Big Finish is a fairly unlucky beast. Whereas the current television show has a broad flexibility to push the concept of Doctor Who further into the 21st Century (or 18th or 17th Century; it depends where that blue box lands, see), Big Finish has to be find a greater equilibrium between same and difference. Big Finish is all about the past, be it the recent past with its new New series range, or the old, old past of the 1960s where televisions were smaller, people were probably smaller, and penny sweets probably, most likely, cost a penny – and were not so much smaller, but probably bigger.
My point is Big Finish has the difficult task of offering fresh perspectives on stories that have to capture the spirit of older ones. This is not an easy task, and I personally think The Early Adventures: The Yes Men, is a good example of when that equilibrium is found and should be celebrated.
The Doctor lands the TARDIS on New Houston, an Earth colony and a place of adventure from his previous travels. He discovers one of the people he had met in a previous rip-roaring escapade on the planet, when he was a little younger, older, and prone to script flubs, has passed away. But who is responsible?
Written by Simon Guerrier, this is a Second Doctor adventure set early on in this particular incarnation. Ben and Polly are still lingering around the TARDIS corridors, and Jamie is now part of the crew. The story has a light cast, but utilises its voice-actors well. Regular listeners will not be surprised to hear Frazer Hines performing as both the Doctor and Jamie, with Anneke Wills providing Polly and third-party narration. A call out has to be made for voice-actor Elliot Chapman, not only for his wonderful imitation of the late Michael Craze’s Ben Jackson, but for his behind the scenes introspective on getting into the role. The three central cast bring together that feeling of familiarity perfectly. I forgot that this wasn’t Craze, but in fact Chapman. Hines’ Troughton, again, never feels out of place.
The story itself, as Gurrier notes, was inspired by the film noir British classic, The Third Man, in which the protagonist embarks on a quest to discover how an old friend has died. That said, the play doesn’t feel like a homage to the film unless considered closely as The Yes Men’s aesthetic trappings and secondary storylines keep the production fresh.
While the story’s structure does not particularly remind me of the Troughton years – the odd blend of murder-mystery and underground revolution do not gel with my memories of the era – the gentle, graceful touches resonate with the show’s history, generating a balance of old and new. The Yes Men does not feel like a simple, predictable call-back: in fact, I was not certain where it was heading, and that’s a pleasant feeling. The story has a little bit of continuity to it, something avoided in the Troughton era largely. References to past adventures, and even the Doctor’s failed attempts to get Ben and Polly home. Again, tradition is balanced with position; this is a story written for knowing fans, and as such, is not afraid to offer a little flourish of continuity.
The supporting cast function perfectly. You’ve got a healthy blend of British archetypes, the sort you’d expect in Doctor Who, and a few names that perhaps you wouldn’t from the 1960s era. Names such as Nesca Bangate and Harriet Quilp sound vaguely Douglas Adams, and he wouldn’t be around for another decade or so. This does not harm the story in any way; it just gives it a little zest.
Overall, this is one of the most pleasurable Doctor Who audios I’ve heard in some time. I’m always thrilled to see the bastions of the classic era pick up the reins once more. However, it’s the fresh blood found within this contemporary production, alongside some very deft casting, that make this a joy. This is Doctor Who as it was and what it is. That’s a rather fitting temporal anachronism for Doctor Who to find itself in.
Doctor Who: The Early Adventures – The Yes Men is available from Big Finish now.