The 27th issue of Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who stories opens with Colin Baker’s Doctor delighting in some megalomania. Moments later, it is revealed that he is beating Mel in Monopoly. Meanwhile on the planet Generios, the evil Skelloids have been vanquished by the Doctor and his companion Sally Ann. While they are being praised as heroes, Sally Ann suggest a gift, but the Doctor “couldn’t possibly accept”. Well… maybe under the circumstances, if the people really want to give him a gift, he’ll accept.
From the outset, we can tell this is a comedy but it is not immediately appearent that we have hit comedy gold until later. It seems “the Doctor” and Sally Ann are a con-team. They manufacture a threat, come in and save the day and capitalize on the Doctor’s popularity because by this time period, everyone has heard of him. (This is the Vulgar end of Time after all!) But before long, another threat appears and the would-be Doctor is convinced the real Doctor is playing the same stunt on Generios.
It takes little time for the Doctor to work out what is going on. The imposter is Banto Zame (played brilliantly by Christopher Biggins) and my word is he funny. I’m fully aware that a script drives the dialogue but it’s up to the actor to give it the power it deserves. His repartee with Colin Baker is magnificent. Some of the lines are delivered so quickly that one has to laugh. One that I never forgot was the Doctor’s use of the word “ignominious”. Immediately, Zame fires off: “Igno-what? Arguing with you is like arguing with a thesaurus!” Colin is well know for his love of words after all. “Here we go again; another voyage around the english language…”
It’s also both comical and very “meta” when Zame is critiquing the real threat. Coming in only as audio, whereas his Skelloids were really there, he says “You don’t get the same effect with audio!” How can you not love it? He comments on the fact that people actually want to see the menace! (This was preceded by Mel’s “It sounds fishy” comment, to which the Doctor asks if she means it sounded aquatic!) I found myself laughing all the way to work and back while listening to this story. Even the playful banter between Sally Ann and the Doctor where she wants to “have a feel” of the Doctor’s chest was funny. (Especially after some time when the Doctor finally asks her to let go!)
To save the day from the real threat, the Doctor and Sally Ann have to go on an adventure to get tributes for the new enemy while Banto and Mel have their own fun. The Doctor’s adventure features The Weakest Link, though it’s called The Feeblest Contestant. Here they need to obtain the computer, which hasn’t gotten an answer wrong in 33000 years. They need to wait for it to make a mistake. Mel and Banto find themselves in future Ikea where they have to build shelves; the parts of which fall into and out of various dimensions. This is akin to real Ikea furniture! I will never look at Ikea furniture the same way again, in fact.
I often comment on continuity so I was quite pleased by the references of the Doctor Johann Schmidt (most recently used in Colditz), Doctor Von Wer (The Highlanders), and Ka Faraq Gatri (which I remember from Abslom Daak but I’m nearly positive it was in Remembrance of the Daleks as well). Overall this story was a blast and gave me more laughs than I had bargained for!
At this point I’m still in CD territory (I’ve got about 50 more to go) so I can comment on things like the wonderful CD inserts. But there were none. It’s just Colin and Bonnie together. No offense to either of them, but this does not constitute a bonus. But were there bonuses? YES! Surprise, surprise! The first was at the start of Episode 3; the opening theme was different. I liked it but didn’t expect it. Then the story was wrapped and, since I was driving, I didn’t do anything to eject the CDs. About 10 minutes later, I was surprised that Colin and Bonnie were suddenly speaking in my car. It dawned on me that there was a hidden section of the final track featuring the Doctor and Mel using the Time-Space Visualizer (yes, all the way back from The Chase) to listen to the Queen’s Christmas message, but they get it a bit wrong and tune in to the wrong Queen. The Doctor then wishes all the listeners a happy Christmas. I was delighted. I know the smile I had was stretched from ear to ear. Then, another bonus track! We go back to the Feeblest Contestant for about 10 minutes of questions. Most are nonsensicle, but I was happy to know a few. It’s purely a fun bonus that really made me happy. It was obviously a Christmas release when it came out but that was back in December of 2001. I never expected to be listening to them again in 2019! I can’t wait for the next one! ML
The One Doctor as a curious title to draw in Whovians, as The Next Doctor, The Infinity Doctors and Babelcolour’s reimagining of The Ten Doctors for 2020, is just the kind of title that demands the best fit for its story. The notion of someone impersonating the Doctor, not via shapeshifting into a Doctor we recognize, but by trying to pass his own physical aspect as a regenerated Doctor as first seen in Mawdryn Undead (even though David Collings truthfully became the Doctor thanks to the Unbound Doctors) may naturally demand a more plot-driven story than a multi-Doctor adventure. In Jackson Lake’s case, he believed that he was the Doctor because of traumatic amnesia, yet thankfully we’d get to know him as a truly good man. So a con-man on the other end of the spectrum is enough to make us wonder how it would have worked as a TV story. As a BF story and for a classic Doctor, I have all the more respect that the story concept. Thank you, ML.
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It is indeed another testament to how Big Finish can achieve whatever Dr. Who or some other British SF classics could not in television. I also respect BF’s handling of The One Doctor from the audio-dramas aspect that allows our minds to go more with the SF story which is a luxury we can feel deprived of via TV and cinema visualizations.
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Come to think of it, our minds going more with the SF story is a luxury we could arguably have had with the classic Who thanks to its nostalgically limited production values. That may qualify in retrospect as poetic justice. At the time some specific effects for Dr. Who, certainly the opening visuals with the space-time vortex, would have felt incredible. The sound effects of the classic Who were more predominating for the impact. That made it enjoyable enough to hear the TARDIS’ arrival and departure sound effects, despite how they visually settled for the dissolve.
Having recently seen Josh Snares’ documentary on updated visuals for the classic Who (particularly for new Blu-Ray editions), specifically how some may feel excessive and of course self-defeating in regards to original impacts, it’s almost enough to make the fans miss the visually underwhelming days for Dr. Who.
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