Immortal fan favourite Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart finally joins the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And opposite Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, no less. And it’s not even on a Coronation Street backlot this time. So, is it everything this fan could have hoped for? Please join me as I find out…
“You know what they say about old soldiers, Doctor.”
Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive in Cornwall, where an archaeological dig into the mysterious fogou is underway. A place steeped in local myth and legend. And much to the Doctors very pleasant surprise, he soon encounters a very familiar face…
Before we begin this latest review, I have a brief confession. I am a huge, huge fan of Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier. How huge a fan? I once tried to grow a moustache just like the Brig’s. I was eight at the time, which probably accounts for why it took about ten years to properly grow in, and still looked like rubbish even when it finally did. And things haven’t actually gotten any better for me in the years since, either. In fact it has become evident that the only moustache that I am capable of growing is one that looks like a refugee from 70’s era porn. And not necessarily a face refugee either, if you catch my drift. No, short of buying one on Ebay, I have slowly come to accept that I will never have a proper Brig-stache. And it makes me sad. In more ways than one. However, luckily, the Brig is here and he’s…wait a minute. I just saw the cover. The Brig is ‘stache-less! I’m…I’m going to need a moment.
This does not bode well. After all, The Brig has only gone ‘stache-less on two prior occasions. Once in Mawdryn Undead, where he was luckily counter-balanced by a second, moustachioed Brigadier, giving us a proper yin-yang Brigadier balance on the whole. And the other time, more disturbingly, as evil alternate universe Brig, complete with eye-patch and facial scar, in Inferno. There, again, we at least got a bookended moustachioed Brigadier as well, to ensure that balance was maintained, and all was right with the world. But here it’s a no-moustache Brig all the way. And only no-moustache Brig. Is this a bad omen?
At first my crazy moustache-based conspiracy theory looked like it may actually hold some hairy shade of truth. The prologue with a pair of aliens was a serviceable enough set up, plot wise, but the alien voices themselves are rather over the top, especially the lead alien who sounds like Sylvester McCoy on helium. The alien voice work here isn’t merely a bit cheesy, it practically the vocal equivalent of an entire cheese platter, with extra cheese nibbles for afters. So not the best start. And then the ever-dependable Colin Baker shows up and…he sounds a bit odd, and at times rather un-Colin Baker like. This is quickly explained away as The Doctor having a cold, which coincidentally also neatly explains the seeming actor vocal lapses, but it does take a little getting used to. Especially in an audio format where, as I have said before, the voices are really our only anchor to the actors playing these characters. Thankfully, despite being a little under the weather, Colin Baker’s performance is still as good as ever, so it’s more a noticeable oddity rather than being in any way a real hindrance to the story or its overall enjoyment.
And enjoyable it very much is, despite the pantomime aliens, as it soon becomes clear that this is another Big Finish Doctor Who audio production that is just layered in quality. Nicholas Pegg has done a pretty sterling job at setting up an intriguing storyline here. And while some of the characters may be of the stock standard variety, they have all been cast quite nicely indeed, with performances that help to raise them above any such trappings. And the meeting between the Sixth Doctor and the Brig is really quite wonderful, though continuity fanatics will find a little something there to feed their fanboy outrage meter with. Namely the Brig mentions his wife to the Sixth Doctor, which the Seventh Doctor seemed to not know about when they met in the TV story Battlefield. Personally, I don’t much care about such minor and largely inconsequential inconsistencies. And if I did care I could easily draw a justification for the point in question. But I don’t. So I won’t. Because it really doesn’t matter.
The episode ends rather horrifically, but in a good way. However the cackling goblin is, again, a touch too far into the cheesy side of things for my taste.
“To do my will shall be the whole of the law.”
Episode 2: After the horrific events of the previous night, Evelyn shares her discoveries about the sordid history of Lanyon Moor with The Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Leaving her to rest, The Doctor makes another shocking discovery. The TARDIS is missing.
As everything nips along at an enjoyable pace, I’ll take a moment to talk about the Sixth Doctor’s latest companion, Evelyn. First up, she once again proves to be both a good foil for The Doctor, and an enjoyable character in her own right. However, there is one factor that I am less keen on, and that is that here she continues to work at softening the Sixth Doctor, personality wise. Something that I’m not overly keen on.
Now I get why all involved may want to smooth some of the rougher edges on the Sixth Doctor’s character, but personally, I love a bit of Sixth Doctor bombast and arrogance on occasion, and I would hate to see those character traits completely eliminated from Colin Baker’s Doctor, which here it feels like they are actively working toward doing. Yes, The Doctor’s companions temper his character and even actively make him better, but at the same time they shouldn’t completely change him, and I must admit to being a little uneasy that the latter may be starting to very much happen here. Whether those fears are in any way justified, well, I guess I’ll just have to see how future Sixth Doctor adventures unfold.
The story remains reliably on course, as we power into the third episode.
“It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard…”
Episode 3: While The Doctor and the Brigadier race against time to prevent impending disaster, Evelyn finds herself face-to-face with dangers of her own.
As we move through the third episode stretch, we finally hit a minor barrier. A very minor one, to be honest, but a barrier nonetheless. And once again it is the old accent beast rearing it’s aurally confused head. In this episode, you see, we have a character visiting Greece, which calls for a Greek tour guide to be featured. Problem is, the Greek tour guide sounds Italian. And not even particularly good Italian, more “Itsa me, Mario!” faux-Italian, if indeed Mario was the disembodied voice of a female museum tour guide rather than being a two dimensional male video game character. It’s not altogether convincing as being in any way Greek is my point here. And it really doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I’m running out of things to write about.
Which I guess brings us to the performances, and putting aside aliens and the rare dodgy accent, they are very strong, right across the board. As mentioned already both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are in typically fine form, and hearing Nicholas Courtney on Big Finish Doctor Who audio is a true joy to behold. And he hasn’t lost a beat, delivering superbly on every ounce that he has been given to work with here.
As to the rest of the guest cast, for me James Bolam was a real standout, as was Toby Longworth’s ever suffering Professor Morgan. However Toby Longworth also shares the dubious dual honour of being the worst performer as well, with his alien, Sancreda, being just a couple of steps too far over the top for my taste. It isn’t story ruining or anything, but it very much is a performance that just feels rather at odds with the style, tone and overall mood of the story being told, and as such is my one real mark against it. But then, I’ve never been much of an “I’m an alien therefore I must have a funny voice” type fan.
Moving into the final episode we get a couple of twists along the way that aren’t exactly surprising, but which, story wise, still feel justified and make sense, and it has all been rather good fun so far. But can it bring it all together for the final episode?
“I’m retired, I refuse to take any of the blame.”
Episode 4: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor has arisen. Can The Doctor, Evelyn, and the Brigadier put an end to his thirst for revenge? Or will the entire world suffer the vengeance so long denied him?
Turns out yes, it can. And basically we get a final episode that is every bit on par to the three that preceded it. We even get a small twist that I didn’t see coming, though perhaps I should have.
Our alien friend, Sancreda, has even slightly grown on me by this point. And it is hard not to get some measure of enjoyment out of what is very clearly a case of ‘little alien syndrome’. One can’t help but feel that perhaps if he wasn’t only three feet tall, and stuck with a frankly rather silly voice, that he might not be so angry all the time. About everything. Someone is clearly overcompensating. Poor little angry alien fucker.
It’s also great fun to hear the Brig going all action man and getting his own ‘hero moment’ during the final episode. And he delivers upon it with gusto, just as one might expect. Benton, car salesman extraordinaire, would be proud. Mike Yates, maybe not quite so much. But who cares what that pinko hippy traitor thinks anyway?
Now, I imagine that some may well seek to damn this particular outing by backhandedly labelling it as very much a traditional Doctor Who story. The inference often being that a story that is a little old fashioned in format and style automatically means that it is somehow bad. But, if anything, this release proves that traditionally styled Doctor Who stories can still work, and when done right, actually work quite well indeed, and that there is still room for such tales, particularly on audio. And to my mind this one has very much been done right, resulting in a very satisfying debut for the Brigadier in Big Finish Doctor Who audio. One that I personally found to be thoroughly entertaining.
Sure, when it all comes down to it, I have a couple of nitpicks. And I do think it is slightly let down by a cheesily voiced panto-sounding villain. But none of that ultimately undermines what is, for me, a really cracking romp. A strong script, with some fun characters and great lines, a suitable pace, and (mostly) strong performances have delivered another clear winner from the Big Finish Doctor Who range. And after the severely disappointing Red Dawn, this is exactly the kind of boost that I needed to remind me of just how enjoyable the range can be.
Next up: Peter Davison returns in Winter for the Adept