Blurb: The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on the planet Hydra, where Admiral Jonas Kaan leads a vast flotilla of ships trying to elude the vicious race that has invaded and occupied their world. But his ships are being picked off one by one, vessels and crews dragged underwater by an unseen foe.
The time travelers find themselves pitched into battle against the Voord, the ruthless enemy they last encountered on the planet Marinus. As they take the fight to the very heart of the territory now controlled by the Voord the stakes get higher. First they lose the TARDIS… then they lose that which they hold most dear. And that’s only the start of their troubles.
In the capital, Predora City, they will learn the truth of what it means to be a Voord. And that truth is horrifying.
Review: The Early Adventures is the latest line of audio dramas from Big Finish. Big Finish has always hesitated to do full cast audio dramas with the first two Doctors because the Doctors themselves and some of their companions are deceased. To tell stories in those eras would require recasting the lead parts. Instead, they focused on the Companion Chronicles for stories in those eras. In those a companion would narrate a story of an adventure that he or she had with the Doctor. However, when Big Finish was producing their Lost Stories line, they realized that they could do a kind of half-and-half production to convey those lost scripts. The surviving stars from those eras would double as the deceased actors. While this in a sense is “recasting” the part, fandom as a whole found this more palatable than bringing in actors who had nothing to do with the classic series. Thus the Lost Stories were made. Last year, Big Finish ran out of unmade scripts from the television series, but decided that the format could go in with The Early Adventures. In Domain of the Voord William Russell doubles as both Ian and the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford doubles as Susan and Barbara, but they also have other actors to work with making this a full cast production set during the first Doctor’s era.
The decision to use the Voord is one that raised some eyebrows in fan circles. Although created by Terry Nation, the same man whose mind spawned the Daleks, the Voord have never been a popular Doctor Who villain. Although they debuted in the very first season they have only appeared in a couple of comic books since that time. Using a returning villain certainly draws some attention to the story, but using a relatively unpopular one seemed like an interesting move. Writer Andrew Smith takes advantage of this, however, and uses the relatively blank canvas of the Voord to tell a story that fleshes out their backstory. The result is somewhat mixed. The Voord now have a clear goal and something of their customs is known, which has arguably made them more interesting. For fans of the classic series, the downside is that what is revealed makes a mockery of the events in The Keys of Marinus. The Voord there are now seen to be total incompetents that didn’t use the abilities that they had to conquer a world, and instead wasted time on trying to grab tech that was only slightly better than what they already had. Thankfully it isn’t important to have watched The Keys of Marinus before listening to this story. The few things that the listener needs to know are referenced in the story and don’t require any greater context.
The plot is a fairly straightforward tale of an alien invasion of a peaceful planet. Fans of 60’s Doctor Who will note that certain conventions that were common at the time were kept. The planet is named “Hydra” after its dominant feature – water. The planet is one giant ocean with only one landmass. A lot of the 60’s trappings are on display. The bad guys covet the TARDIS, preventing the heroes from getting away, the Doctor and Barbara are written out of two of the four episodes of the story, a king tries to seduce Barbara, and the Doctor ends up leading a revolution. There are also some new ideas such as a fleet of ships on the run and with nowhere to go that are constantly harassed by the aggressors that took their homes. It sounds like the plot for Battlestar Galactica only on water, which gives it an interesting spin. One disappointment for fans of the classic series is that Ian never does get a chance to give a quick science lecture as was his modus operandi in those old stories. The story does give an opportunity with the process of hydrolysis, but there’s never an opportunity when Ian is with someone to whom he would need to explain it, so we never get to listen to him doing it. The only large disappointment is the wrap up portion of the ending when it is revealed that there’s a galactic peace-keeping force. It makes one wonder why no one tried to capture an enemy radio to communicate with those peacekeepers or build their own if that was unfeasible. It would seem to make more sense than the last ditch efforts that are seen in the story. That aside, the story works and makes for an exciting and fun adventure with those early stars of the series.
This story is built up from a very strong cast who are all given some interesting things to do. William Russell, as always, impresses as both Ian and his rendition of the first Doctor. Of all the actors who have played the first Doctor over the years, Russell comes to the closest to William Hartnell’s performance. It is always a pleasure to listen to him deliver his lines. In the story, Ian is given the task of looking after Susan when it looks like the Doctor and Barbara are dead and it’s nice that the story allows some time to explore the Ian/Susan dynamic. Carole Ann Ford responds in kind, playing Susan as the eternal optimist who can’t believe that her grandfather is gone. She’s curious of the Voord and that curiosity gets her into danger but also protects her when she befriends one of their number. That dichotomy of naivety and experience is difficult to play, but Ford does it with ease. She also sounds closer to her 1960’s self in this story than she has in any of her Companion Chronicles or Lost Stories to date, showing the skill that she has as an actress. Unfortunately her Barbara seems to have gotten worse over time. Here she delivers the lines for Barbara completely flat as if she’s reading the words for the first time and it’s unfortunate after she gave such loving performances that faithfully recaptured the character in Farewell, Great Macedon and The Masters of Luxor.
The guest cast this time is similarly accomplished. Andrew Dickens plays Admiral Jonas Kaan, the leader of the armada. Dickens plays the role with the gravitas that one wants in a leader of men that is able to handle the stress of weighty decisions but is also compassionate enough to make decisions that are for the benefit of the people. He also doubles as the Voord Tarlak. Dickens does a fantastic job of disguising his voice for the role. Anyone who didn’t know that they were the same actor would not suspect it. Tarlak is played as an over-the-top villainous-voice 60’s villain and is a real joy to listen to. Andrew Bone, on the other hand, plays Pan Vexel. His performance might remind some of John Ringham in The Aztecs. He also plays the other Voord parts aside from Tarlak. This is fine, except that it’s obvious that Nebrin is just Bone with a sound effect on his voice. When all the other Voord sound the same way one wonders why someone else wasn’t cast for the Voord parts, so that some distinction could be made. Even Daisy Ashford could have doubled as a Voord, since there’s no reason why there can’t be females among their number. Ashford distinguishes herself well as Amyra Kaan. As the tough daughter of the admiral, Amyra not only advocates fighting the Voord, she puts her words into action, braving through enemy soldiers and working with the resistance to end up liberating her world. She’s tough but she also plays a slight tension with Russell showing the possibility of a romantic entanglement for Ian and Amyra. It’s too bad that Barbara wasn’t in this story more as it would have been nice to see her reaction to those developments. Ashford continues to impress and hopefully will continue to work on Big Finish projects for years to come.
The music deserves a special mention on this story. In some ways it evokes the spirit of the 60’s in being very experimental. Some sections of it are scored very closely to some of the music that was used throughout the first season of Doctor Who. Other bits of it are made with unusual instruments making strange sounds. It’s nice and eclectic and wouldn’t have sounded out of place in any of the old stories. The problem is that the music never stops. It almost seems as if the director is worried that the audience won’t “get it”, so makes sure that the music underscores almost every moment of the story to try and make the audience feel something. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect and by episode three the music really starts to grate. One of the distinguishing marks of the 60’s is that they didn’t feel the need to put music on all the time and only used it where it was really needed to keep the pace or raise the tension. For these Early Adventures to feel authentic, they really need to adopt the same mentality. Hopefully, Big Finish will see this problem and scale back on the music in further releases of the range.
Recommendation: An interesting story for the first of a new range. The Voord were the villains that no one was asking to return. The story is a competent mish-mash of 60’s Doctor Who tropes but is really brought alive by the wonderful performances by the accomplished actors used to tell the tale. There’s a strange mixture of authentic and non-authentic atmosphere, but as a whole the story works. I recommend it.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Ken Bentley
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Andrew Smith
Runtime Approx 120 min.