With Doctor Who having been back onscreen for 13 years now, it’s hard to imagine a time when there weren’t brand new episodes to enjoy. But between 1989 and 2005 (other than a few blips here and there), fans had to look to other mediums for new content. One of the most popular of these was Virgin Publishing’s The New Adventures novels.
As well as introducing the world to Bernice Summerfield, these books also featured other brand new companions for the Seventh Doctor – namely 30th century adjudicators Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester. Big Finish fans have met up with these characters a few times before in New Adventures adaptations of Cold Fusion and Damaged Goods. Now these two are joining the Seventh Doctor for a series of brand new original adventures.
Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver were previously limited in what they could bring to Roz and Chris as they were bound by existing material. These new original adventures gives both them and listeners a chance to get better acquainted with these characters. Their straight-laced demeanour makes a nice contrast to the likes of Mel or Ace. Every story in this set sees them separated from the Doctor at some stage so we get a good look at their ability to handle situations that travelling with the Doctor can throw up. For instance, Chris builds some interesting relationships with the guest casts during the adventures. Roz on the other hand proves herself wonderfully capable in a crisis. Hopefully, as these new adventures continue both the actors and writers will be able to continue developing them, building upon this promising opener.
Meanwhile, Sylvester McCoy continues to take his incarnation of the Doctor in an interesting direction. The Virgin New Adventures developed the Seventh Doctor, a process which has been continued by Big Finish. McCoy provides an older and more sombre version that fits the personalities of his companies rather nicely. His childish spark is still there deep down, but this is a wiser and more wistful version that McCoy has perfected over his time working with Big Finish.
The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane.
This quartet of stories kicks off with a rather cerebral entry, as the Doctor finds himself defending the TARDIS in court. The Trial of a Time Machine offers some interesting food for thought on crime and punishment, with Thrantas law based on the notion that some crimes can actually benefit society. Even though the Doctor and Roz/Chris go their separate ways for the most part, this concept is absolutely core to both their stories. Whilst the Doctor debates the theoretical concept, we also get to see it put into practice when his companions run into law enforcers Maratuk and Sydyck. This isn’t the only interesting concept the story tackles either, as it also takes a rather unique view on the subject of space and time travel too.
With two strong stories running parallel to each other, plenty of interesting concepts and strong dialogue, plus a few cheeky references thrown in for good measure, The Trial of a Time Machine is an excellent opener that stands out by not following the usual Doctor Who template.
Vanguard by Steve Jordan.
After a thought-provoking start, things move into more familiar territory in Vanguard. The TARDIS trio land on a planet ravaged by war with few survivors left, giant robot soldiers and some deadly but rather intelligent bacteria. It’s a fairly simple setup but works well because of the fantastic cast, especially the wonderfully devious Contessa, played by Sara Powell. Olivia Morris and Connor Calland are equally memorable as teenage survivors Blue and Green. Jacob Dudman deserves just as much praise for the voice work he brings to Cannon and the rest of the robotic Keepers. We see the Doctor in a particularly vulnerable situation, one where it’ll take all of his negotiating skills to survive. This scenario is just perfect for the Seventh Doctor, who has always excelled when engaged in a battle of wits. McCoy is superb once again, thriving on the dialogue and delivering a tremendous performance.
The Jabari Countdown by Alan Flanagan.
Following two adventures in outer space, it makes sense for the second half of this set to come back down to Earth. This begins with a trip back to the 1940’s featuring mathematicians and a surprise alien puzzle. It’s a nice little ‘whodunit’ story with an alien twist, again strengthened by a superb cast. What really makes the The Jabari Countdown stand out however is the handling of Eleanor and transgender discrimination. This might seem like a somewhat unlikely topic to address in a historical setting but was every bit as relevant then as it is now. In true Doctor Who fashion the subject matter is handled with dignity and respect, illustrating that while attitudes are indeed changing we as a species still have a long way to go before we’re truly inclusive.
The Dread of the Night by Tim Foley.
The final instalment sees Doctor Who in full horror mode, a story that delivers a consistently creepy atmosphere with plenty of twists. The concept of what is essentially a haunted house story might seem far better suited to a visual format, however The Dread of the Night proves that the true art of horror often lies in the sound direction. Suspiciously quiet scenes give way to some effective jump scares (particularly if you’re listening with headphones on). Whether intention or coincidence the story even leans into the genre through its use of names. For example, choosing to name the sick girl ‘Annabel’ immediately draws parallels to The Conjuring film series and the Annabelle trilogy. Even for someone like myself who hasn’t seen any of those films, it was the first place my mind went to simply by planting that seed.
The Doctor is an individual capable of walking in and explaining any given supernatural situation but the best horror requires mystery. Writer Tim Foley carefully tiptoes the line between shedding enough light on the story for it to be engaging and keeping enough back not to give the game away. The guest cast do a great job of avoiding cliché horror archetypes, with particularly great performances from Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Rhian Blundell (Isabel) and Melanie Killburn (Hooley). The Dread of Night is the perfect way to round off this set, not only tackling a genre Doctor Who often excels at but by delivering a story that stands alongside the very best of them.
The Seventh Doctor has been part of the Big Finish catalogue for two decades now, yet somehow The Seventh Doctor: The New Adventures still manages to open a whole new chapter on this part of the character’s history. Featuring four great stories that each draw on a different element of the series’ rich tapestry of genres, this is a fantastic new beginning for characters that have been part of Doctor Who for years but are only remembered by a certain section of fans. Big Finish have breathed new life into the adventures of the Doctor, Roz and Chris, and the potential they hold feels limitless.
As continues to be the case with Big Finish releases, the overall package is superb. The sound design by Joe Meiners and music by Ioan Morris compliment the action beautifully. This is best demonstrated by the outstanding The Dread of the Night. This strong debut for the new series promises further exciting adventures. The decision to develop new, original stories for a period of Doctor Who that was vitally important in maintaining the show during the 1990’s is an exciting prospect. The Seventh Doctor: The New Adventures promises to be a highly anticipated range, thriving on creativity and experimentation, just like the Virgin New Adventures novels on which they are inspired.
1. The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane.
After colliding with another time-ship in the vortex, the TARDIS materialises on Thrantas where it is arrested and forced to face trial. While Chris and Roz investigate the crime scene, the Doctor must defend his most loyal companion against a society where guilt has no meaning.
2. Vanguard by Steve Jordan.
The planet Vanguard was once ravaged by a war between its peoples: the Dauntless and the Intrepid. Now, robotic titans stalk the desolation, searching for survivors. Their mission: to end the war for one side or the other. But which side will the Doctor take?
3. The Jabari Countdown by Alan Flanagan.
Arriving on a mysterious island, stranded with a group of mathematicians, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the fringes of the Second World War. Trapped with only each other and an unknown threat, the group must work together to solve a puzzle greater than just one world’s war.
4. The Dread of Night by Tim Foley.
When a grieving household offers the TARDIS travellers shelter from the weather, the Doctor, Chris and Roz find themselves exposed to even less hospitable conditions. A sinister presence stalks the house, plaguing its inhabitants… and only the truth can free them.
Written By: Andy Lane, Steve Jordan, Alan Flanagan, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Full Cast List
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Maratuk), Vikash Bhai (Sydyck), John Heffernan (Honos), Mina Anwar (Forsetti), Janine Duvitski (Alpha Wheeler), Leonie Schliesing (Zsa Zsa Straus), Franchi Webb (Eleanor Burke), Rupert Young (Binkum Fray), Silas Carson (Arbuckle), Sara Powell (Contessa), Olivia Morris (Green), Connor Calland (Blue), Jacob Dudman (Cannon), Melanie Kilburn (Hooley), Rhian Blundell (Isabel), Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Ellie Darvill (Willis). Other parts played by members of the cast.