❉Another good entry in Big Finish’s run of stories too broad and deep for the small screen.
A warning from a dying alien leads the Doctor and Bernice to Earth. However Earth in this time period is not a good place to be.
The murder rate is rising, but the killers seem to be acting without motive. The TARDIS crew’s investigations lead them to a military training planet, a prison inside a star, and a terrifying old foe.
And all the time they are being pursued – by two dogged Adjudicators who’ve stumbled onto a terrifying conspiracy. Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester.
Things will never be the same again.
It’s something of a shame that Big Finish Productions’ adaptation of Andy Lane’s 1990s ‘Doctor Who’ novel ‘Original Sin’ was released so close to their version of the novel ‘Cold Fusion’. A multi-Doctor story, especially one based on a book as beloved as ‘Cold Fusion’ was inevitably going to draw more attention (and truthfully is good enough to warrant it). At the same time, even if Original Sin doesn’t stand out to the same degree its fellow adaptation does, it’s still another good entry in Big Finish’s run of novel adaptations.
The larger triumph of these productions is that, despite each of their source novels being at least two decades old, they don’t feel like time capsules. This is particularly noteworthy for Original Sin, ably adapted by John Dorney, which is arguably the one most geared to the dedicated “wilderness years” fan. Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej are interesting characters, but they’ve never lived outside of 1990s novels the way Benny has, making them potentially more esoteric for listeners who weren’t immersed in that continuity.
Fortunately, casting remains one of Big Finish’s strengths, and they hit the mark with these characters when they adapted Russell T. Davies’ ‘New Adventures’ novel ‘Damaged Goods’ in 2015. Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver had both appeared in ‘Doctor Who’ on TV, fittingly in stories scripted by Davies, and fit these roles nicely. Original Sin, which is set much earlier than Damaged Goods, depicts how they first crossed paths with the Doctor and like many of the 1990s novels has the kind of scope we rarely got to see in ‘Doctor Who’ on television.
Not content with simple world-building, Original Sin pursues a major program of galaxy-building. This isn’t confined just to the Earth Empire and the appropriately dystopian environment in Earth’s Overcities – including the one that used to be London – but also the victims of its ambitions like the Hith and technological advancements like Icaron particles that place this novel squarely in the mainstream of science-fiction tradition. Certainly that literary underpinning is often subordinated to the story’s TV origins, but concepts like a ship that’s more at home in hyperspace than normal space-time are undeniably fascinating.
Like many of the best ‘Doctor Who’ stories, this one also works well as a character piece. Among the most memorable scenes are the conversations between the Doctor and Zebulon Pryce about moral codes and the propriety of taking life even when it seems necessary. Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of the Doctor has always been well-suited to this kind of philosophical debate (as is the audio medium in general), and Jot Davies as Pryce provides a good sparring partner. Andrew French as Beltempest also adds some pleasurable bite to the proceedings.
The most noteworthy supporting character, though, is the one given the suitably ambiguous credit of the “Robot”, played by Philip Voss. Those familiar with the novel will know that this is actually a returning enemy who’s ultimately revealed as the prime mover of the story’s events before being cleverly dispatched by the Doctor. Voss brings some of the same sinister quality to the role of [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] that he displayed playing the Lord of the Nazgul in the BBC’s 1981 radio adaptation of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, recalling the original actor who played the role without coming across as just an imitation.
Big Finish hasn’t made any announcements yet about further novel adaptations, but hopefully there will be more to come. While the passing of certain cast members would make certain stories problematic without major rewriting, there are still plenty that fans would like to hear. Whatever happens, these releases have been a genuine pleasure for fans, with both Cold Fusion and Original Sin ending the current run on a high note.
❉ ‘Doctor Who – The Novel Adaptations: Original Sin’ was released on 15 December 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until January 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.