discover for themselves. But it’s testament to Noonan’s extraordinary diligence in preparing for these new First Doctor Adventures.
Noonan has built up an entire library of Hartnell’s various acting choices and summons them up at will. You can almost picture his fingers fluttering over his toolkit of options, like the Doctor’s over the controls of his Ship. This Doctor has it all: quarrelsome bad temper, giggling whimsy, sly wit, waxing lyrical about the universe and more. And as with Hartnell himself, often all within the space of a couple of lines. The overall result is quite possibly the most complete and rounded take on the First Doctor since the original. And while Noonan’s natural speaking voice may be a shade deeper than the original, it would churlish to complain. After all we could say the same of other classic Doctors, or even David Tennant, compared to their younger selves.
Dodo’s lack of development on screen gives Lauren Cornelius a blank page to create her own sparky, eager, characterisation
Noonan’s co-star Lauren Cornelius faces the complete opposite challenge. She seizes with both hands the unique opportunities of playing Dodo, that most undefined and undeveloped of companions, to create a character entirely her own – sparky, breathlessly enthusiastic, but charmingly naive. Freed from any expectation of doing an impression of Jackie Lane (which accent would you even pick?) Cornelius’ Dodo is a revelation of boundless energy and sincerity. The Outlaws retains Dodo’s talent for talking herself into trouble, too. Though thankfully Cornelius and the script combine to make it an endearing, rather than annoying, quality.
The Doctor rubs shoulders with real historical figures while doing his best to stay out of history’s way in a story that sits comfortably among the best Hartnell historicals
But what of the story itself? As with recent Third Doctor Adventures, The Outlaws is stunningly persuasive about the value of these recastings, weaving together a story and sense of the era that simply couldn’t be accomplished any other way. Listening to The Outlaws you can almost smell the cramped spaces and dark corridors of Lime Grove Studios. And for this outing they’re transformed into the forest and castle of 13th century Lincoln. The French have invaded and England, Prince Louis determined to seize the English throne from King John. As his forces march North, Nicolaa de la Haie, High Sheriff of Lincoln, (a wise but spiky Glynis Barber) is in a race against time to prepare for a siege. A task made more difficult for her and the noble Sir Hugh (Sam Stafford) by a band of outlaws ambushing travellers through the forest. Strangely familiar outlaws…
The Monk’s latest mischief sees him assemble his own band of merry men to nudge history off course
It seems that if Robin Hood did not exist it would be necessary for Man (or Monk) to invent him. The irreverent time meddler’s latest wheeze is a perfect fit for the First Doctor’s era, having its cake of educational historical details, while eating a generous slice of the sugary goodness of its pound shop merry men. The Doctor and Dodo visit Lincoln Castle to learn about the fall of Richard the Lionheart, and King John’s reign. They, and we, also learn about the life of real life historical figure de la Haie. Neatly, Dodo is used as the audience’s stand-in, true history challenging what she’s learned from 1950s adventure films.
But in the forest they also meet William of Berkshire (Christian Edwards) and his band of brigands sworn to liberate the rich of their excess wealth and redistribute to the needy, albeit at some unspecified date in the future. But it’s their very own Friar Tuck, Rufus Hound’s Monk, who’s the real brains behind their plans.
As you’d expect, The Time Meddler is a major inspiration here, with the Monk pursuing his goal to upend human history, with the hand-rubbing glee of a naughty schoolboy with a satchel full of stink bombs. The bickering and one-upmanship between the two Time Lords gives both Noonan and Hound some of their best moments. But The Crusade and The Myth Makers are also clear influences. The Doctor tries and fails to avoid he and his young charge getting mixed up in local political intrigues, while the ticking clock of an imminent attack on the besieged castle casts a growing shadow over the fun of the Robin Hood homages.
The Miniaturist provides a welcome contrast by embracing modern settings and storytelling in an unnerving tale
Ultimately, like a traditional First Doctor historical, our characters step lightly through events. The Doctor’s more concerned with the travellers escaping with their necks the right way round than saving the day. It’s a uniquely 1960s approach to Doctor Who. But for fans with more modern sensibilities, this box set includes a second story. Two parter The Miniaturist immediately subverts The Outlaws by placing the Doctor and Dodo in a story that’s modern in both setting and style, yet which works incredibly well. It makes this boxset the best of both worlds. Not just ideal for fans who like to replicate the spirit of the original eras. But also for those who prefer to see classic characters benefit from modern day storytelling.
Set in the deepest mine in the world, The Miniaturist plunges our heroes deep into the darkness in more ways than one. It’s an eerie tale in the tradition of Midnight and It Takes You Away. Aided by a haunting and menacing performance by Annette Badland in the title role, at times this could even be one of the more unnerving Torchwood releases (albeit one that’s had its mouth washed out with soap.) And with the Torchwood range continuing to be one of Big Finish’s most inventive and exciting, that’s no small compliment. This fusion of the classic with the modern even extends to the episode lengths. The thirty-five minute running time for each episode forms a suitable halfway house between the twenty-five and forty-five minute formats.
Noonan and Cornelius have formed a truly special TARDIS crew, and one with huge potential to develop in future First Doctor Adventures releases
The Miniaturist follows The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve and The Celestial Toymaker in offering brief glimpses suggesting a deeply unhappy childhood for Dodo. Excitingly, though, there are hints that this may actually be leading somewhere in future First Doctor Adventures. The Doctor even catching himself as he realizes just how little he knows about his companion. It gives these new adventures for the Doctor and Dodo the potential for Big Finish to offer one of the most compelling futures for a classic companion yet.
Doctor Who – The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws
Out now – Doctor Who — The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws is on sale now for £19.99 (for the collector’s edition CD + download) or £16.99 (for the digital download only).