Blurb: Siberia at the end of the 19th Century, and the TARDIS arrives just as a shooting star hurtles to the ground.
With it comes an illness that affects the Doctor and Susan, and knowledge that must not fall into the wrong hands.
With his friends either dying or lost, Ian Chesterton must save the future and win the ultimate prize – a way home to 1963…
Review: In the beginning, Doctor Who had a mandate to educate, enlighten, and entertain the masses. Because of that mandate, the series tended to alternate between stories set in Earth’s history and those set in the future or on alien worlds. That way, some aspect of real history or science could be worked into any story to educate the children who were watching at home. It wouldn’t be until the end of the second season with The Time Meddler that the series would mix the two, adding science fiction elements into a story set in Earth’s history. The Wanderer is set much earlier in the show’s timeline, coming between seasons 1 and 2. As such, it seems odd to put such a sci-historical story here. However, this was also uncharted territory in a time when the show was highly experimental, so in a way doing a story set in Siberia during the turn of the 20th century with alien elements seems fitting as well.
From a plot perspective, The Wanderer doesn’t work very well. There are many interesting elements to the story, but they don’t interact with each other. Even worse, there are a lot of inconsistencies and a reliance on main characters acting completely out of character to progress the plot. For instance, one of the major drivers of the action of the story is that Ian tells one of the locals from this more primitive time all about how he’s a time traveler and about the workings of a complex technological device that they’ve stumbled across. There’s no reason that he needed to do so; he just decided to do that on a whim, not thinking at all about the consequences of his actions. This is such a far cry from the character of Ian that’s been established that one almost wonders if Dinnick has actually seen an episode of the classic series. The story also contains a convenient poison that drives some time travelers crazy while making others sick. Oddly, this doesn’t do anything to Ian and Barbara who are also time travelers and the effects on the Doctor and Susan seem to just disappear when it’s convenient for the story, despite the fact that “the cure” is supposed to be for the affected party to enter the time stream.
The real issue, though, is that the main plot elements don’t work together. The story is about meeting Rasputin, a probe that can view the future, and alien invaders. The aliens are connected to the probe, since they’re the ones who made it, but their role in the story merely seems to be to explain why the probe is there in the first place and to appear briefly so that they there’s closure to that story thread. Also, bizarrely, no explanation is given for why the probe can see the future. The aliens don’t seem to know that it can do this and the Doctor mentions that some damage that it experienced has caused it. That’s some failure mode if it can actually make something better. How do its creators not even know that it contains chronon particles and that these can be used to view time? After they’ve provided a brief distraction, they’re gone from the story. Meanwhile, the presence of Rasputin affords a wealth of opportunity for interesting stories. Yet, most of that is squandered in having him receive visions of the future that he rants about to make various continuity references to other Doctor Who stories, but it doesn’t do much for the story. In the end, his experience has left him completely unchanged as the knowledge that he gained from the probe is erased. This seems like a wasted opportunity, since that knowledge could have explained how Rasputin was able to rise so quickly in Russian aristocratic circles. He and Ian have a few interesting discussions about time and fate, but nothing ever comes of these, either thematically or personally, so it seems like there’s no point other than to create an interesting ‘what if’ scenario.
Where this story shines is with the acting. William Russell continues to impress with Ian. Despite his age, he continues to make Ian a vital and upright figure who’s concerned with helping his friends and anyone else that he can. He does a good job discussing the philosophy of being a wanderer and sounds both wistful and insightful while doing so. He makes the scenes where he discusses the ideas of fate and time travel with Grigory one of the highlights of the story by putting the right passion and emphasis into the discussion. For his part, Tim Chipping also does an amazing job as Grigory Rasputin. Initially, he comes across as imposing and aloof, but then develops into the charismatic and mesmerizing figure that Rasputin was purported to be. This seems to be the aspect of the story that really interested Dinnick since Rasputin’s desire to have a purpose and be closer to God is given such strong emphasis in the script and Chipping runs with it. He knows that going a little over-the-top is sometimes necessary in audio, and you really get the impression that Grigory is a dangerously moody man. Yet, in his conversations with Ian about his life and philosophy, he shows reserve and restraint until his excitement over the current situation mounts and he starts exhibiting overconfidence and mania. The performances are complemented by some terrific sound design that comes in on the high end of the Companion Chronicles. The music feels a bit out of place for season one of Doctor Who, but the majestic sweep of music in a Russian style, meant to summon up stark, Siberian vistas for the imaginations of the audience works so effectively that it becomes one of the high points for the production.
Recommendation: Despite some very strong performances from William Russell and Tim Chipping, this one remains less than the sum of its parts. It has all the right elements with Rasputin, aliens, and prophetic devices, but relies far too much on inconsistencies and things that don’t make sense. The interesting plot elements tend to work against each other rather than complementing each other and in the end the whole story feels like it fizzles out rather than comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would not recommend it unless you’re a fan of William Russell.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Richard Dinnick
Runtime Approx 60 min.