I knew it was going to be a hard task to come up with something nearly as good as Big Finish’s last story, but I go in with high hopes, having zero memory of what’s to come. Seasons of Fear opens with the Doctor taking Charley to meet Alex, who “always has something stunning in his button hole!” It’s utterly impossible not to laugh at a line like that. Surely this must be a comedy. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that this is not a comedy. But there is a ton of great lines. Let’s see some examples first:
Guard: “You’re in time for the bloodbath!” Doctor: “Story of my life!”
Doctor: “I’ve been stumbling through bodies like I own a particularly dangerous bicycle!”
Doctor (to two versions of the same person): “Are you done talking to yourself?”
So the plot features an enemy that encounters the Doctor while he is waiting for Charley to see Alex’s button hole. The enemy, Grayle, has known the Doctor for a long time and wants to gloat over his defeat… which hasn’t happened yet. The Doctor then goes on a journey back through time to stop Grayle from ever becoming the man who threatens him in the future.
Ok, this is where the story goes wrong for a Doctor Who adventure! It would be fine for a time travel story in another universe, but not Doctor Who. For one, isn’t this exactly what the Doctor should never do? Ever?! Why is it Charley the one who works it out as early as episode 2 that his very interfering in the past is what creates that future? And the Doctor has some flippant remark about how she shouldn’t think like that! Yet, for all her cleverness, it’s like the 50th time she whispers the infamous “what are you doing” when he’s impersonating someone. Does she really have no idea?!?! Without fail, if he thinks on his feet, she’s going to whisper something to ask “what are you doing, person who is not who he says he is?” But the enemies live in a bubble of “I can’t hear you” and never catch on, so that’s lucky!
I can take the Doctor’s jibe about Ben Franklin and how that was a period American presidents could be “president and interesting” because I don’t mind a comedic zinger about American presidents, but I do take issue with the use of the word “bitchiness”. I don’t know; it feels wrong in a Doctor Who story. The Doctor also makes a comment that he’s not “…a glamorous woman at the moment”, indicating some foresight from the writer but it’s the same willy-nilly nonsense that has vexed modern Who. We have an obligatory reference to Zagreus (since we’re building to another epic enemy we’ve never heard of before, so we’re getting as many references during McGann’s second “season” as we can!) Still, I can accept that far better than I can accept the Doctor talking about his “mama”. This story is all over the map! Literally.
But with all those complaints, I found myself really enjoying the story itself. The cliffhangers were alright, but each episode featured a different time, so the didn’t have that edge of the seat feel, but the overall story did. Also, I refused to look at the CD case, because we know Grayle is working for some unseen masters and I was convinced it was going to be Daleks who would undoubtedly show up on the cover. I even thought I heard one in one of the first two parts. But I was wrong! The Doctor comments that the clues were there, but I only noticed one clue and it’s something he says, so it wasn’t really a clue at all. He mentions a black hole on the doorstep. Yes, there were THREE NIMON!!! (Well, perhaps we don’t have a number, but for the love of Soldeed, the Nimon are back!) To compound matters, Grayle gets into the TARDIS and Charley needs her new friend Lucy to help distract him. (Hilariously, her entire rouse is to yell, “Sebastian! Chase me!” which he does. This made me laugh more than any other part of the story! As Charley points out, it’s “simple, but effective!”)
What made this story good, despite some scathing criticisms, is that it remembers some of the basics that gave the series its early charm. A) Having a history lesson in the story is not a bad thing, and the Doctor gives quite a lot of real life facts. B) “I’m the Doctor, I don’t do things like that!” says the Doctor when he admits he really wanted to kill Grayle and Charley tries to tell him it’s alright. Yes, this is the moral fiber our hero should have. Always rise above the negative. I love that. Give kids and adults alike a hero to aspire towards! C) If you’re going to go for a narration, let it contain a big surprise that the Doctor is actually talking to someone and something big is developing. There is no end music to this story. It leaves us only with anxiety. Looking at the cast list, I see one thing standing out to me: Don Warrington as Rassilon. It seems the Doctor’s narration is going to lead to something impressive, indeed. (Unless he’s just there to see if Rassilon has something stunning in his button hole!) ML