We’ve met Winston Churchill before in Victory of The Daleks and since then we’ve seen him in The Wedding of River Song. The Doctor however, has met Winston Churchill a number of times, and we’re about to discover what the Time Lord and the former Prime Minister got up to in this new box set from Big Finish called The Churchill Years. Comprising of four stories, The Churchill Years is set throughout the life of the Prime Minister; the first release entitled The Oncoming Storm features the Ninth Doctor, but will it be a victory or will we have to just have to bugger on?
Late 1939. Britain faces the might of Germany. Winston Churchill serves as First Lord of the Admiralty. But Churchill soon finds himself facing a more immediate threat than the looming Nazi menace. A ‘Stone’ with the most mysterious properties is discovered in the Thames’ sands, and soon oddly spoken soldiers are creeping round London ruthlessly trying to acquire it. Who are they? Can Churchill and his new secretary Hetty Warner defeat them? And what about the man in the battered leather jacket that Hetty meets? Churchill feels sure they can rely on the Doctor to help them! Except that this Doctor seems to want to stay hidden in the shadows…
It’s releases like this and The Diary of River Song that make me overjoyed that Big Finish have the rights to New-Who. Whereas ‘The Diary of River Song’ was a somewhat obvious choice; The Churchill Years came as somewhat of a surprise, a spin-off series revolving around one of Britain’s most famous Prime Ministers and his encounters with the illustrious Time Lord.
The one thing that saddens me about the first release in this box set, The Oncoming Storm, is that this will most likely be as close as we get to a Ninth Doctor release from Big Finish any time soon. Whilst Ian McNeice’s impersonation of Christopher Eccleston is passable, it’s not quite convincing enough to be a substitute for the real thing. Luckily though, this impersonation is in fitting with the narrative style of this series, as it is formatted similarly to The Early Adventures where one of the central characters also narrates and provides some other voices.
The plot of The Oncoming Storm is very reminiscent of a Ninth Doctor story; there’s a very real threat in the RATS, but the fact that they’re like walking thesauruses adds some much needed humour to what could be an extremely dark tale, likewise there’s a strong female companion, this time there’s no sign of Rose Tyler, but luckily we’re given Churchill’s PA, Hetty Warner, who keeps her cool when faced with both a Time Lord and a small alien army.
When Winston discovers that the Doctor is around to help solve the threat, he instantly recognises the name and the fact that he is exactly the type of person to help out in this sort of situation; meaning that, even though this is the earliest point in Winston’s life that we hear about in this boxset, Winston and the Doctor already have history. I sense at least another boxset incoming.
One of my absolutely favourite parts of this story is the rousing speech that Winston gives the RATS when he appears cornered by them; Phil Mulryne’s writing encapsulates Churchill’s tenacity and patriotism, two of the qualities that make Winston Churchill a role model for so many.
This is the first story I’ve listened to by Phil Mulryne, and looking at his upcoming works, with stories in The War Doctor: Infernal Devices and Classic Doctors, New Monsters, I certainly look forward to hearing what else he can conjure up in his mind.
Toward the end of the story, the Ninth Doctor is very much in his element, a mix of the fury of a Time Lord who’s run away from the Time War, and a compassion that he seems to be rediscovering for the first time, as he both scolds and saves a certain character (I won’t tell you who for fear of spoiling the episode).
A lovely finishing touch is the fact that The Oncoming Storm both opens and closes with the Ninth Doctor’s opening theme, giving the impression that we really are listening to a brand new Ninth Doctor story; the only problem with this is that it makes me desperately eager for more Ninth Doctor adventures.
Before listening to this release, I read that Ian McNeice, the voice of Winston Churchill, the narrator and the voice of the Doctor, felt as if he had to study his previous performances, as well as the performance of Christopher Eccleston so he could work out how to tackle playing the parts; initially this slightly worried me, as I was concerned that McNeice’s portrayal of Churchill might not have been exactly the same as the Churchill we saw in the TV series, however I have to give full credit to McNeice for capturing Winston’s essence perfectly, and my apologies for ever doubting him.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for my review of the next story in the boxset, Hounded featuring the Tenth Doctor!
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Oncoming Storm, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase The Churchill Years, click here to be taken to the Big Finish website. The Churchill Years is currently on special offer until the end of the month, costing £20.00 for both the download and the physical copies.