In the interests of full disclosure – I am a Big Fan of the Big Finish forays into the First and Second Doctors’ eras and their very deliberate recreation of the atmosphere from that part of the show’s history. I’m also a BIG fan of the Second Doctor and quite happy with Frazer Hines’s studied audio impersonation. While not quite the Second Doctor, you can tell that Troughton’s performance was burned into Fraser’s memory and a little bit of the Cosmic Hobo lives on!
The Forsaken is set on an island near Singapore, in and around a hotel surrounded by jungle. It’s February 1942. WWII is in full swing and the Japanese are coming. After surrendering Singapore, the British evacuated and the guest cast are soldiers and civilians waiting for their boat off the island. Intriguingly one of these includes Ben Jackson’s father less than a year before Ben’s birth…
As you’d expect from Who super-author, Justin Richards, the adventure is another competent recreation of the era. Carefully realised historical settings and the more Classic end of Who’s legacy are his specialty. It’s also good to hear the TARDIS team of Ben, Polly, and Jamie brought to life, especially given they’re underrepresented in surviving television episodes.
This is the second outing for Elliot Chapman as Naval Cockney, Ben Jackson, after the character was first re-cast in The Yes Men. Recasting roles created by deceased cast is a brave move, most notably with the Third Doctor, but seems to be paying off. Chapman is spot-on in the role and a few minutes in I had forgotten that there was anything unusual to listen out for. This may be because I’m less familiar with the character from surviving episodes, but for this listener it worked a treat. If anything Chapman was noticeably more like Ben than the original actor’s voices are for Polly and Jamie!
The story makes ample use of the war time setting and paranoia you’d expect when one aggressor is approaching and your escape is yet to appear. The underpopulated hotel and jungle are well evoked and allow for some creepy set-pieces. All in all this is a solid piece of retro-Who in a slightly more exotic setting than 1960s BBC was able to conjure up.
There are a couple of disappointments however…
Polly feels a little under-used. We get a lot of her being told to make hot drinks or kept out of the action by the Doctor with a sexist sheen that could have been approached differently. Given how The Companion Chronicles managed to introduce our anachronistic views on race and sexuality into ostensibly ’60s Who, this feels a little limp.
Another minor gripe is the use of Ben’s father, James Jackson, who is one of the key military characters in this whodunit runaround. I spent most of the adventure wondering what clever allegory was going to link Ben’s encounter with his father at a young age to the underlying plot – though nothing really seemed to come of this. It added another thread of jeopardy as Ben would presumably never have been born if his father doesn’t make it back to Blighty and do the needful. But other than a couple of lines from Ben to this effect, the otherwise intriguing time-space coincidence feels like a missed opportunity.
The monster is again, solid, and well-used with one particularly sinister reveal late in the story. Again my feeling is that more could have been made of the fact that it looks a lot like the Grim Reaper but my hopes were left unrealised.
So, in conclusion:
- This is a solid recreation of the era and a wonderfully believable performance from Elliot Chapman in his second outing as Ben Jackson.
- Creepy and an enjoyable runaround with an underrepresented TARDIS crew in a well-evoked exotic location.
- More could be made of Ben meeting his Father and in general the story did more re-treading of the cosily familiar than pushing boundaries.
- It’s lovely but more hot cocoa than spiced cider. More bucks fizz than Champers…
- You’ll like this if you like Dreams of Empire (BBC Past Doctor Novel), Jago & Litefoot… or any story featuring Ben and Polly!
The Kasterborous Rating: 6.5/10
The Early Adventures: The Forsaken is out now from Big Finish.