Doctor Who

Starring: Paul McGann, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP 15.99
ISBN 1 84435 032 0
Available now

Both the Doctor and his TARDIS have been possessed by the anti-time force that calls itself Zagreus. Meanwhile Charley, like Alice in Wonderland, finds herself in a bizarre world in which the characters she encounters seem strangely familiar...

With Zagreus, Big Finish had something of a no-win situation on their hands. They were under pressure to produce something special for Doctor Who's 40th anniversary, but the all too obvious idea of a multi-Doctor meeting has already been done to death. So far we've had The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors and Dimensions in Time on TV; Cold Fusion, The Eight Doctors and Heart of TARDIS in prose; and The Sirens of Time and Project: Lazarus on audio. And that's not an exhaustive list!

The company's solution was to reunite as many Who regulars as were willing to participate but to cast most of them in unfamiliar roles. Hence we get Anneke (Polly) Wills as Charley's mother Lady Louisa Pollard, Maggie (Evelyn) Stables as a member of the Sisterhood of Karn, and Colin Baker as a vampire, among many others. The exceptions are Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, India Fisher as Charley, Lalla Ward as President Romana, John Leeson as K9 and Louise Jameson as Leela. Nicola Bryant and Bonnie Langford, who appeared with more than one of the featured Doctors on TV, play two roles each in this audio drama, one alongside each of their former co-stars.

While this approach is certainly novel, I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed that most of the actors were not playing the roles I wanted to hear them in. If I wanted to hear Peter Davison playing someone other than the Fifth Doctor, for example, I wouldn't be listening to a Doctor Who CD. I mean no disrespect to the performers themselves, who clearly relished the fun and the challenge of playing something different. Fortunately, there is also a kind of "meeting of minds", which satisfied the fanboy in me (I won't go into specifics, otherwise it might spoil the story for you).

One aspect of Zagreus that certainly does not disappoint is the sheer scale of the exercise. At 220 minutes duration, this adventure is equivalent to nine or ten television episodes. As with similarly lengthy stories, such as The Daleks' Master Plan or The War Games, the plot does tend to run on the spot at times - Charley experiences four different illusory worlds over the course of the tale - but whichever way you look at it, this is a whole lot of Who for your money.

As well as being an anniversary special, this story also resolves a cliffhanger that has kept us on tenterhooks for 18 months, which for me has been the hardest wait since the TV series' 1985-6 hiatus. However, it also opens up a new can of worms. Previous fictional media have made various accusations about the revered Time Lord Rassilon (portrayed here by Don Warrington), including the theory that he founded the Death Zone, that he plotted the death of Omega and that he was a vampire. But they were just rumours and legends, and nothing compared to the xenophobic streak he exhibits here. As a result, the universe is threatened by a vengeful new menace known as the Divergents.

I say "new", though this foe is notably similar to the Ferutu from Cold Fusion.

Nevertheless, Zagreus sets the Eighth Doctor on a dramatically different course for his next batch of audio adventures. With certain lines of dialogue suggesting that BBC Books' Eighth Doctor might not necessarily occupy the same universe as Big Finish's version, anything goes for McGann's incarnation in 2004...

Richard McGinlay

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