Doctor Who: The Sirens of Time (1999)
Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Audio Play #1
When Doctor Who finished on British television in 1989 fans of the show were distraught. The BBC had cancelled a British institution that had been running since 1963. The show, it is true, had its ups and its down, but one thing remained, the sheer excitement caused by its central character, a time traveller from the planet Gallifrey known only as The Doctor, and his encounters with a myriad display of aliens, monsters and megalomaniacs. Designed as a children’s programme with an education slant: historical episodes would teach children history and space stories science, the show quickly took over the public consciousness, especially over Christmas 1963 when the Doctor’s main nemesis was introduced: the fearsome Daleks. That it ran for twenty-six years is testament to its love from the British public. In 1996 the BBC and American TV tried to relaunch the show with a new Doctor but it failed, despite its popularity in Britain. In 2005 the BBC launched it again, with another new Doctor, and once again this character has enthralled the British public, with children again cowering at the sight of the Daleks, the Cybermen and even the Macra!
The sixteen years where Doctor Who was off British screens were not quiet ones for the character. Fans of the show had always been creating unofficial tales for the Doctor, with Nicholas Briggs being one of the foremost – with his friends he created audio tapes for the Doctor solely for his friends enjoyment, but which the BBC were aware of and chose to ignore, under the name Audio Visuals. When in 1998 Big Finish was inaugurated and gained licence to officially record new Doctor Who adventures with the actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy voicing the 5th, 6th, and 7th Doctors respectively, Nicolas Briggs wrote a story that combined all three to launch the range.
The Sirens of Time features three Doctors (not an uncommon occurrence). Later stories are single Doctor adventures, with a companion from the original TV series, voiced again by the original actor. While Gallifrey is threatened by a fleet of alien vessels with technology far superior to the Time Lord’s own, the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh incarnations of the Doctor are in trouble of their own. The Seventh Doctor is on an alien world where he saves a girl from drowning, but a hag tells him he and she will die. The Fifth Doctor is on a submarine which is about to fire on another vessel, whilst the Sixth Doctor is on a luxury space liner which is viewing something known as the Kurgon Wonder. This four part story devotes the first of its three parts to a single Doctor, and only in the last part do they all meet to help defeat the Knights of Velyshaa and stop the threat to Gallifrey.
This story suffers in the same manner that all stories involving multiple Doctors do: it becomes about the Doctor and not about the story. I found the first part very uninteresting, whilst the second was a marked improvement, with the confined location providing much tension and a story that was less about the Doctor and more about the events. The third part had an interesting hook, and the best introduction of all the Doctors, but suffers as all three parts do with an unresolved cliff hanger. The final part becomes a run-around, with the story not quite congealing in a satisfying manner.
If Sirens of Time is a weak debut for this new range of Doctor Who audio plays, there are a few things that do work well: the three Doctors all invest their roles with the same enthusiasm and wit that marked their TV work (Peter Davison in this range has even made me appreciate his Doctor all the more), and Sarah Mowatt in multiple roles is superb.
I am glad that Big Finish stuck with Doctor Who, and more that the fans continued to support it, for from this rather dull beginning a series of better stories were about to emerge. Big Finish productions are now in their tenth year of making audio plays about the Doctor, and their storytelling ability shines through. If you are a fan of Doctor Who these tales prove an excellent antidote to the absence of the character on our television screens, and though I would suggest skipping this particular tale, the Big Finish range is superb and well worth a listen.