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Doctor Who: The Four DoctorsThe fifth Doctor visits a Jariden space station where that race is conducting surprisingly advanced experiments in time travel. But the Doctor isn’t the only one with a keen interest in these experiments: a fleet of Dalek ships moves in, and an invasion force boards the station, demanding access to the contents of a sealed vault. And one of the Jaridens, Colonel Ulrik, intends to help the Daleks retrieve what’s in the vault, despite the wishes of his sister, who happens to be the station’s lead scientist. Someone identifying himself only as another Time Lord contacts the Doctor and offers hints of how to resolve the situation, but not any actual help. The sixth Doctor encounters the battle-scarred Colonel Ulrik – at an earlier point in his history – during the bloody battle of Pejorica, in which the Daleks decimated the Jariden species. It seems that the Doctor is pushing Ulric and his race toward a major evolutionary turning point that could help in their struggle against Dalek oppression. The seventh Doctor pays a visit to Michael Faraday, only to find that Ulrik is here as well, followed by a small squadron of Daleks. The small battle that plays out before Faraday’s eyes is almost too much for one of human science’s greatest visionaries. And the eighth Doctor visits the Jariden space station, gently manipulating Ulrik and the fifth Doctor’s actions – and therefore those of his other previous selves – to ensure that the tide of history doesn’t turn to favor the Daleks.

written by Peter Anghelides
directed by Nicholas Briggs & Ken Bentley
music by Steve Foxon

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Colin Baker (The Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Ellie Burrow (Professor Kalinda / Lady Cowen), David Bamber (Colonel Ulrik / Whitmore), Nigel Lambert (Professor Michael Faraday / Magran), Alex Mallinson (Roboman / Jariden Device)

Notes: This single-disc story, presented in a slightly unusual format consisting of shorter-than-usual episodes, was the annual free gift to Big Finish subscribers. It was released with the December 2010 story from the main monthly Doctor Who range, The Demons Of Red Lodge. The Four Doctors marks the first time that Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann have “appeared” together since the 2003 audio story marking Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary, Zagreus. Unlike past Big Finish subscriber specials, which were generally available for sale a year after their original “giveaway” release, Big Finish has vowed that The Four Doctors will only ever be available to its subscribers.

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: More than anything, The Four Doctors resembles a comic strip adventure meant to be consumed by only the most diehard fans of Doctor Who. The fascinating plot defies most reasonable attempts to keep it all straight in your head: the Doctor, Ulric and the Daleks are each encountering each other at different points in their own timelines. You almost need to diagram this one.

The Four Doctors has two antecedents in the Big Finish library to live up to or, hopefully, surpass: the very first Big Finish licensed Doctor Who story, The Sirens Of Time, and the top-heavy 40th anniversary audio story Zagreus. If there’s one thing Zagreus was guilty of, it was of burying the promise of a multi-Doctor story featuring the four (then) most recent incarnations of the Doctor under mountains of symbolism, dream sequences and metafiction. The Four Doctors does no such thing, opting instead to tell a more or less straightforward Doctor Who adventure in which the four actors who have played the role for Big Finish are playing the Doctor throughout, rather than some symbolic alternate character. In that respect, not to mention the economy of a single-disc story vs. a three-CD epic, The Four Doctors has Zagreus trumped easily.

The story does take a lot of cues from The Sirens Of Time, however: the four Doctors are, for the most part, working independently of one another. The real gimmick to the story is that the Doctor must remember to push Ulrik further along the path he must travel so that he arrives at the next juncture in history, ready to be manipulated into place by the next (or the previous!) incarnation of the Doctor he meets. In many ways, this pushes all of the Doctors into the manupulative role of the seventh Doctor (who seems most at home in this tale).

Why blow such a promotable extravaganza on a subscriber exclusive? It’s simple – Big Finish has suffered some market erosion in recent years to any number of factors: recent economics (three simultaneous audio series – the main monthly range, the eighth Doctor stories and the Companion Chronicles – don’t come cheap, and that’s ignoring spinoffs such as Cyberman and Jago & Litefoot; some fans have frankly given up), fans who only consider the TV series to be “canon” (what’s the fun in that?), the kind of downloads that don’t originate from Big Finish’s own download service (which should’ve been in place a couple of years earlier than it was, frankly), and so on. By nailing down that this story is only available with a subscription of some kind to the monthly audio series, Big Finish is trying to keep enough paying customers on the books to keep the doors open. Only time, appropriately enough, will tell if The Four Doctors and their Dalek pursuers managed to do this.