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It's what fans have been wondering ever since "An Adventure In Space And Time" aired back in 2013. Having brought together a group of performers to play the iconic first ever Doctor Who cast, many had been wondering if there might be some new adventures in store involving the original TARDIS crew. December 2017 offered a helping of just that thanks first to the 2017 Christmas special offering David Bradley the chance to play the First Doctor on screen alongside Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. Meanwhile over in the licensed audio dramas produced by Big Finish Productions, the entire group has been reunited and the results are just what the Doctor ordered.
The set is something that it seems Big Finish has been moving towards in a way for the last couple of years. With the loss of many actors from the early years of the series and others well into their seventies and older, the question of recasting has been one that has been around for some time now. Indeed, go to any forum where the company's Doctor Who output is discussed and you're likely to find a vigorous debate about it. With the casting of Tim Trealor as the Third Doctor to good reviews and the casting from "An Adventure In Space And Time", perhaps it was inevitable that this First Doctor set would one day occur. The question is not only if the casting could work but if the stories could capture the flavor of the era.
The latter of which is something that fans, with nearly twenty years of Who stories produced by the company to look at, should have no worries about. The First Doctor Adventures does a fine job of capturing the spirit and flavor of those heady early days of the series when little about the mysterious Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and their ship had yet to be determined. To do that, the two stories that make up the set also employ the formula from this era of having a science fiction story followed by a "pure historical" story in which the only science fiction element is the time travel involved in getting them there.
The opening story, Matt Fitton's The Destination Wars, is the science fiction entry into the set. Opening in a utopian city in the “space year 2003”, the story finds the TARDIS crew is a city that seems straight out of the Disneyland Tomorrowland of the 1950s. A city who owes much to the legendary and mysterious figure known as The Inventor. All utopias have a dark underbelly and this one is no exception as The Inventor's true identity is revealed, time travel comes into play, and the wars of the title leave a changed landscape and people alike. Fitton's playing around with time is in keeping with this era's few sojourns into serious time travel storytelling such as "The Ark" while elsewhere the story presents enough action and intrigue to keep it going. The story is also given a major boost by James Dreyfus' wonderfully sinister performance as the Inventor with his links to a particular villain from the show's history. This opening salvo hits all the right notes and gets the set off to a fine start.
The second story, the “pure historical”, is Guy Adams' The Great White Hurricane. Set in New York City during the Great Blizzard of 1888, the story finds the TARDIS crew caught up in gang rivalry and personal dilemmas rather than time travel and alien invasions. It's a story that also fits right into this era beautifully with everyone getting separated from one another and from the ship, trying to find each other and survive the freezing weather long enough to make it out alive. What could potentially be a dull story is far from such thanks to Adams who plays up the dramas everyone is involved in from the Doctor and Susan getting caught up with members of rival gangs to Ian and Barbara trying to help an injured mother (played by Carolina Valdes) find her son. The production is further aided by some fine American accents, something which can often be a detriment to UK productions for an international audience as Big Finish has learned in the past (for example: hear the southern accents from 2001's "Minuet In Hell"). Thankfully, The Great White Hurricane works and tells a compelling story all the way through.
Much of the attention for this set will be focused on the recast TARDIS crew and if they not only look the part but sound it too. Perhaps taking a note from Tim Trealor's Third Doctor that it is just as important to capture the spirit and ethos of the characters as much as actually sounding like them, that is precisely what they do here. Bradley doesn't sound exactly like William Hartnell but he gets much right in his performance that sells him as much on audio as the First Doctor as he did visually in 2013 and this past Christmas. Jemma Powell, who has already been playing companion Barbara Wright for the company, gets to build on her work here and comes to the fore in the second story where the history teacher's knowledge and morality come into play. Jamie Glover's Ian Chesterton doesn't sound at all like William Russell did in the 1960s but he creates his own version of the character, playing the most physically active member of the team who gets in and out of scrapes figuratively and literally. Last but not least is Claudia Grant as Susan, a character underutilized on TV back in the 1960s but who here finds new life and plenty to contribute, especially shining in the first story when given the chance to play off Deli Segal's Reena and Bradley's Doctor. If you're looking for someone to sound precisely like the original cast you'll likely be disappointed but each and every one of them does an excellent job capturing the characters and putting a bit of their own spin on them.
Indeed, that summary also applies to the entire set. From the performances to the stories themselves, The First Doctor Adventures Volume 01 harks back to the earliest days of what has become the world's longest-running science fiction series. For those craving more of Bradley's First Doctor or wanting new tales with a nostalgic twist, this set is perfect. So give it a listen and prepare to join the rest of us in eagerly awaiting the second set due out in July.