After Doctor Who had faded from our screens and the 1996 movie did a belly flop not unlike a defeated Rutan, it looked like Doctor Who was well and truly over. But the fans were not content to see it end and to the rescue came a little company called Big Finish. Big Finish decided to go big since Doctor Who finished! They created audio stories featuring the original actors from Doctor Who. The first story, The Sirens of Time, would feature three Doctors and would take place over four 30-minute episodes. When the announcement came, I was quick to order. This was 1999 and it was time to party…
The first thing that I noticed was the opening theme. It’s the Tom Baker opening. An odd choice for a Davison/C. Baker/McCoy outing. Possibly, this is because it is such a classic, or because it is known by everyone, but it does not detract from the story at all. Then we are treated to a brief story with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. In this, he finds a woman, Elenya, sinking in quicksand. After saving her, they become involved in an attack on an old man called Sancroft. He was one of the Knights of Velyshaa. This seems like a standard throw-away race, but it will play a part later. After a cliffhanger worthy of the classic series, episode two introduces a story with Peter Davison’s Doctor. After being rescued at sea by Germans during World War I he finds himself trapped without his TARDIS. He encounters a young lady, Helen, who is as confused by the events as he is. He eventually dives off the U-Boat leaving Helen behind but she vanishes without a trace as the Germans head off on their mission. Finding himself unable to get into his TARDIS, another cliffhanger commences bringing us to Colin Baker’s 3rd part, investigating a conference. Here a waitress, Ellie, finds him and yes, by now we are certain all three women are the same woman.
In fact, by the second part, audio cues give us an idea of what’s happening but we can surmise that Elenya, Helen, and Ellie are the same person, it’s just that by part three, there’s no question about it. Then in the 4th part, things start coming together and we learn how the Doctor got out of each predicament but while that’s handled with the same casual dismissiveness of the television series (akin to an “I’ll explain later”) the reasons for everything that happens is far more interesting, even if the titular Sirens are by now very predictable. As all three Doctors come together for a typically enjoyable multi-Doctor story, the stakes ramp up.
Now, you must have realized I wasn’t going to spoil the story here. It’s worth listening to and it’s loads of fun. But it’s also evident that these are early days of this medium for Doctor Who! Like Star Trek: Discovery, it’s clear that they were aiming for a more mature output, but I don’t think it worked entirely well. The use of the word “bitch” actually surprised me. Yeah, Missy says it in Death in Heaven, but that’s over a decade later (and if I’m honest, I didn’t like it then either)! Ruthley, the aforementioned bitch, comes off as an old witch, right down to some thick accent that lets us know she’s a loathsome person, because you know… accents let us know that. But none of that is a bad thing for the story. In fact, I only had one complaint about the whole thing.
Ok, I understand it may be an attribute of those early days but my big comlaint is that people frequently spoke too softly. I listen to these primarily when I’m driving. I don’t get much downtime otherwise, so I have to crank up the volume over and over again. By volume 60, I can’t go any higher. So when someone decides to say something under their breath… well, it might as well not be there! And if this happened only once, I’d ignore it. By twice, I’m getting upset and anything after that is… well, as annoying as Adric!
That said, I still found the story exciting and there are moments where I laughed out loud! I mean, we always have fun with multi-Doctor stories so this is no exception. But can the medium continue to produce high quality stories? I guess only time will tell, right? I will give a few more a listen and let you know what I think about them. Let’s see how well the develop over time. ML