The First Doctor is back, and this time, it’s different! Big Finish released the first of two planned box sets immediately after the broadcast of Twice Upon A Time that feature David Bradley’s portrayal of the First Doctor, alongside the cast from An Adventure In Space And Time. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story from this box set, The Destination Wars by Matt Fitton.
The TARDIS arrives in a gleaming utopia in the Space Year 2003. Has the Doctor truly brought Ian and Barbara home, to glimpse their future?
The world owes much to its legendary Inventor, and Susan finds herself face to face with the great benefactor. But soon, the time travellers are in a world at war and the Doctor must confront his past.
You may have already noticed that things are slightly different, and that’s because Big Finish is doing things a little bit differently. In keeping with the First Doctor’s era, each episode of these stories have their own title, and their own heading, so you know what happens when. So, without any further ado, let’s get started, shall we?
Journey to the Future
First of all, let’s start at the beginning. The music is phenomenal, and I’m only 28 seconds in. Talk about setting the tone for the era. It’s so reminiscent of early Doctor Who, and Howard Carter has done a stellar job at whisking us back to 1963. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan appear to be still on Earth; during a time with hover cars and skyscrapers. In 2003.
Something that I really enjoy about this story so far, is that it feels as if it was actually written in the early 1960’s, instead of just featuring the characters from the time period. Personally, I think that you can tell that most of the Big Finish stories set in the 60’s aren’t written in keeping with the times; there’s a lot more of a “New-Who” feel to them in the way the dialogue is written, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here, whether intentional or not.
During the first half of this episode, there’s a lot of talk of this great man known as ‘the Inventor’, who seems to come and go somewhat sporadically to impart great gifts. Who’s betting that there’s more to this inventor than meets the eye?
I’m surprised how quickly the revelation of exactly how there are hover cars in the Space Year 2003, when, as we all know, there weren’t hover cars in 2003. I personally thought that it wouldn’t be until the latter end of one of the episodes in the story that this revelation came about, as I thought it could have had some more emotional wallop; but learning the truth so quickly was rather refreshing, if I’m being honest.
It’s not until the last minute that Ian and Susan get to meet the Inventor, and Susan instantly knows who he really is. The Inventor isn’t exactly who he claimed to be; he’s the Master. And he’s offered Ian safe passage home; back to Earth in 1963…
The Father of Invention
Right from the off, we get an insight at the Master’s hypnotic abilities, both on Susan and on Ian. James Dreyfus’ performance as the Master is great; he never lifts his voice, and the calm, soothing tone really gives the feeling of total power and dominance. A warrior would shout and attack, but a leader would be calm, cool, and collected.
Susan quickly get’s under the Master’s influence, and it’s very reminiscent of every single time Sarah Jane got hypnotised or had her mind controlled; but it’s not too long before Susan is able to snap out of it.
There’s a great conversation between Ian and the Master, where the Master likens the relationship of the Doctor with Ian and Barbara to that of people suffering with Stockholm Syndrome. (Which is when people who have been kidnapped or kept against their will can fall in love or grow emotionally attached to their capturers.) I think it’s a really interesting take on the whole Doctor-companion dynamic that we’ve grown accustomed to. When you think about it, the Doctor does keep Ian and Barbara against their will initially, and puts them in all sorts of danger; yet they still mellow towards him. Strange to think that the Master might have a point.
Once the Doctor finally realises that there’s more than meets the eye to the Inventor for himself, David Bradley manages to shift his tone from one of authority to one that is shaken to his core. It really goes to show how amazing Bradley is as both an actor and as the Doctor.
The verbal sparring between the Doctor and the Master is a great way to end this episode too, with the Doctor giving an incredibly true character description of his former friend.
The Destination Wars
We quickly learn exactly why the Master is helping the people, and what his role is in the titular Destination Wars. There’s a great bit of timey-wimeyness too. I know that it’s only recently that we’ve been getting more timey-wimey stories, but it’s explained simply enough that it shouldn’t alienate the listeners whatsoever. It’s kind of like World Enough And Time, but a little bit different.
There are plans for all out atomic war; and it’s great that the story seems to be borrowing plot elements from time period the story takes place, in the 1960’s. The Cold War was at it’s peak in the early half of the decade, and it wouldn’t be unlikely for both Ian and Barbara to be concerned about the threat of nuclear attacks.
Considering how the First Doctor was portrayed in Twice Upon A Time, it’s really heartwarming to hear the Doctor deciding to come to a deal with the Master in order to save Susan, Ian and Barbara. These more compassionate sides of the First Doctor were used sparsely during this era; but when it does happen, it really does have weight to it. The idea that the Doctor would essentially shake hands with the devil to keep his friends safe is truly how the Doctor should always be portrayed.
The plot thread that focusses on the war itself is extremely reminiscent of Silurian stories; where the indigenous species have been forced underground once humanity arrives. I personally enjoy having this parallel in the story; but I feel like it could have been developed a bit more. Maybe have this be the main plot thread during the first two episodes, with the Doctor wanting to keep the peace, and then have the Inventor’s true identity be revealed at the end of the second episode; changing things entirely.
Personally, I think that the cliffhanger of this episode is the strongest of the three, with the Doctor and Susan stranded without a TARDIS; and Ian and Barbara are at the mercy of the Master. (Good title for a story there, “Mercy of The Master”.)
Prisoners of Time
I think that, maybe due to the fact that the last Big Finish story I listened to before this was the War Master box set, I have the Master on my mind at the moment; and the similarities between Dreyfus and Jacobi’s Masters are second to none. I really love the little idiosyncrasies that carry through each incarnation of the Master; and this First Master and War Master are no different.
What’s interesting is that the A-Plot is seemingly resolved halfway through this episode; leaving 15 minutes for the B-Plot to be tidied up. The war is, unsurprisingly, deescalated thanks to the Doctor and Barbara and talking. It’s reminds me a lot of Cold Blood if I’m being honest.
Susan’s compassion for the people of Destination juxtaposed with the Doctor’s desire to leave as soon as possible and get back to his TARDIS. Speaking of which, Ian and Barbara manage to overpower the Master and essentially do a Rory Williams and pop him in a cupboard.
Personally, I felt as if the wrapping up of the B-Plot, even though there were fifteen minutes left, felt rushed as well. It’s really surprised me. Mainly because it was wrapped up in three minutes; leaving another six minutes for one last hurrah for the Master, it would seem. Although the Doctor manages to thwart his plan in record time.
What’s really interesting is how the Master reacts; you can tell that this Master is younger, because he acts like a petulant child having a tantrum. It’s not subtle at all, but it does remind you that this is a story of the Doctor and the Master whilst they were both relatively young. Neither are perfect at what they’re known for doing yet.
Overall, The Destination Wars is a fun First Doctor story that could be considered the true introduction to the Master. The stand out performances have to be given to David Bradley and James Dreyfus, and with news that Dreyfus’ First Master will be in upcoming Big Finish releases, I can’t wait to hear him again. The story wasn’t perfect; but then again, I don’t think I would ever claim that any of the First Doctor stories were. Matt Fitton’s script is definitely enjoyable though, and if you want to hear the First Doctor written correctly, and performed brilliantly, then I would recommend this without a shadow of a doubt.
Should you want to purchase The First Doctor Adventures: Volume 1, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on digital download, and £23 for the CD box set.