Circular Time, by Paul Cornell & Mike Maddox
Now here’s a little oddity. Circular Time is a themed collection of four stories, rather than one single play. I wasn’t too sure about this when I came to it – how can you tell a decent Doctor Who story in just half an hour? And then do that another three times? And without pictures, too?
Clearly I needn’t have worried. This might be only the eighth 5th Doctor play, chronologically speaking, but in release order this is the 91st Big Finish production. These fellas have it down to a T. And the fact that Paul Cornell is involved should soothe any remaining worries. These four plays actually feel like they are exactly the right length – any longer, and they’d be dragging out the plots with needless verbiage.
The concept, as the title implies, links each tale with a season. The spring, summer, autumn and winter of Nyssa’s friendship with the Doctor – or, more specifically, with the 5th Doctor. And so while the first two tales are upbeat affairs, playful and speedy, almost puzzles and challenges rather than full-on adventures, the second pair sail on into uncharted waters and the darker side of the characters’ emotions.
Autumn meanwhile is full of unease, regret, second thoughts and a struggle for identity – and also features both cricket and Nyssa falling in love. It isn’t what you expect from a Doctor Who episode, and is all the better for it. Very ambitious, and quite possibly the best of the bunch. Well worth a second listen. Winter – now, technically, Winter takes place during the Doctor’s transformation from Peter Davison into Colin Baker and so I’m breaking my own rules about chronology but somehow I don’t think anybody will sue me – anyway, Winter gets all metaphysical and metaphorical on the Doctor’s ass, as well as giving Nyssa her own post-TV coda. A fitting conclusion to the four seasons, but not my favourite of the four.
Bonus review: Bernice Summerfield – Just War, by Lance Parkin
After the success of Birthright, another 7th Doctor New Adventures novel gets the adaptation treatment, transporting Benny and Jason Kane to occupied Guernsey for the third part of the Time Ring Trilogy. In general these adaptations have been hit & miss – they are clearly designed for the Doctor rather than for Bernice, and so there’s a McCoy shaped hole at the heart of the stories. Jason Kane still isn’t entirely effective as Benny’s foil, though here he has a lot more to do than just sit around being tied up by the bad guys (as he puts it himself).
The plot revolves around a secret weapon that the Germans are developing on Guernsey – Bernice is already there, seeking to join the resistance, while Jason has found himself working as one of the British army’s backroom boys, trying to pin down the enemy’s special projects. By all appearances it should be little more than a routine “don’t talk about the Future!” scenario, but Mark Gatiss’s unpleasant SS interrogator derails that scenario very quickly. Benny’s own guilt about the part she has already played is used against her, along with some seriously nasty torture. This is not escapist adventure – this is proper 7th Doctor/New Adventures territory, where the companions get hurt and scarred deeper and more permanently than they did in the old TV series.
Darker though it is, the play does have problems of its own. There’s a whole “Let’s escape on a plane!” sequence that, after five minutes, decides not to resolve itself at all. Jason’s killing of one person appears almost totally out of character. The bad guys really ought to just shoot first and explain their plans later rather than let Jason have a look at their top secret blueprints….
As adaptations go, it’s on a par with Birthright at least, and a brave departure from the overly comedic elements that have hampered the series so far.
Next time, on Big Finish Folly – more Daleks! And a bumper crop of Bennys!