The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Steven and Dodo to Russia in 1812, not long before Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous attempt to take over the country. They stay for a while, making friends, even taking up jobs, and Steven looks forward to being the best man at a wedding for one of his new friends. But then the locals are terrified by blinding lights and the sound of thunder – not the French advance, but a spacecraft exploding moments after it ejects an escape pod, though of course only the time travelers realize this. Steven and his friend rush off to see if there are any survivors, but the unfortunate answer is yes – Steven is attacked and knocked out, and his friend, the groom-to-be, is killed and replaced by a “shape-stealer,” though it’s some time before anyone realizes this. The creature assumes numerous guises to allow it to move freely among the villagers, until finally it impersonates the Doctor and sets off to steal the TARDIS – until it spots someone in a more obvious position of power which will allow it to further its mission: Napoleon himself.
Cast: Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Tony Millan (The Interrogator)
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: I’ll admit that I had dared to hope for a pure historical story with no science fiction elements other than the time travelers and their TARDIS, but Mother Russia at least lets its period setting have the spotlight for a little while before getting down to the shapeshifter-trying-to-change-history business.
The voice of Peter Purves is a familiar one to anyone who’s spent quality time with the BBC Radio Collection’s CD releases of the surviving sound recordings of lost Hartnell-era TV serials. Purves has been the default narrator for most of these CDs, at least for those stories where he appeared as TARDIS traveler Steven Taylor. Here, he gets to sink his teeth into a completely new story, playing the part of Steven for the first time in four decades. The story itself is neat enough, dealing with the well-worn science fiction concept of a shape-shifting creature in the way that one can imagine it would’ve been handled in ’60s Doctor Who (i.e. the term “shapeshifter” is never even spoken). But the emphasis here is on Steven’s reactions to events, and his increasing unease at the Doctor’s decisions not to meddle in history. These are traits that Steven exhibited in televised stories, so there’s nothingly blatantly out of character here. Purves also does an uncanny Hartnell – no one will be mistaking it for Hartnell’s voice anytime soon, but his vocal mannerisms, stutters and splutters are all in the right places.
I had hoped for a pure historical story, but alas, Mother Russia isn’t it. However, the way in which it does integrate a science fiction menace into an established historical event, and its running length, makes Mother Russia a comfy fit for fans of the new series who are trying to discover the charms of the original series – or at least its revival by way of Big Finish.