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 second release entitled Hounded features the Tenth Doctor, but will it be a victory or will we have to just have to bugger on?
In the dark days of 1941, Britain is in the midst of war. Churchill must stand strong against the might of the enemy – but he is plagued by a darkness in his own psyche. Something he calls ‘the Black Dog’.
Can a visiting Swami hold the answer to his troubles? And can Hetty Warner prevent the Prime Minister’s adversaries from taking advantage of the situation?
Across London, the Tenth Doctor’s arrival may be the nation’s only hope – but the Time Lord’s plan to help his friend is endangered when he finds himself declared a traitor by the agents of the country he has come to protect…
It’s great to hear a story of Winston Churchill battling with self-doubt, paranoia and even depression. If the previous story, The Oncoming Storm was a tale based on the more science fiction element of modern Doctor Who; Hounded is a much more tragic and human story; showcasing that even the people we place on a pedestal over the course of history, such as Churchill, have their own problems, and that even if someone appears to be an untouchable figure to us mere mortals, illnesses such as depression can still haunt them.
In Hounded, we’re reunited with Hetty Warner, who has actively attempted to seek the Doctor, hoping that a man so brilliant as the short-haired northern fellow that saved the day in The Oncoming Storm will once again arrive in time to aid her in helping Winston with what he calls ‘the Black Dog’. Even though we’ve witnessed reactions from people who have met different incarnations of the Doctor, Hetty’s disapproval is still amusing to listen to. There aren’t many young women who wouldn’t swoon even slightly at the sight of the Tenth Doctor offering to lend a hand (Yes, that’s a joke about the events of The Christmas Invasion, deal with it.)
As someone who has had experience with trying to help someone with mental illness and depression, I can thoroughly relate with Hetty’s actions and concerns. The portrayal of Churchill too, is something that I can also relate to, a normally mild mannered man being extremely irrational and irritable at the mere mention of someone trying to help them by bringing in a third party. The writer of Hounded, Alan Barnes, has dealt with the whole topic of mental illness and depression extremely well, whilst not sugar coating the issue at all.
Hetty and the Doctor spend the majority of the story together; serving as the classic Doctor and companion in the tale. I really admire Hetty as a character, played wonderfully by Emily Atack; a woman who is very much of her time but quite liberal and accepting of the obscure and the inhuman. The idea of the TARDIS or time travel doesn’t seem to faze her one iota, but then again, she’s probably read Winston’s diaries about his many other adventures with the Time Lord. It’d be great if Hetty became a more frequent figure in the Big Finish universe, as I think it would be interesting to discover what she’s like away from the war and away from work.
This story slowly becomes more timey-wimey than I anticipated, albeit on a much smaller scale than we’re probably used to in the latest few series’. I won’t ruin any specifics regarding what happens, but what I will say is that it is rather simple but very satisfying.
One of my favourite pieces of editing of the past year in Big Finish is also present in this release; the idea of using the echoes as a device for the listener to go back in time with Winston Churchill within his memories is really effective; it’s a rather special sensory experience, especially as I listened to this story in some new headphones. I don’t normally give the sound designers a special mention in these reviews; but in this you’ve outdone yourself.
The surprise twist that happens at around the halfway mark of the story isn’t totally unexpected to those of us who are used to Big Finish surprises, but it’s still entertaining. Around the same time it’s great to hear that the TARDIS isn’t as reliable as it should be; getting the Doctor and Hetty stuck in a rather cramped space.
Personally, I think the meat of the story happens in the latter half; when the Doctor and Hetty are reunited with the Prime Minister and they try and uncover the mystery of the Black Dog whilst dashing around London. The Swami also becomes a much more significant role than I initially anticipated, and holds a dark secret that I admit I didn’t see coming. The revelation reminded me of events that happened both in Tooth and Claw and Silence In The Library and Forest of The Dead; some of the best Tenth Doctor adventures in my opinion.
The fact that the story is set during the height of World War II isn’t really used to the advantage of the narrative until about 40 minutes in; when there’s an air raid taking place, adding tension and a sense of the Doctor, Winston, Hetty and the Swami being against the clock.
Overall, I really like the different threads that Alan Barnes has put in this story; a mixture of the deeply personal and the bizarre, the science fact and the science fiction. The story fits in exceptionally well in the Tenth Doctor’s era, not feeling out of place in the slightest. The one thing that intrigued me though it where in the Tenth Doctor’s life this story takes place. The opening and closing theme appears to use the Series 4 and specials theme, being rockier than the ones that preceded it. My guess is that it takes place between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, but that’s just my theory.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for my review of the next story in the boxset, Living History featuring Kazan Sardick from A Christmas Carol!
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For Hounded, I will give a rating of:
It’s rare that I’m able to give a release a perfect score, but there’s something about how small and personal this story can be, using themes of depression and vulnerability that made this story so compelling to me.
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.