Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Doctor Who Unbound – Sympathy For the Devil (and 10% Off Big Finish Today)

Rush to Big Finish, makers of Doctor Who and other quality audio dramas! Today only, they’re doing 10% off everything, and some of it’s very good indeed. My personal top recommendation is Rob Shearman’s Jubilee, the best bit of Doctor Who in the show’s Fortieth Anniversary and a big influence on the 2005 TV series. Also from 2003, I’ve been listening again to Jonathan Clements’ brilliant Sympathy For the Devil, starring David Warner as a grumpy alternative Doctor, David Tennant, Nicholas Courtney and Sam Kisgart. Order it today, and don’t read anything about it first (here’s the trailer). Spoilers follow…
“Oh, very good, Doctor. Your powers of deduction are, as usual, adequate.”
This is a less in-depth review than usual, so you’ve got time to get an order in – but it’s well worth while. You can hear a remarkable number of voices from Doctor Who’s Twenty-first Century TV series in this story, from David Tennant himself to two people involved in this year’s Cold War. And where Jubilee inspired Dalek, something here may just have influenced Rise of the Cybermen… Back in 2003, Big Finish celebrated the series’ last big anniversary by casting six alternative Doctors for one-off dramas, asking What If…? What if, in this one, David Warner were the Third Doctor, exiled to Earth by the Time Lords but arriving nearly twenty years late? That means he was never UNIT’s Scientific Adviser, and a bitter old Brigadier (and Surrey) has had a terrible time of it. The Doctor makes things better – having no Doctor makes things worse. It’s the best of their Doctor Who Unbound series, and so much misanthropic fun that they were paired together for a splendid sequel, Masters of War, which adds another fine old actor to the brilliant team of David Warner and Nick Courtney (and makes it even more like The Scarifiers). And if you fancy more David Warner from Big Finish, they do some excellent Sapphire and Steel, too.

On a personal level, this story’s about both a Doctor and a Brigadier disenchanted by losing out on fuller lives rediscovering themselves. On a story level, it’s both love-letter to and critique of the Pertwee era, with an added local reflection of the Time Lords. UNIT had to get harder and nastier, and David Tennant’s Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood is a nasty hard bastard with a scene-stealingly sweary tongue, a tendency to make mistakes and a shocking contempt for our old friend Lethbridge-Stewart… And then there’s the other character who flies in for a skewed sequel to what is right now a uniquely little-known story of the period. And from now on, the spoilers get thicker and faster, so you might consider stopping reading now. Though most of the fun’s still to come…
“The proof is that the world isn’t overrun by bloody lizards!”
This time David Warner’s tangling with a different Cold War power. It’s Hong Kong; it’s 1997; and a sinister figure is prompting tensions between Britain and China on the eve of the Handover – General Ke Le of the People’s Liberation Army, escaping with the aid of, er, foreign stealth technology. It’s Beltane today, so which character have I been writing about, an embarrassing month after I last posted one of my Fifty Great Scenes entries? As this is another take on the Third Doctor, there’s only one person he could possibly be. He had previously defected to the East as Emil Keller, and brought his ability to turn criminals into mindless soldiers with him… Yes, it’s Sam Kisgart, in truth Mark Gatiss, as General Ke Le, in truth the Master. And rather a good giggling fiend he makes, too.

My favourite play on names, though, comes between the Doctor and the local Abbot in Chapter 10 of the CD (also available in download) – puns in Chinese dialects, and I stake a fiver all of them wittier than Mr Moffat is likely to deliver in a fortnight’s time.

One of the Pertwee era’s most stylish and exciting story is Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil, at present the sole TV story featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor yet to be released on DVD. It’s due out a month on Friday, though, and painstakingly recoloured after the BBC carelessly burnt the original tapes and left only black and white export copies. It’s striking for showing UNIT as an impressive, extensive – and expensive, the biggest-budget Doctor Who story to that time – military force, and for giving Roger Delgado a fabulously louche Bond-villain role as the Master, as well as showing his biggest fear. Sympathy For the Devil is a very different story to The Mind of Evil, but takes several elements and themes from it as its starting point, expanding the sole mind parasite of the earlier story into a threat to the world – as well as making the end of a chant almost as dangerous as it was in Logopolis (the Master, again). All making a drama that’s both sinister and sometimes very funny, especially if you can spot your Doctor Who (or Rolling Stones) in-jokes… There’s even a reference to a Satanically-titled New Adventure. Add in musing on the nature of evil and Twentieth-Century atrocities, and you have something rather special.

Both the drama and the distinctly dark humour come together brilliantly for a rather bleak ending, as both the Doctor and the Master find things spiralling out of control and we find even the Master has missed the Doctor – frustrated at having been stuck on Earth in his enemy’s place.
“Pol Pot killed every doctor he could find – and none of them was you!”
Give this one a go – for today, it’s less than a fiver. Give some of the others a go, too. And listen right to the end for a Doctor strangely more endearing than the one who’d just been on telly around the time the story’s set, and strangely both more and less competent than the other version of the Third Doctor.

Or you could just watch Wizard – it stars David Warner, it’s written by Big Finish’s finest Simon Guerrier, it’s short, it’s funny, and it’s not just 10% off but free. How can you say no?

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