Big Finish Folly, Part 55a – 1963: The Space Race, by Jonathan Morris
Vostok 7 was an eight day manned flight that was originally planned for the last quarter of 1963. Opposition by the Soviet Ministry of Defence led to it being cancelled, only to be resurrected and scheduled for June 1964. Finally all further Vostok flights were cancelled in favor of the multi-manned Voskhod in February 1964. But there’s more to the story than that – as the Doctor and Peri discover when they arrive in Kazakhstan in November ’63, just in time to witness Vostok 7’s return to the Earth. Get ready for espionage, murder, black holes, and an American base on the dark side of the moon… and a shocking discovery that the Doctor is not going to Laika…
Locating this story just after Year of the Pig is somewhat arbitrary, but it seems to fit quite well in the grand scheme of things. Part of the 2013 Anniversary trilogy, it melds Kennedy-era Cold War politics with Space Odyssey-style trappings in a manner that only Ian Sales has succeeded in doing in recent times (and, before Ian objects, I’ll add the caveat that 1963: The Space Race is definitely not hard SF; if that’s what you’re after, go see Whippleshield Books), and then even takes a few pages from Animal Farm for desserts.
Suspension of disbelief is vital here, particularly when the Doctor himself goes on a week-long trip to the moon with only half an hour’s worth of preparation, leaving Peri behind to masquerade as a Politburo-mandated scientist. But as with the best Big Finish audios, the plot blasts along at escape velocity, more than fast enough to paste over any potential gaps in the logic. Guns, soldiers, a base under siege – Doctor Who does this stuff very well, and especially when that thread is contrasted with the Moon/2001/Black Hole side of the story, with the Doctor pleading for tolerance from a probe acting for an alien intelligence.
Jonathan Morris really evokes the period, though the attempt to shoehorn Kennedy’s assassination into the plot is a bit contrived in retrospect. He’s helped by a sound design that cheekily plays patriotic orchestral music over the tannoys at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Even as a standalone story, this suffers as the middle part of the 2013 trilogy, especially since Fanfare For The Common Men was so much fun, but it still provides a (launch) platform for both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant to give wonderful, fully rounded performances. Vostok 7 may never have launched, but The Space Race definitely hits the target.