The planet Santiny is overrun by a massive invasion by a Canisian fleet. Even suicide runs don’t prevent the Canisians, as their leader, General Tannis, seems to be able to forsee every possible tactic. Almost as if in answer to the prayers of the survivors on Santiny, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor and his blue-skinned companion Antimony emerge to begin helping Santiny’s resistance movement. Meanwhile, Ace – planted in a strategic position by the Doctor – has been rescued by a Time Lord named Casmus, who begins training her for the next step in her own evolution. Elsewhere, a group of Time Lords called the Fraction, dedicated to interference in time on the side of good, begin falling one by one to a stealthy killer. Finally, the string of deaths draws the Doctor’s attention away from the Canisian problem, and also gets the attention of Casmus. On Gallifrey, Casmus accelerates Ace’s training, speeding her evolution into a new breed of Time Lord. Time is running out, as Tannis is also revealed to be a Time Lord who is using his conquests to disguise his identity. But will Ace learn to use her powers for good soon enough to confront Tannis, or will the Doctor – having witnessed Antimony’s death at the general’s hands – be forced to use his Time Lord powers to a degree that will not only kill Tannis but himself as well?
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Kevin Eldon (Antimony), John Sessions (General Tannis), Leonard Fenton (Casmus), Jon Culshaw (Golcrum / Senator Hawk / President), Jacqueline Pearce (Admiral Mettna), Stephen Fry (The Minister Of Chance), Britta Gartner (Senator Sala), Anthony Stewart Head (St. Valentine), Dave Hill (Nessican), Charlotte Palmer (Dr. Cain), Stephen Brody (Speedwell), Gareth Jones (Campion), Andrew McGibbon (Captain Carne), Michael Yale (Lieutenant Suneel), Peggy Batchelor (The Kingmaker), David Evans (Pilot), Robert Rietti (Premier Bedloe), Julienne Davis (Computer), Emma Ferguson (Megan), Huw Thomas (President of Santiny), Nick Romero (Major Bander / Prime Minister), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), David Soul (Bob)
Originally broadcast from July 13, 2001 to May 30, 2002
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A strangely epic attempt to “re-imagine” huge expanses of Doctor Who mythology and continuity, Death Comes To Time isn’t really bad, just a bit puzzling. Producer Dan Freedman has stated on numerous occasions that he felt it was necessary to re-invent the series in order to give it a shot at eturning to television, but…wow. Who knew he’d reinvent it quite so much? UNIT with space battleships? Ace becoming a Time Lord? And then, there’s the death of the Doctor himself. Not a regeneration (though to a certain extent things are left a bit vague), but a fatal blow. I hate to spoil so major a story development, but it’s necessary to reveal that point – if not its context or its place in the plot – in order to really discuss why Death Comes To Time resulted in a fan backlash to made Freedman withdraw his bid to follow the story up on TV.
In a way, one can almost compare it to the backlash that Star Trek: Generations invited by killing off Captain Kirk, though the multigeneration approach to the Star Trek franchise has bestowed upon that series’ saga an endless variety of nearly-interchangeable characters. But the Doctor is so central to Doctor Who…how did Dan Freedman plan to “follow up” on this story on television, and still call the result “Doctor Who”? If anything, Death Comes To Time is a palatable “alternate universe” story, a what-if tale which posits a race of Time Lords with awesome, godlike powers…who, for the most part, refuse to use them. Unless, of course, they’re evil. Death Comes To Time makes for a nice sidestep into speculative territory, and fits in nicely alongside the series of Doctor Who Unbound alternate continuity stories from Big Finish.
On the upside: Sylvester McCoy’s performance as the Doctor is magnificent here, a real development which neither the character nor the actor have had a chance to explore before. The seventh Doctor is tired, a bit agitated, no longer the scheming chess-master, and he really does sound older. Kevin Eldon turns in a most likeable new companion in Antimony, and though the character is offed during the story, revealing his true origins, I wouldn’t mind seeing Antimony return in the novels or the Big Finish audios. Sophie Aldred does a decent job as an older-and-wiser Ace, though this completely conflicts with the development of that character as seen in the novels and audios to date – especially her sudden evolution into a Time Lord. John Sessions is an incredibly villainous force as General Tannis, providing a cool and detached killer who’s not only easy to hate, but a formidable menace. One big problem I had with the sound of the story: the occasional overblown operatic music which seemed to be trying to telegraph moments of epic importance to the listener. If I can’t pick up on a moment of critical significance, guys, the music isn’t helping.
What baffles me is that much was made of big-name guest stars here, and they arrive in time to play what are essentially bit parts. Nick Courtney, Jacqueline Pearce and Starsky & Hutch’s David Soul get a minimum of voice time, and perhaps most surprisingly is the pitifully short space of time that Anthony Stewart Head gets. He’s there for a minute or two, and gets killed. Thankfully Big Finish gave him a substantially larger role in their Excelis trilogy.
Whatever one may think of the story itself, it’s hard to deny that the packaging of Death Comes To Time is spectacular. Lee Sullivan has long been considered by many fans to be the definitive Doctor Who comics artist, and most of the character and environment artwork he created for the original Death webcasts is reproduced in brilliant color in the CD booklet. As much as I like the artwork of Max Ellis, whose work has graced all of the BBC Radio Collection CD releases to date, I find myself questioning Ellis receiving sole credit for cover artwork that is essentially a rearranged, toned-down montage of Sullivan’s artwork. For those who prefer the more comic-look, un-retouched Sullivan art, the front and back covers of the CD case can be flipped over for the original montage. That’s quite a thoughtful touch. The booklet also reproduces all of the brief character and location descriptions that appeared on the BBC’s web site. If only they all looked this good. (Big Finish took note and followed suit for the CD release of their first BBC Online audio drama, Real Time.
In the end, Death Comes To Time is an experiment with inconclusive results. The BBC trumpeted the return of Doctor Who in an audio/online medium with an unavoidable tidal wave of publicity – even though Big Finish had already brought the series back in that medium two years earlier. A bold re-imagining of the story served to alienate and baffle what may well be the most continuity-obsessed body of fandom in the world. And yet at the same time, the production values were great, the cast was excellent, and the bold re-imagining was, at the very least, intriguing if not “official.” But by the time the third disc spins down, I can understand why the reins were handed over to Big Finish for the next BBC online audio project. Producer Dan Freedman took a bum rap for Death Comes To Time, and while he earned it in some ways for toying so drastically with the fundamental tenets of the series, he also gave us an interesting story which sparked what I’ll charitably call a lively dialogue about what form the fans would accept for the return of Doctor Who.