The Four Doctors
Written by Peter Anghelides
Released December 2010.
An experiment in time, a Dalek invasion fleet and a power mad militant splintered through the life of the Doctor. In order to defeat his deadliest foes and retain the web of time, four incarnations of the Doctor must carefully steer events to avert catastrophe and assure the sanctity of history.
My intention with these Big Finish reviews was to listen to them in something close to a linear order. In answer to a special request, I have skipped ahead to a more recent release, the Four Doctors. I owe my good friend Jason LaBonte for getting me involved in the Big Finish range, so I was happy to oblige. Luckily, there were no spoilers in jumping ahead from the first release in 1999 to the special release of Christmas 2010.
From the 10th Anniversary when all three actors to have played the character on screen were united against a common foe, the concept of having all of your heroes in one place has retained a certain appeal. The problem is that multiple Doctor stories are a tricky thing, as learned in The Three Doctors. For one thing, each of the actors involved is the lead, something that is peculiar to Doctor Who. For another, a reason needs to be invented to involve multiple versions of the Doctor without making it seem contrived yet it must deliver a celebratory feel at the same time. It should appeal to the dedicated fan without pandering. Several attempts have been made at such a thing on screen and in other mediums, including Sirens of Time and Zagreus (both by Big Finish Productions) with varied results.
After the strained results of Sirens of Time which, while well conceived and executed, remains a convoluted adventure appealing only to die-hard fans, The Four Doctors is a roaring success. The story of the Four Doctors is a much stronger narrative and as it features a single menace, the Daleks, it is easier to become emotionally invested in the action.
It opens with a third person description of the Doctor, as seen through the eyes of a scientist, Professor Kalinda Ulrich. The fifth incarnation of the Doctor has offered up his services as advisor to the Jaridens’ experiments in time manipulation. A race of enhanced beings, more machine than human, the Jaridens have been at war with the Daleks for generations. It should therefore come as no surprise when the Daleks invade during a crucial point in the experiment. When the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor also arrives, things become complicated, but all of the events are entwined like a cat’s cradle of moments all leading into and out of each other in ways that only the Doctor can see… but not all at once.
Professor Kalinda’s brother, the militant Colonel Ulrik, is collaborating with the Daleks to give them just what they want and lowers the base’s defense to allow the invaders easy access to the mysterious contents of the vault. But the Daleks make for very poor deal makers.
In the ensuing carnage, Ulrik becomes splintered throughout time, first arriving at the home of Michael Faraday in 1854 alongside a damaged Special Weapons Dalek that also fell through the Vortex from the time experiments. The Seventh Doctor comes calling on Farday just in time to see the Dalek Prime hunting Ulrick through time. The pair are transported again, this time to Ulrich’s more recent past during the violent wars between his people and the Daleks.
Thrown in a jail cell, he finds that in the next cell is a most educated and poetic prisoner, also named the Doctor. The Sixth Incarnation assists Ulrich to escape onto the roof of the bunker by using his own built-in technological advancements on a Roboman, a Dalek-enhanced prisoner. There Ulrick learns tragically that the Roboman is his own father. It appears that Ulrick has become embedded in the history of his own people caused specific advancements in their war with the Daleks, prolonging the suffering that he had hoped to prevent by collaborating with them in the first place. As Ulrick struggles to deal with this news, the Dalek Prime arrives to exterminate him, but the proximity of so much chronal particles causes yet another time shift back to the beginning of the story.
Sure, it’s still a convoluted story, but it is much tighter in execution than Sirens of Time, features stand-out performances by Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann and also has an amazing soundtrack that keeps the listener invested throughout the story. A seasonal release to be sure, there are elements of ‘A Christmas Carol’ inherent in the Four Doctors, but they combine beautifully to tell a story of a generations-long war fought throughout time and tempered by bad decisions and noble intentions.
I’m not sure what it is, but I really enjoy listening to the Daleks on these audio adventures. They sound both brutally terrifying and cunning at the same time, hearkening back to the Machiavellian creatures of the David Whittaker stories back in the day. Nicholas Briggs (who also voices the Daleks and Cybermen on screen in the new Doctor Who) is in fine form here, making several sequences that should be dull scenes filled with robotic screaming quite gripping.
The Four Doctors was a special release from Big Finish, made available initially only to subscribers. I understand that the arrival of the CD in the post was a very exciting moment for fans and as it arrived so close to the holiday season, seemed like the perfect gift. Multiple Doctor stories aren’t really intended to be strong narratives with deep meanings as they serve more of a celebratory function, combining your favorite characters in one place, clicking glasses and offering up a toast to time’s past. This is why the Three Doctors, Two Doctors, Sirens of Time and even Time Crash (if you to count that one) are not classics in any sense but a gift to the viewers (or listeners).
As such, it’s a lot of fun.
While the individual incarnations of the Doctor do act independently throughout the adventure, the Four Doctors actually do share a moment inside the TARDIS to exchange the odd joke and poke fun. Well… wouldn’t you?
The Four Doctors- Trailer
The Four Doctors- Dalek animation
Doctor Who – The Four Doctors is available only to subscribers to Big Finish.