I have been working my way through the first 50 Big Finish releases debating if I wanted to go immediately onward or if I should pause here and try some other Big Finish products. I struggle because this episode is both an ending and a new beginning. But I think, considering my feeling on this one, this 50th release, I should take a break.
What happened here? After three solid releases featuring a Doctor with a classic villain, this should have been the culmination of all that and a massive one at that. It had Rassilon!!! What greater villain could there be? Alas, what we get is a 3-CD set starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and a ghostly Jon Pertwee (who was dead by the time this was made) that ends up being, as the Brigadier puts it: “piffle”. Oh, did I mention the Brigadier? Yes, Nick Courtney is in this, as is Louise Jameson (Leela), Lalla Ward (Romana), Anneke Wills, Lis Sladen, Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton, Nicola Bryant, Caroline Morris, Maggie Stables, Bonnie Langford, Robert Jezek, Sophie Aldred, Lisa Bowerman, and John Leeson as K-9. WOW, what a turn out. But I didn’t even know Sladen was in it when listening to it and she was my favorite classic companion. How did I not know!?!
I didn’t know because no one is who they were in the series. In other words, that lovely list gives us nearly 3 hours of actors not being the characters we know and love. I realize I should be thankful to Big Finish for being experimental. They didn’t do what was expected of them; they tried something different. Bravo. Sadly, it was an epic failure. What should have been an awesome celebration of a magnificent series, felt instead like a train wreck. Let’s work our way through it eh…
I also debated about doing 3 pages for this one, but considering how lame it was, why prolong the torture. The three CDs are labeled with titles: Wonderland, Heartland, Wasteland. But no… one write up is all we needed.
It’s all down to Alice in Wonderland. Yeah, Doctor Who is a bit Alice-like, but you can insinuate it without caveman-smashing it over the audience’s collective heads. Putting the Doctor and Charley into Wonderland is just overkill. We’ll get to Charley and her trip to Dr. Zagreus in a moment, even as she holds a book about Alice… but the Doctor spends the bulk of the CDs talking to himself in that way that says “I have to relay data to the audience and there’s no easy way to do that without walking around my home saying everything that’s happening to me!” (I may try this the next time I’m home alone to see if I feel it can contribute to a good story. “Oh, my son didn’t put his clothes in the hamper; is he trying to tell me he feels hampered in his self expression and I need to allow for creative disarray in life? And possibly ants, as he can’t seem to find his rubbish bin either?” No… doesn’t seem exciting enough!) The only good thing here is that the 3rd Doctor does try to reach out. Since Pertwee was already lost to us in real life, this was a nice touch, but comes out as barely a recognizable ghostly voice that could have been clips from an interview for all I knew. If you recall, this is because at the end of Neverland, the Doctor has become Zagreus and has to somehow overcome this or destroy our universe…
Meanwhile, the TARDIS is going to show Charley holograms of events but it will use faces it has in the databanks. The non-Doctor part of disc 1 is the Davison disk. However, we’re not with the Fifth Doctor and his companions because Davison, Sutton, Strickson etc are other people working on an experiment that splits open a doorway into a divergent universe. Good old earth! Always at the center of universe-spanning events.
Disc 2 is the Sixth Doctor disc, although Colin plays a vampire on Gallifrey (named Tepesh, which I’m fairly certain was a dude with bad hair in Curse of Peladon) along with Maggie Stables, Bonnie Langford, and Nicola Bryant. They are invading the Forge of Rassilon, or the Foundry, or the Place of Rassilon’s Greatest Crimes. While it gives some nice background on the history of the vampires and Rassilon, it also completely abolishes the recent television episode The Timeless Children, which makes this about as believable as any bit of fan fiction. Rassilon is about to lock away a divergent universe…
Later, it’s McCoy with Aldred and Langford and Bowerman. This may be the lamest of them all as he’s essentially Walt Disney and there is a war going on with animal automatons. He’s the “animator” and can deactivate them but it’s the end of the universe. At least he gets a chance to use his line: “If we fight like animals, we die like animals!” Of course, when that happens, a divergent universe will emerge. You’re undoubtedly seeing a pattern.
By disc three, we have to start wrapping up so we come out of the simulation and head to Gallifrey in the Dark Tower … in the Matrix (because, we couldn’t go to the actual Dark Tower – it was under repair or something). Romana and Leela show up but Romana thinks Leela is a dumb savage. Luckily, by the end of this story, she’ll think differently enough that they can work together on their own spin-off. With Romana and Leela, the Doctor will have a chance to meet his other selves that were in the Wonderland simulations and come together. In doing so, the Doctor can… be stabbed and die, come back as Zagreus and then have the Brigadier, who is really the TARDIS, save him? I mean the Brig as the TARDIS we learn about earlier, when it’s mad at the Doctor for dying, so it’s Saveltride (or Evil TARDIS) and wants to destroy the Doctor because it had loved the Doctor … wait, you know what, just skip to the bit where they become friends again; the Doctor acknowledges his “friend ship” with the TARDIS. This saves the day, but…
I wanted the Doctor to become the Doctor by overcoming Zagreus on his own, but instead, he needed the TARDIS. And Charley. And Romana and Leela, who both let the Doctor go off on his own at one point because “it’s the Doctor’s fight now”. So, even though he does save the day, he contains an energy that could wipe out time itself so he exiles himself into another universe and that’s it. He leaves Charley behind, but Leela knows the back door to the TARDIS (say what, now?), and helps Charley get back on board for their next chapter in an unknown universe. (If it’s anything like the Delta Quadrant in Star Trek: Voyager, we’ll never even know they left!)
I’m not getting into the whole Jabberwock, or the moment where Charley proves she’s memorized the most idiotic part of Through the Looking Glass, nor will I get into the idea that the three Doctors use jibberish to beat the creature, because that wouldn’t bear thinking about. I won’t share the Eighth Doctor’s observation of a “clever pussy” because that would be shocking. I won’t tell you that this was worth listening to, because I think you’d have our site banned.
On the other hand, the various opening themes was a nice touch. And I will tell you that the trumpet blast for the Tower of Rassilon did make me happy. There were some clever moments where Colin Baker says he would find a foxhole, cave or tree to hide it; clever because to get to Rassilon’s tower, one must choose: above, between, below. I really enjoyed a little philosophical debate about science vs religion. I also enjoyed the use of some classic lines, like Davison’s acknowledgement that “there should have been another way!” There’s a very funny moment where Leela thinks she’s dying but Romana tells her it’s barely a flesh wound – the music had been all sad then comes to a screeching halt when she realizes Romana is right. And the comments about the Doctor being out there allowing children to sleep safer at night was a lovely sentiment. But the whole thing felt “derivative”. (Thanks Romana, that was exactly the right word!)
I was so looking forward to this, but even Rassilon is a bit of a talker who isn’t nearly as powerful as his three previous Big Finish releases. And he should have been so much more.. so much more! (Sorry, channeling my inner Tenth Doctor there!) So before I head into the Delta Quadrant… I mean the anti-time universe (sounds like how the Irish use time, if personal experience is anything to go by), I think I’ll go visit two old friends instead.
I’ll be calling on Mr. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot in the coming weeks. Let’s see how that goes. … Anti-time indeed… ML