The Doctor is startled when a flashing red light appears on the TARDIS console. The surprise isn’t that the light has never flashed before, but that it is there at all, where there was no light on the console before. And it’s not just one Doctor, but all of the Doctor’s incarnations.
The eighth Doctor and Charley, after witnessing a strangely disjointed collection of images from the Doctor’s past (and past Doctors), try to follow a trace through time to a London suburb at three minutes after five in the evening on the twenty-third day of November, 1963, but the TARDIS instead deposits them on an alien planet in the middle of a live demonstration of a weapons system capable of immense destruction. The two time travelers are separated, and Charley makes her way back to the TARDIS, just in time for a strange phenomenon to change the TARDIS around her. She finds herself in a different (and yet similar) console room, occupied by a savage woman named Leela and another man who claims to be the Doctor. The eighth Doctor follows, and he and his fourth incarnation try to combine their talents and knowledge to get the TARDIS safely away from this planet. The escape attempt doesn’t go as planned. Charley and Leela inexplicably vanish from the TARDIS.
The sixth and seventh Doctors also find each other on this planet, but are in a different region, where a conference is taking place: a showroom demonstration for other weapons created by the same alien race, the Vess. The seventh Doctor and Ace discover the Master is somehow involved, but then Ace vanishes. The sixth Doctor finds a delegation of Time Lords are an unofficial presence at this weapons sale – members of the Celestial Intervention Agency, led by Straxus, without the knowledge of the High Council of Gallifrey. Peri vanishes, and only then does the sixth Doctor discover the truth: the Master discovered the unauthorized Time Lord expedition and demanded a bribe for their silence. That bribe came in the form of a weapon of the Master’s choice from the Vess arsenal. Straxus knows nothing beyond this, but the Doctor knows enough to threaten to expose Straxus’ presence to the Time Lords; in exchange for the Doctor’s silence, Straxus helps reunite as many of the Doctors as he can.
The fifth Doctor and Nyssa follow the same time trace, but the Doctor is suspicious enough to change the time coordinates, arriving instead at 5:02pm in November 23rd, 1963. The TARDIS crashes through a shed belonging to a man named Bob Dovie, whose wife and children have gone missing. To the Doctor and Nyssa, it is obvious that Dovie has suffered some sort of trauma that has left him in an agitated, distracted state. Dovie’s family are closer to him than he thinks, murdered by the Master. Why has the Doctor’s old enemy chosen to victimize a perfectly average suburban family, how is it connected to the evil Time Lord’s endless quest for vengeance against the Doctor, and what is happening to the Doctor’s companions?
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Colin Baker (The Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Paul McGann (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Sophie Aldred (Ace), India Fisher (Charley), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), John Dorney (Bob Dovie), William Russell (Ian Chesterton / The Doctor), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon / The Doctor). Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Oliver Hume (Straxus), Nicholas Briggs (The Vess), Benedict Briggs (Kevin Dovie), Tim Treloar (The Doctor)
Notes: Straxus first appeared in part one of Blood Of The Daleks, the eighth Doctor audio adventure which introduced Lucie Miller, but the sixth Doctor would appear to have met Straxus first… at least in the timeline created by the Master, which the Doctors later eliminate. Since Straxus is played here by Oliver Hume, it’s safe to assume that this is an earlier incarnation of Straxus than the incarnations that have been encountered by the eighth Doctor.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Released exactly one month early (to ensure that those who had placed early orders would have physical copies by November 23rd, 2013), Big Finish’s contribution to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is suitably epic, a lot of fun, and yet oddly familiar.
All of the Doctors get a fair shake at the action, though the team-ups were dictated by availability and recording locations. Both Paul McGann and Tom Baker record their audio adventures at different studios from Big Finish’s usual haunt, and as their respective “home studios” are fairly close to one another, it was decided that the fourth and eighth Doctors would team up, while the sixth and seventh Doctors would team up separately. The fifth Doctor has his own story strand, but it’s no less effective for being a “solo flight”.
Undoubtedly, the most eyebrow-raising casting comes courtesy of the first three Doctors, who play a more significant part in the proceedings that one might expect. In the early years of Big Finish, daring to recast the first three Doctors – actors who had all passed on – was a strict no-no. The Companion Chronicles started eroding that barrier, however, with various past companion actors’ uncanny impressions of their eras’ respective Doctors. With that great untapped resource now discovered, William Russell plays the first Doctor as well as Ian, while Frazer Hines provides the voices of both Jamie and the second Doctor. Newcomer Tim Treloar, who guest starred in Destination: Nerva, does a decent Pertwee – it passes muster for this story’s purposes, and the script is carefully weighted in favor of the first two Doctors as a result. Perhaps not as authentic as Zagreus‘ use of audio from an unfinished fan film featuring Pertwee, but Hines and Russell get a free pass, since they worked closely with the men whose performances they impersonate here. It’s certainly not any worse than Richard Hurndall as the first Doctor in The Five Doctors. The “older” companions appear in very brief cameos that, along with the vocal stand-ins for the various Doctors, provide effective tastes of past eras of Who.
The story, however, may seem familiar to some: the Master means to set a typically byzantine plot into motion that will unwrite/rewrite the Doctor’s entire history, essentially making it impossible for the first Doctor to have ever left Gallifrey. If that sounds a little bit familiar, it’s because it’s also the underpinning of the classic Doctor sightings in the 2013 season finale, The Name Of The Doctor. The jury is out as to which iteration is the more complicated: the Great Intelligence planned to work hard, not smart, by turning every Doctor’s victories into defeats, killing him a few thousand times over. The Master opts for a less labor-intensive approach: by keeping the first Doctor strandard on Gallifrey (which could be interpreted as an open door for the Doctor Who Unbound stories Auld Mortality and A Storm Of Angels), he wants to prevent any of those victories from ever having happened, thus eliminating the need to go altering each event, one by one. While this might make the Intelligence look like a sadist while the Master, for once, appears to be a pragmatist, don’t give the evil Time Lord too much credit: the means through which he intends to achieve this is as convoluted as ever. As the fifth Doctor once observed, the Master would get dizzy walking in a straight line, and could use some pointers from Wile E. Coyote on streamlining his dastardly plans. In any case, Geoffrey Beevers returns to the role dripping with evil; you can almost hear his mouth watering at the opportunity to do the Doctor in. (To be fair, “undoing the Doctor’s entire life” is original to neither Big Finish nor Steven Moffat, so I’m not going to claim that either has the lock on that storyline.)
The character of Bob Dovie ends up bearing the brunt of the closest thing that The Light At The End has to a relatable human storyline. Even though Light doesn’t throw the entire contents of every kitchen sink in an entire city block at the listener like The Five Doctors did, the majority of its running time is naturally spent with the various iterations of the Doctor, and yet we keep coming back to Bob Dovie. Much of the fifth Doctor’s time is spent in Bob’s company, and discovering that he is the victim of the Master’s bloodthirsty handiwork. As someone who has a family, it’s a harrowing thing to spend much time thinking about. It’s probably the most disturbing “Master kill” Doctor Who has presented us with since the words “It’s Goodge!” were exclaimed in 1971. In the best tradition of the Doctor surrendering one of his lives to save one person (The Caves Of Androzani, The End Of Time), it’s gratifying to hear that, in addition to saving his own skin and setting the universe right, the Doctors are also innately concerned with setting things right for an otherwise nondescript character named Bob Dovie. (Credit where it’s due: the more disturbing scenes with Bob are played to perfection by John Dorney, who I usually think of as one of the writers in the Big Finish stable.)
Add to this some widescreen sound design by Jamie Robertson (whose grandiouse musical score I’d gladly pay a few bucks to be able to download – just a thought there, Big Finish), pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast, The Light At The End is quite a treat. It’s complicated and straightforward at the same time, in that way that only Doctor Who seems to be able to pull off consistently, and celebrates not just the 50th anniversary of the TV show but 14 years of audio adventures from Big Finish by utilizing the various Doctor/companion combinations as we first heard them when the company revived Doctor Who in heard-but-not-seen form in 1999. (This also wisely drops off some of the baggage accumulated among the characters in later adventures, restoring them to “factory settings” and making The Light At The End instantly accessible to infrequent Big Finish listeners who may be sampling the company’s work for the first time just because of the anniversary connection and attendant promotion.)
In 2003, Doctor Who fandom was in a somewhat “undecided” state; there was an extravagant 40th anniversary audio epic in the form of Zagreus, and yet there was the announcement that the television series was coming back, though in what form no one really knew as yet. Fandom didn’t know which way to jump, and in any case, Zagreus was an exercise in abstraction, beating Steven Moffatt to his Doctor-Who-as-meta-fairy-tale conceits by the better part of a decade. In 2013, The Light At The End is the smartest move possible: an utterly traditional “all hands on deck” tribute to the original series, sating fans’ desire for connections to the first iteration of Doctor Who as the television anniversary special concentrates on events that have only unfolded in the mythology of the new TV series (namely, the infamous Time War). Neither entity on its own will do what everyone demands of a single anniversary adventure. But both, enjoyed side by side, offer the opportunity to have one’s cake and eat it too. And as cakes for a 50th birthday party go, The Light At The End is delicious.