The Sirens of Time
“You have accurately identified some of my defining traits; compassion and a capacity for self-sacrifice. But you’ve made the mistake of bringing together three incarnations of the same personality. Each time I regenerate, the balance of those traits alters. I have always been pragmatic in all my lives, as I am in this regeneration. But… moreso.”
Story 01 Written by Nicholas Briggs
Released July 1999
Doctor Who started as an educational family-oriented program designed to fill a time-slot between Match of the Day and Jukebox Jury. During its 26 year-long lifespan on the airwaves, it developed into something wholly other, sometimes a national institution and at other times a cult program loved by a select few. When Doctor Who was finally canceled in 1989, its popularity had waned somewhat. A failed comeback in 1996, however, reinforced the notion that the concept had legs.
After years of pursuing the license, in 1999, Big Finish Productions began their long association with Doctor Who as a series of audio programs. Their first release would be an ambitious tour de fource, uniting three Doctors in one adventure, no small feat! A multi-Doctor story is always popular with fans, and something that had not been accomplished since 1985′s The Two Doctors. Sure, Dimensions in Time starred Doctors 3-7, but it was hardly a success. Sirens of Time is in essence a proof of concept on behalf of Big Finish, showing off not only the possibilities of revitalizing Doctor Who as an audio program with special effects and music that evoked memories of the classic BBC series but also that the actors that had made Doctor Who so successful had not lost their knack in playing the heroic Time Lord.
Starting their series with an anthology-style adventure starring three separate Doctors may seem like the wrong way to begin a new project and to be honest it does have a lot of problems, but by throwing Doctors 5, 6 and 7 together their distinct personalities immediately become clear. The sullen and intellectual Davison jars uncomfortably with the flamboyant Baker while McCoy plays the all-knowing clown to the trio.
The 1980′s was a period of change for Doctor Who. While producer John Nathan-Turner oversaw the entire decade on screen, the 80′s saw three actors play the lead role in drastically divergent ways, each with his own personality. Big Finish was able to work with all three actors, granting them a rare opportunity to expand on their legacy as the Doctor, unhindered by budgetary restraints and corporate interference from the BBC.
Despite all of the excitement and praise, The Sirens of Time’s failing lies in the story which is a convoluted mess.
Told in three parts, it begins on an unknown planet where the 7th Doctor meets a lady in distress named Elenya while the planet itself is under attack. As the Doctor begins to unravel the mystery of the planet’s sole inhabitants, a sadistic jailer and an aged war criminal, the High Council of Time Lords desperately attempt to contact him for help. Gallifrey is under attack by a powerful enemy that is overwhelming the planet’s defenses. Before this story can find resolution, it meets an explosive cliffhanger and the narrative shifts to 1915 aboard a British Naval vessel.
The 5th incarnation of the Doctor is stick outside of the TARDIS and again contacted by the Gallifreyan High Council for help. Before the Doctor can gain entry back into his craft, the vessel is struck by a U-Boat and sunk. With only a surly Liverpudlian named Helen for company, the Doctor attempts to outwit his German captors and get back to his ship, the situation seems dire. A German officer is taken over by the Time Lords whose message remains unclear and distorted. Helen fires on the officer, saving the Doctor’s life. Trapped in the crossfire of British and German crafts, the second cliffhanger arrives.
The third part opens with the 6th Doctor on a futuristic pleasure liner orbiting a cosmic anomaly. Befriending a stewardess named Ellie, the Doctor finds himself amongst the few survivors of a time quake emerging from the anomaly. From deep within the anomaly, a voice cries out for help. Again the Time Lords try to reach the Doctor by possessing the form of the ship’s android, but Ellie perceives the approach as hostile and kills it in the Doctor’s defense. Starting to see a pattern to events, the 6th Doctor perhaps begins to sense the experiences of his other selves. The Doctor realizes that at the heart of the anomaly is a creature called a Temperon, a mythical being from Gallifreyan lore, trapped and in extreme pain. By freeing the Temperon, however, the Doctor and his TARDIS are enveloped in a massive explosion that envelops them both.
After this series of confusingly disjointed events, the Doctor awakens on Gallifrey to find that he is both alone and in good company. Three incarnations have arrived at once in the Panopticon. The Doctor attempts to unravel the many mysteries such as who has attacked the Time Lords and why, how the events that his separate selves are connected and what role he plays in the mad scheme of the Sirens of Time… and it’s all a bit muddy from there.
The concept of Sirens of Time is actually quite inspired as the Doctor’s very nature is his undoing. In each instance he misread the situation and came to the aid of a person he believed to be in jeopardy. I enjoyed that element immensely, but unfortunately it is so mired in technobabble and exposition that it nearly missed me entirely. The sound effects and music are outstanding and really put the listener in the middle of the action, as it were. Davison, Baker and McCoy are all in top form and left me wanting more (fortunately there are over 150 additional releases), but in general Sirens of Time is a puzzle to me. It is so wrapped up in its own terminology and mythology that it can only appeal to die-hard fans of the program. As the first in a new line of stories, I cannot imagine why Big Finish chose to start this way.
Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable story and much better material was not far away. The more that I listen to the Big Finish series the more I adore it. Intelligently written, wonderfully acted and featuring sharp dialog, it is everything that new Doctor Who should be and acts as an ideal continuation of the classic program.
Many thanks to Jason LaBonte for helping me find these gems!
Doctor Who – The Sirens of Time can be purchased at local retailers and online from Big Finish.