Monday, July 22, 2019

Doctor Who: The Sirens of Time (1999) - AudioReview

Release date: July 1999
Writer: Nicholas Briggs. Director: Nicholas Briggs

The Doctor's back, and it's about time...

In 1989, the longest running science fiction show came to an abrupt end. No farewell story to thank the fans for their loyalty, no handshake for the cast and crew who had worked so passionately. Instead, actor Sylvester McCoy was required to add closing dialogue to the final serial, "Survival" - "There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do." 

Of course, those weren't the last ever lines spoken for the series... in 1996 a television movie was produced, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and featuring a guest appearance by McCoy. But, seeing as no further production followed writer Matthew Jacobs's attempt, the "Classic" era was over.

Big Finish will always have a special place in my heart, for they did something quite remarkable: resurrected the Doctor, and persuaded actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy to reprise their most famous of roles. I can still remember how it felt to own "The Sirens of Time" on CD. It was a magnificent feeling, knowing that I was about to embark on a new adventure with a Time Lord. 1999 was 1989 all over again, with the past ten years seeming as if they had never happened at all...

The plot: Gallifrey, and time itself, is being threatened by the presence of an alien race, whose technologically-advanced warships have surrounded the Time Lords' home planet. And it seems that the Doctor is somehow involved... Written and directed by the legendary Nicholas Briggs (should I mention that he was also responsible for the music and sound design?), this first step for Big Finish into official Doctor Who territory simply cannot be faulted. As with the majority of the early audios produced, "Sirens" is a four-part story, with the first three focusing on each Doctor - Seventh, Fifth and Sixth - and the final part bringing them all together to face the villains of the piece. And it is a welcome decision not to include Daleks in this debut outing...

No Ace up the Doctor's sleeve

Part One reintroduces us to the Seventh Doctor (portrayed by McCoy) as he is drawn to a planet where spacecraft are crashing; a mysterious old woman called Ruthley looks after an equally mysterious gentleman, Sancroft; and a young girl named Elenya (Sarah Mowat) needs rescuing. Out of the three, Ruthley is a very unpleasant creature indeed, with her prime focus being on her own survival above all else - those familiar with this audio range might be interested to know that Ruthley is played by Maggie Stables, who later goes on to portray the role of Evelyn Smythe, companion to the Sixth Doctor in the first "original" pairing for Big Finish. There is much to dislike about Ruthley, and her own feelings mirror similar dislike towards those who are unfortunate enough to be within her company.

Companionless in this one, McCoy easily fits back into the role he had briefly revisited during the 1996 TV movie. We are also introduced to The Knights of Velyshaa.

"The Time Lords really do want me dead!"

Part Two focuses on the Fifth Doctor, and his encounter with the crew of a German U-boat. He is also joined by Helen (Mowat), the only other survivor of a British freighter torpedoed moments earlier. Though rescued by the German crew, it is clear that the danger is far from over. Determined to recover his TARDIS, the Doctor finds himself at the hands of his own people when they use a crewmember, Schmidt, to try and kill him following time distortion. This is the work of Coordinator Vansell (Anthony Keetch), a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency. The situation is a desperate one as Vansell believes the Doctor is somehow responsible for history to be altered - preventing him from reaching his TARDIS is a priority in saving the Time Lords and restoring the course of history!

"Would you please keep the noise down, old chap?"

Part Three brings us a Sixth Doctor who finds himself at some conference on a spacecraft, the Edifice, in the Kurgon system. They are present to investigate the Kurgon Wonder, a spatial anomaly. Things turn bad when more time distortion affects the ship, killing everyone except for the Doctor, a waitress named Ellie (Mowat), and an android. One of the threads through all parts of the story is the young woman that the Doctor encounters in his three incarnations. Just who is she? Mowat certainly delivers a strong performance with each character. She would later go on to play Susan Mendes in Big Finish's Dalek Empire series.

"Beware the Sirens of Time..."

And so to Gallifrey, and the Doctors are brought together in the final fourth part. In television history we've only ever seen multiple Doctor adventures three times: The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983) and The Two Doctors (1985). We could include Dimensions in Time (1993) though it is not official canon as it was a charity event crossover with a British soap, Eastenders.

It is rather lovely hearing Peter, Colin and Sylvester meet up, it's definitely a reunion with old friends. As the plot evolves we learn that beyond the Doctor, the Time Lords, and even the Knights of Velyshaa, there is a menacing threat that feeds on the energies of chaos, and that it is these creatures who have been pulling the strings and manipulating since the start.

It is difficult to think of a better beginning than The Sirens of Time, it sets a nice standard that Big Finish absolutely builds on and improves over the following years. It seems unbelievable that, at time of writing this article, Sirens of Time is 20 years old! Just where has that time gone? I'm sure the Doctor knows...

Beyond the Sirens...

Co-ordinator Vansell will return in several audios including The Apocalypse Element, Neverland, and the spin-off Gallifrey range.