“Time is collapsing. Incidents of chaos and devastation are appearing throughout the lives of one Time Lord and his many friends – all fallout from one terrible disaster. From Earth’s past and present to timeless alien worlds, from the cloisters of Gallifrey into the Vortex itself... The Doctor must save universal history – and he needs all the help he can get.”
This epic six-part adventure celebrating 20 years of Doctor Who at Big Finish was released in September of 2019, but I’ve saved it until last because I’m expecting it to be the best. (When I say “last” I mean the last of the sets I’ve been posting about lately.) Here’s a look at what’s ahead in this discussion…
1. Lies in Ruins – Eighth Doctor, River Song & Bernice Summerfield
2. The Split Infinitive – Seventh Doctor & Ace
3. The Sacrifice of Jo Grant – Third Doctor, Jo Grant, Kate Stewart & Osgood
4. Relative Time – Fifth Doctor, Jenny & the Nine
5. The Avenues of Possibility – Sixth Doctor & Charley
6. Collision Course – Fourth Doctor, Romana & Leela
LIES IN RUINS by James Goss
“On a strange ruined world, a renowned archaeologist opens an ancient tomb. Only to find another archaeologist got there first. Professors Summerfield and Song unite to solve a mystery. Then the Eighth Doctor arrives, and things really become dangerous. Because their best friend isn’t quite the man River and Benny remember.”
COMMENTARY: River Song and Bernice Summerfield are professional rivals. Years ago, not entirely by coincidence, River was one of Benny’s students. (River had enrolled in Professor Summerfield’s class knowing of her association with the Doctor.) They both respond to a summons from the Doctor, but they're not certain which one. Their rivalry is put on the back burner, however, when the Eighth Doctor arrives with a giggly young assistant named Rhea.
They eventually deduce that the ruined planet they are on is Gallifrey itself, and the Doctor is as low in spirits as we have ever seen him in any incarnation. He is burned out from having straddled the fence between the Daleks and the Time Lords in the Time War for who-knows-how-long. Big Finish never explicitly ties era together, but it’s obviously late in the Eighth Doctor’s incarnation and it’s easy to imagine this story taking place shortly prior to “The Night of the Doctor.”
While the Doctor is trying to resurrect Gallifrey through some convoluted means using the Matrix, he is distracted by a race of scavengers out to plunder Gallifrey’s resources. He devises a planetary shield which will defeat the scavengers if they surrender, but destroy them if they don’t. This is an extremely aggressive race who are not likely to turn away, and the Doctor is of the opinion that if they don’t, they deserve to die. It is River Song who ultimately must act as the Doctor’s conscience, convincing him to drop the shield.
During the battle which follows, Rhea is mortally wounded. The Doctor then reveals that Rhea was an android he built himself with a bubbly personality to cheer him up. Listeners will know that, somehow, Gallifrey must survive, and the solution is quite satisfactory. I won't tell you what it is, but I will say this episode's title has a double meaning.
This story takes a new approach to the relationship between the Doctor and River Song. The Doctor met River for the first time, apparently, in “Silence in the Library.” Since then, she has gone on to meet almost every previous version of the Doctor. (See discussion of “The Diary of River Song.”) Big Finish has practically bent over backwards to account for why the Tenth Doctor didn’t recognize her in the library. On audio, River has previously met versions of the Eighth Doctor, both pre- and post-Time War. This time, the Doctor appears not to recognize her at first, but she insists that he must, at least on a subconscious level. This story establishes the conceit that, as time travelers, they both observe a certain kind of “etiquette” towards each other when it comes to “spoilers.” In other words, they kind of “will” themselves not to remember anything about the other which would contradict the web of time.
I’m good with that.
It has been more than a week since I have listened to episodes two and three, but I’ve been too busy to post. I’d better get something down before [more of] the details fade.
THE SPLIT INFINITIVE by John Dorney
“A criminal gang appears to have recruited a member with time-bending powers. It’s a case for the Counter-Measures team – in the 1960s and the 1970s! The Seventh Doctor and Ace have their work cut out to save the day twice over, and make sure Gilmore, Rachel and Allison don’t collide with their past, or their future.”
COMMENTARY: The Counter-Measures team was first introduced on TV in “Remembrance of the Daleks” and has since spun off into a Big Finish series of its own. In “Split Infinitve,” a time anomaly, a person, has been split in two and now exists “simultaneously” in the 1960s and the 1970s. Something due to the nature of the anomaly is causing both sets of events to happen “at once,” meaning that the ‘70s version of the cast cannot “remember” what “happened” in the ‘60s… until it does. The cause of the anomaly cannot be seen clearly and is referred to as “the shimmering man.” His existence is causing the ‘60s to be pulled toward the ‘70s and vice versa. By the end of the episode, even the Doctor does not know the identity of the shimmering man (but I suspect we’ll find out before “The Legacy of time” is through).
THE SACRIFICE OF JO GRANT By Guy Adams
“When pockets of temporal instability appear in a Dorset village, UNIT are called in. Soon, Kate Stewart and Jo Jones find themselves working alongside the Third Doctor, while Osgood battles to get them home. But this isn’t the first time UNIT has faced this threat. Only before, it seems that Jo Grant didn’t survive.”
COMMENTARY: “Holes through time” are popping up all over the country. UNIT records show that Jo Grant and the Doctor once dealt with such a phenomenon, and Kate Stewart calls on Jo to consult about how they handled it back in the day, but she has no recollection of the events Kate describes. Further investigation reveals that Jo died at the time, but obviously that couldn’t have happened. They are swept through one of the holes themselves, where they meet the Third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee soundalike Tim Trelor of “The Third Doctor Adventures), and it soon becomes clear that the present day Jo must sacrifice herself in the past. Meanwhile, Kate Stewart works up the courage to speak with her father, the Brigadier.
Just about the time I started to listening to “The Legacy of Time” the pandemic hit and my 40 minute commute became a 20 minute commute. I’m still coming in to work each day, but I switched from Doctor Who to The Lone Ranger for a while (and I had to drive less than 60 mph to stretch even those out long enough). I’ve been really eager to get back to this set, however, so, with no end to my quick commute in sight, I delved back in. As it is, it still took me three commutes to finish just this one episode.
RELATIVE TIME by Matt Fitton
“Disaster strikes inside the Time Vortex, and the Fifth Doctor is thrown together with someone from his future… someone claiming to be his daughter! Kleptomaniac Time Lord, the Nine, believes it’s his chance to steal something huge. But Jenny just wants her dad to believe in her.”
COMMENTARY: Let me just say that Peter Davidson and Georgia Moffett’s rapport with each other as actual father and daughter playing “father” and “daughter” (after a fashion) is absolutely delightful! the beauty of this set is being able to go away from it for a couple of weeks and easily being able to slip back in. Although the stories are linked (or will eventually end up being linked), they are basically standalone, with each chapter being separated by at least one regeneration. The scope of this story is obviously something which could never have even been considered on television, plus the fact it draws in the Nine from the Eighth Doctor’s audio adventures.
THE AVENUES OF POSSIBILITY by Jonathan Morris
“DI Patricia Menzies is used to the strange, but even she is surprised when the eighteenth century itself falls onto her patch. Fortunately, she has the founders of modern policing to help with her enquiries. And when the Sixth Doctor and Charley arrive, they find armed and hostile forces trying to change Earth history forever.”
COMMENTARY: This story brings back fan favorite supporting character Detective Inspector Menzies. DI Menzies first met the Doctor & Charley in “The Condemned” (#105, 2008). She was brought back for “The Raincloud Man” (#116, 2008). She made one further appearance, in “The Crimes of Thomas Brewster” (#143, 2011) when the Doctor was travelling with Evelyn, but this appearance didn’t really work because it occurs earlier than the other two in the Doctor’s timeline and presupposes that the Doctor had already met her when he “first” encountered her in “The Condemned” and just pretended not to know her at the time. Whatever. This story takes place in 2009 (from Menzies point of view).
Also involved in the plot is Sir Robert Peel, a.k.a. “the father of modern policing.” I’m not going to try to summarize the plot, which involves multiple timebreaks anfd the cast split among several eras, but I will point out it involves the Sirens of Time, dating back to the very first Big Finish release (this set being the 20th anniversary celebration).
COLLISION COURSE by Guy Adams
“Fallout from the temporal distortions has now reached Gallifrey. To find the cause, Leela and Romana remember travels with the Fourth Doctor to the same world, at different times. The enemy is revealed, and it may take more than one Doctor to prevent the destruction of everything!”
COMMENTARY: The Fourth Doctor’s part in this extended story takes him, Romana and Leela to the very first flight of the very first TARDIS. A TARDIS in those days was not “dimensionally transcendental” and it took six Time lords to operate it. When those Time Lords are killed, it looks as if that historic first flight will never be made, thereby changing all history. Luckily, Romana knows where she can get five more Time Lords. Actually, two additional ones show up (David Bradley as the First Doctor and David Tennent as the Tenth). The conclusion, then, features the First, Third through Eighth and Tenth Doctors, and must be heard to be believed!