❉ “I don’t think I’ve heard an Alfie Shaw-penned Big Finish that I haven’t liked, and this might be the cream of the crop.”
As the much-delayed Echoes of Extinction finally makes its way into our download folders and onto our record shelves, it proves an effective coda to the Time Lord Victorious range of stories. Indeed it manages to outdo most of the stories it’s providing an epilogue for and, as with much of Big Finish’s output for the multimedia event, it stretches beyond the confines of the general quality of Time Lord Victorious.
The range is Big Finish’s first made-for-vinyl release, designed with the format in mind and with no CD option available. I’ve yet to hold the physical edition in my hands, but no doubt Lee Binding’s exquisite cover art will look particularly impressive blown up to the size of a record sleeve. The major element of this story that acknowledges the format choice is the structure of this story as two half hour parts, one per side. Meaning we get two episodes: one with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, and another with David Tennant as the Tenth incarnation of the Time Lord.
Although some of the marketing for the story, and the interviews accompanying the release, suggest that the episodes can be listened to in either order, I’m not sure I entirely agree. While it’s true that the second part (i.e. the Tenth Doctor’s half of the narrative) starts with the Doctor not remembering the events of the previous story, there’s still a pretty clear linear narrative if the Eighth Doctor episode is listened to first, and I don’t believe the same is the case the other way around. Big Finish have experimented with storytelling that can be listened to in different orders before (with Monthly Adventures range release Flip-Flop), and this isn’t that, but the episodes do function as different entities, with mostly separate guest casts.
The Eighth Doctor episode makes for a particularly strong mystery. With the fixed location and relatively small guest cast, there’s almost a literary crime classic feeling to this. However it’s more complicated than a simple murder mystery, with the fate of an entire planet being the object of the Doctor’s detective work. In the end, it really is impressive how the story succeeds in surprising us with the origins of all three of the guest characters, none of whom are quite what they seem. The morals in play prove to be rather complicated, and this suits this take on the Eighth Doctor’s character, who exists only shortly prior to the outbreak of the Time War. And indeed this episode also takes place before the vast majority of Time Lord Victorious from the Eighth Doctor’s perspective. For Big Finish listeners who are less familiar with the wider Time Lord Victorious arc, this might prove confusing given its release after the other Big Finish Eight Doctor Time Lord Victorious stories, but moments in the second part will make its position clear and hopefully alleviate any confusion.
There’s an impressive guest cast here bringing their vocal talents to both this and the second episode. Even for someone as interested in actors as me, it’s rare that Big Finish release something where I recognise every single name on the cast, but this was one of those cases. This is in large part due to Scott Handcock’s conscious casting of favourites (as he admits himself on the extras) resulting in a number of talented performers from televised Doctor Who and its spin-offs featuring. In the first part Big Finish Torchwood regular Paul Clayton and Doctor Who Love and Monsters star Kathryn Drysdale (also known for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and more recently Bridgerton) are accompanied by an almost unrecognisable Burn Gorman, whose voice appears to have been significantly modulated in order to give a sense of the non-human and almost intangible nature of the character he plays. It’s a slight spoiler to say that Burn Gorman’s ‘The Network’ is the only character to feature prominently in both parts of this story, and it was nice to hear him playing a character who is serious in a very different way to the sardonic Owen Harper who Burn portrayed in Torchwood.
In the second part of the story we are introduced to a spaceship crew comprised of partners Arthur Darvill and Inès de Clercq, alongside Sarah Jane Adventures star Mina Anwar. It’s fun to hear Mina play against type as the spaceship’s pilot, meanwhile Arthur’s performance as a crewmember slightly less capable than his fellows has tones of Rory Williams as he first appeared in series 5 of Doctor Who, but is distinct in its own way. Inès’ character Frye is in charge of the crew, and makes for a pragmatic and morally dubious leader. She’s the perfect force to butt heads with David Tennant’s self-righteous take on the Doctor, while still working with him for a good deal of the story. The setup for this episode and the spaceship crew’s reason for being there is a direct response to the ending of the previous episode (a large part of why I don’t think it makes sense to listen to them the other way around), and is a classic example of the Doctor dealing with the consequences of his past actions — in keeping with the themes of Time Lord Victorious — even if he isn’t aware of this at the start.
While the first part of the story features some references (‘call-forwards’?) to the second episode, with the Tenth Doctor’s voice being heard as if an echo and then featured as a tease at the end, they feel a little tacked-on and aren’t really acknowledged within the narrative. In contrast, the second episode has the Tenth Doctor hearing echoes or memories of his Eighth life’s voice and directly acknowledging them, as he starts to piece together how this connects to something he has previously experienced. A scene near the end, which is the closest the story comes to having the two incarnations interact, is a particularly dynamic character moment, as the Tenth Doctor reflects on what is coming for his past self. It’s regret mixed with envy for a more innocent time in his life, and it might be one of David Tennant’s standout performance moments during his Big Finish tenure so far.
Elsewhere in the episode, the legacy of Time Lord Victorious looms large over this half of the story. For the Doctor, this comes right at the end of the events that make up Time Lord Victorious and he reflects directly on what occurred in Una McCormack novel All Flesh is Grass, even name checking the Kotturuh. It’s an effective bit of closure for a novel that, while enjoyable, doesn’t quite stick the landing and leaves room for more emotional fallout, which this story picks up on well. It’s interesting to hear David Tennant perform reflecting on events that happened to the character in a different medium, and in stories the actor no doubt had very limited (if any) knowledge of, but he sells it regardless.
In many ways this story is one of the highlights of Time Lord Victorious, despite being more of a peripheral, and having emotional beats that wouldn’t function without the rest of the narrative’s existence. As a result it leaves me looking quite fondly at the range, despite my issues with it that developed over the course of the months it was released. I also think it functions perfectly well as a story for audiences who may not have consumed any other aspects of Time Lord Victorious, and if I was to recommend any aspect of Time Lord Victorious to go out of your way to read/listen to, etc. it would be this.
I don’t think I’ve heard an Alfie Shaw-penned Big Finish that I haven’t liked yet, and for me this might be the cream of the crop. He also does great work as producer of the Short Trips range, so it’s notable how — despite being full cast — the first episode in particular almost has the feel of a Short Trip: with it’s half-an-hour run time and limited scope and scale, concentrated on the lives and emotions of its characters. Given that Short Trips has often been one of the most consistent Big Finish ranges over the last few years, it’s gratifying to hear these sensibilities transferred over to full cast audios. The combination of a great script; two fan-favourite Doctors; a genuine all-star guest cast; and the use of limited edition split red/blue vinyl, combine to make a properly special-feeling release.
DOCTOR WHO: TIME LORD VICTORIOUS – ECHOES OF EXTINCTION:
Director: Scott Handcock
Producer: Alfie Shaw
Script Editor: John Dorney
Senior Producer: David Richardson
Written by: Alfie Shaw
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery
Duration: 60 minutes approx.
❉ ‘Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious – Echoes of Extinction’ is now available as a digital download (at £8.99) at www.bigfinish.com. The limited edition vinyl is already sold out.