The Fifth Doctor Box Set from Big Finish sees a return to the early days of the Fifth Doctor’s adventures. His companions are all present, including Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and, for the first time, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). The set consists of two four-part adventures, plus a behind-the-scenes element. The first adventure, Psychodrome, written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley, takes place in the aftermath of the televised adventure Castrovalva.
As was fairly commonplace during the Fifth Doctor’s time, the TARDIS lands in some unknown location and the Doctor is keen to investigate until something makes him a little less enthusiastic and more inclined to return to the TARDIS until something less esoteric prevents this from happening.
Thus the TARDIS crew are thrust into an adventure as they seek to extract themselves from whatever’s going on wherever they’ve landed this time.
Are they on a planet, a spaceship, or a machine? Why is the environment around them changing? Why are all the people they meet reminiscent of someone they know (if not to the characters then certainly to the reader)? And why is everything they see vaguely familiar?
The listener will work out what’s going on long before the Doctor does, and longer still before he’s able to tell all of his companions.
They’ve landed in a place that uses the old plot device that everything and everyone is made up from the imaginings of the heroes. The people they meet are effectively caricatures of each other, and the things they see are from each of their homeworlds. A bit of the Starliner over there, some of Traken here, some Gallifrey over that way, etc…
It all feels a little like Shore Leave, the Star Trek adventure in which Captain Kirk met a white rabbit. Just like in that instance, careless thoughts can cause danger and, if the heroes think about what scares them, that fear shall manifest itself. For Adric it’s the giant spiders from Alzarius, for Tegan it’s a scary memory from her childhood in Australia, and for Nyssa … well, something that the Doctor can definitely understand.
The people made from their memories learn that they owe their existence to the Doctor and his friends, and they cannot let them leave for fear that they would cease to exist. And so the battle is on…
It was always going to be difficult to accommodate such a large TARDIS crew, especially in an environment that doesn’t lend itself to them all splitting up and telling their own stories as would happen in the days of the First Doctor. The writer, Jonathan Morris, handles the large cast by, paradoxically, keeping the cast small. There’s no big bad threat, no society created from world building. There’s just the four heroes and their mental projections. This keeps the story surprisingly taut, and it works well here.
Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton deliver the voices of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in pretty much the same way as they have for some time in Big Finish adventures. With a healthy dose of willing suspension of disbelief, you can fairly easily imagine they’re accurate representations of the characters from back in the 80s. Matthew Waterhouse delivers a quieter, less abrasive Adric. The voice of this Adric here completely fails to convince the listener that he’s the same character as back in the 80s – which is actually a good thing. The TV Adric doesn’t have many supporters and, by giving us a calmer, less abrasive Adric, the character is actually quite enjoyable as the Doctor’s “sidekick”. Sadly, the character doesn’t really get to do an awful lot beyond that.
The real success here, though, is Janet Fielding who’s voice is so completely convincing that, every time she says something, you’re transported right back to the Air Hostess trying to figure out the bewildering world of the Doctor and clinging on to memories of Aunt Vanessa. There were times when I got little nostalgic flashes of images from 80s Doctor Who adventures in my head.
The story doesn’t have great substance to it, largely due to it being very quick to figure out what’s going on and then waiting for everyone else to figure it out, but it’s not objectionable either. I’d have to rate it as one of the good ones, in that it fits in well with the Fifth Doctor’s first season.
Next time … Iterations of I by John Dorney