Big Finish have adapted two of the earliest comic strip stories for audio and the results are quite fantastic.
Before the plethora of novels and audio plays to indulge one’s love of all things Doctor Who there was Doctor Who Weekly (later to become Doctor Who Magazine, still published to this day!). Part of that magazine’s hook was a comic strip featuring new and exciting adventures with the (then) current Doctor portrayed by Tom Baker. Often featuring visuals that far exceeded what could be achieved on the budget of a weekly BBC television drama, they captivated audiences for many years.
Now Big Finish have adapted two of the earliest stories for audio and the results are quite fantastic, sounding very different from the regular stories (Baker himself refers to the scripts as having a “different vibe”). Much more comedic and with a louder and more prominent sound mix than the regular releases, they have attempted to recreate the feel of a comic strip in audio form.
The Iron Legion sees the Doctor travel to the English village of Stockbridge where a legion of metallic Romans threaten to wreak havoc on our own world – having come from a timeline in which the Roman Empire never died and where they are now manipulated by an alien in disguise.
The Star Beast sees Yorkshire play host to a cute alien called The Meep who is on the run from intergalactic agents known as the Wrarth Warriors. Both stories were originally written by Pat Mills and John Wagner and have been adapted by Alan Barnes.
Tom Baker is in stellar form and is given much freedom by director Nicholas Briggs to enjoy himself. There is even a sly reference to current TV Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, and her penchant for Sheffield steel. The supporting cast are excellent and these include Rhianne Starbuck (Sharon), Brian Protheroe (General Ironicus Milkman), Luke Franks (Adolphus Caesar), Esther Hall (Viv/Commentator), Ben Hunter (Fudge/UNIT Corporal), Bethan Dixon Bate (The Meep/Wrarth Surgeon), and Sian Reeves (Mrs Higgins). There are some heavy local accents in the second story so careful listening may be required in order to understand every word being spoken.
Briggs directs with his usual flair for the dramatic and builds the tension well, but the scripts simply do not have enough story to take them through the multiple episodes (despite numerous add-ons by Barnes from the original story). Alistair Lock’s music and sound design help make these stories more exciting and fun. A bonus disc of interviews is also included with this set.
There is much to enjoy with this new release and doubtless many older fans will enjoy hearing the stories they once read but the set struggles with momentum a lot of the time and some may find it just a bit too long.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: March 2019
RRP: $43 CD, $20 Digital Download