Circular Time

Doctor Who: Circular TimeSpring: The Doctor and Nyssa, at the behest of the Time Lords, visit a world where bipedal birds are the dominant life form – and a rogue Time Lord has installed himself as their ruler, accelerating their technological progress dramatically. The Doctor knows that causing his fellow Time Lord to regenerate would confuse the locals and break his hold, but it seems that his actions have been anticipated…

Summer: The Doctor and Nyssa are brought before Isaac Newton for heresy, and the time travelers are horrified when Newton guesses their origins with alarming accuracy. The Doctor tries to bluff his way around it, but Newton insists on a look at the Doctor’s time machine. But will the truth set the time travelers free…or alter the course of history for one of Earth’s greatest scientific minds?

Autumn: The Doctor brings the TARDIS to Earth for quite a long stay as he settles in to play a season of cricket with some old friends. For the first time, Nyssa meets someone who makes her think that staying on Earth might not be all bad…if not for the Doctor’s tendency to slip away quietly.

Winter: Long after leaving the Doctor, Nyssa is a wife and a mother, but a disturbed one. She’s recently experienced vivid dreams of her time traveling friend, and asks her husband, the inventor of a machine that facilitates interactive lucid dreaming, for help. But only when she’s able to make the dream more coherent does she realize that somewhere, in time and space, the Doctor is reaching out to his old companions from the brink of death…

Order this CDwritten by Paul Cornell & Mike Maddox
directed by John Ainsworth
music by David Darlington

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)

  • Spring: Jamie Sandford (Hoodeye), Toby Longworth (Redklaw), Lois Baxter (Carrion), Teresa Gallagher (Snowfire), Hugh Fraser (Zero)
  • Summer: Jeremy James (Guard), Sunny Ormonde (Molly), Trevor Littledale (Jailer), David Warner (Sir Isaac Newton)
  • Autumn: Jamie Sandford (Andrew), Toby Longworth (Jack), Jeremy James (Anton), John Benfield (Don)
  • Winter: Jeremy James (Lasarti), Sunny Ormonde (Anima)

Notes: In a rare major continuity blooper for Big Finish, in the “Spring” segment, the Doctor’s fellow Time Lord calls him a “rebel president” – even though this episode’s events precede The Five Doctors, in which the fifth Doctor was drafted into that office, by almost an entire season. Given that the TV series has quietly established that the Doctor’s lives, the lives of other Time Lords and events on Gallifrey seem to exist in their own continuum in which it’s impossible for a Time Lord to visist Gallifrey’s past or future, it seems unlikely that Zero would have had foreknowledge of the Doctor’s Presidency. In the “Summer” segment, the Doctor protests that the TARDIS is not a jade pagoda, a reference to the New Adventures novels, in which a portion of the TARDIS can indeed be split off into a jade pagoda with roughly the same dimensions as a Police Box. The Doctor also quotes the song “I Am The Doctor”, originally recorded by Jon Pertwee and Rupert Hine in the early ’70s.

Timeline: between The Game and Renaissance Of The Daleks (first three segments) and during episode 4 of Caves Of Androzani (last segment)

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: An interesting swipe at a Doctor Who short story anthology in audio drama form – BBC Books’ audio book adaptations of various “Short Trips” stories notwithstanding – Circular Time is actually quite refreshing. Any one of the first three stories within could have been expanded with more secondary characters, lots of escapes, chases and captures, and other general padding. But instead, each tale is boiled down to its bare essence, says its piece, and bows out gracefully. Add to that a dash of Paul Cornell’s tendency to drop meta-commentary into the dialogue of the story itself (i.e. the belly laugh resulting from the second episode’s quote of the Jon Pertwee song “I Am The Doctor”), and it all breezes along nicely – at least for the first two episodes. And David Warner to boot – could it get better? Oh yes.

The second disc is much heavier stuff. Autumn deals with Nyssa growing homesick and beginning to look for somewhere to settle – and someone to settle with – and if one reads it a certain way, one could argue that she loses her virginity in this installment. (It’s left vague rather than explicit, however.) In my own mind’s eye, I also imagine this to be the point at which she finally ditches the brown Traken-wear that marked her first season of TV Doctor Whotravels, as she starts to explore the idea of being Nyssa of somewhere other than Traken. The idea that the Doctor occasionally parks the TARDIS for a few months of cricket and relatively normal life is intriguing as well.

Winter is even more intensely interesting. In this segment, Paul Cornell returns to the kind of symbolic mythological deconstruction and analysis of the Doctor that he indulged in with some of his New Adventures novels. The entire story takes place during the final moments of Caves Of Androzani, offering a meta-narrative of what’s going on with the recollection of his former companions just before the Doctor regenerates. Stuck in an illusory neverland, the Doctor has “children” named Tegan and Adric, and a wife whose name may or may not be Peri, and is haunted by a mummified figure stalking his farmhouse. This is the kind of metacommentary that those of us who shamelessly own up to being Cornell fans just eat up, but it’s previously been found only in his print work. That Big Finish was up for the idea of exploring these ideas in audio form shows just a bit of daring on their part, and it’s just brilliant. The story justifies the appearances of the companions, and even Kamelion and the Master, works in a new iteration of the Watcher (from Logopolis, though here it’s made clear that this Watcher emits a much more colorful light than before, hinting at the sixth Doctor’s coat of many colors), and really makes one re-analyze certain aspects of both Logopolis and Androzani in retrospect.

On the other hand, for those who aren’t that into the original series TV episodes, Winter would almost certainly seem like indulgent, nonsensical fanwankery – which makes it an even braver move for Big Finish. The bet is hedged a bit by it being only 1/4 of an adventure, though, and it really doesn’t need more time than that to play out, unless you were going to try to work in Tegan, Adric and Turlough’s meta-stories within that as well (and theoretically, one could).

This sort of thing is why Paul Cornell has the fan base that he has, folks like me who are happy to see the man’s name pop up at the front of a TV episode. It really is one of the boldest Big Finish adventures in recent memory, and one of the best.