Big Finish Folly, Part 3a – Fanfare For The Common Men, by Eddie Robson
The Doctor remembers the Sixties. That’s why he’s taking Nyssa on a trip back to November 1963. Back to where it all began. Back to the birth of the biggest band in the history of British music. Back to see those cheeky lads from Liverpool…
Mark, James and Korky. The Common Men. The boys who made the Sixties swing with songs like Oh, Won’t You Please Love Me?, Just Count To Three and Who Is That Man.
The Doctor remembers the Sixties. And there’s something very wrong with the Sixties, if the Beatles no longer exist…
“Susan had one of their records. She used to play it in the Tardis all the time. I didn’t like it much. But I was so much older then…”
Fanfare For The Common Men kicks off Big Finish’s 50th anniversary celebrations in style – a trilogy of plays all set in, or around, 1963. Right from the start you can see how much effort and love is being put into this first play alone – the Abbey Road-esque cover, with Nyssa staring out from a crowd of screaming uber-fans, raises the bar far above alien-landscape-of-the-week variations, and gives a good indication of how playful the script is. The Common Men, as played by Mitch Benn, Andrew Knott and David Dobson, sound like the Walk Hard parodies of the Beatles, but the sound design and songs, written by Howard Carter and Barnaby Edwards, are absolutely spot-on. You’ll be humming these beauties all the way home.
The story? Well, it’s not too difficult to guess that The Common Men are distinctly uncommon and that there is some kind of nefarious alien activity going on (raising several hilarious moments in Nyssa’s strand of the story as poor Korky/un-Ringo goes on his own personal voyage of self-discovery). The plot quickly comes to encompass an entire decade, with the Doctor forced to hop between years and even between time streams to work out just what is going on and who is behind it all. There’s a great scene with Mark, the not-quite-Lennon figure as he sits in his New York apartment, slowly losing it and leafing through old photographs…
The multiple time streams do mean that the listener has to pay attention first time around – pick up all the Beatles references on your second listen, otherwise you’ll get lost, and this isn’t the sort of story you can stop concentrating on. Gratifyingly, Robson manages to tie the myth of The Common Men (sans, at this point, John Smith) properly into the TV Who’s canonicity, suggesting this this was always fated to be.
Given Sarah Sutton’s portrayal of Nyssa in this play as a near-total innocent, totally baffled by the Sixties (as I suppose many people were at the time…), I’ve decided to pull the placement of this story from after 1001 Nights to between Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty (open to debate, but bear in mind I’m rolling up my sleeves…). And, even though I haven’t yet heard the Baker & McCoy stories for this year, I’m going to stick my neck out and call this one Big Finish’s standout release of the year. Absolutely superb.