❉ Carrie Thompson’s script strikes a good balance between the familiar and the unique.
“As the first multimedia Doctor McGann’s incarnation was not just an obvious choice to feature in Time Lord Victorious but also a creatively astute one. An event of this sort involving so many different products inevitably invites a certain degree of cynicism. Foregrounding one of the best character actors to play the Doctor telegraphs that, whatever marketing imperatives might be at work, there’s an artistic counterweight.”
One of the great ironies of modern science-fiction is that the genre’s most enduring brand was the product of an almost resolutely non-commercial entity. While Doctor Who’s potential in this regard was – outside of a few individuals in the BBC’s orbit – overlooked for much of the series’ history, the attention paid to its 21st century incarnation has embraced that status in earnest. From TV industry trade shows to retailers, the series transformed from footnote to focus, often transcending simple merchandising by emphasizing extensions of the ongoing narrative.
Doctor Who’s basic set-up gives it an advantage over its science-fiction brethren in the area of spin-offs by allowing characters from different eras of its onscreen history to interact directly in ways characters from something like Star Wars generally can’t. On television, this approach tends to be concentrated on celebratory episodes but has become increasing common in spin-off media. The latest and by most metrics largest example is the recently announced multimedia crossover event Time Lord Victorious, which features multiple incarnations of the Doctor as well as recurring friends and adversaries.
Though Time Lord Victorious features elements like escape-room events and collectible figurines, the majority of releases are story-oriented. After a handful of comic-strip titles such as Titan Comics’ miniseries Defender of the Daleks, Big Finish Productions’ range has entered the mix. Their first contribution, a Short Trips release spotlighting the Master, is followed by He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, the first in a trio of stories starring Paul McGann as the Doctor.
As the first multimedia Doctor – one whose exploits are almost entirely the province of spin-off – McGann’s incarnation was not just an obvious choice to feature in Time Lord Victorious but also a creatively astute one. An event of this sort involving so many different products inevitably invites a certain degree of cynicism. Foregrounding one of the best character actors to play the Doctor telegraphs that, whatever marketing imperatives might be at work, there’s an artistic counterweight.
Time Lord Victorious producer James Goss assured fans early on that the various releases were sufficiently standalone to be enjoyed independently without buying anything else. Measured against that benchmark, He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not is an enjoyable story on its own terms, even if the ending points to a mild fib on Goss’ part. While not groundbreaking, it effectively sets up both an immediate and a long range dilemma.
This approach plays to McGann’s strengths, especially his gift for expressing inquisitive bemusement. Not having a companion requires a brief expository monologue at the beginning, however, once the Doctor arrives on the planet Atharna, he becomes fully involved in the drama and all the questions that entails. Most of Big Finish’s recent releases with Paul McGann have tended toward the epic, such as last year’s team-up of multiple incarnations of the Master in Set 4 of Ravenous. In contrast, He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not is more of a chamber piece along similar lines as the stories in the Earth-bound set Stranded.
The combination of lovers on the run from an Ood bounty-hunter named Brian and a town reminiscent of the American “Old West” that the Doctor believes shouldn’t even exist doesn’t completely gel but nevertheless strikes a good balance between the familiar and the unique. While the devil is in the details – most obviously some dubious American accents from the local sheriff and the owner of the town’s cantina – small details point to the story’s virtues as well. From the sinister terms in which Brian discusses his translation sphere known as “Mr. Ball” to Samson, the cantina owner, describing a drink in the lavish detail common to craft-beer enthusiasts, writer Carrie Thompson gives the script texture beyond the ordinary.
Thompson is a relative newcomer to Big Finish’s roster of writers, and it’s encouraging to see that the subsequent releases in this trilogy are also by people whose names haven’t become thoroughly ubiquitous in the company’s credits. One of the keys to Doctor Who’s longevity is the ability of writers to put their own stamp on the series’ conventions. Reliance on a relatively small group of writers as the company’s Doctor Who output expanded has sometimes made their releases feel less dynamic. The last couple years seem to have redressed the balance somewhat across the range.
By the end of He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, the immediate dilemma has been resolved,, the larger one remains, and another is introduced which may or may not factor into that broader concern. The overall shape of Time Lord Victorious isn’t appreciably clearer at this point, but this initial release suggests that the path will be entertaining. If that isn’t necessarily the height of ambition for an event of this scale, it at least reflects a genuine fidelity to the brand.
❉ ‘Doctor Who – Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me He Kills Me Not’ is now available to own as a collector’s edition CD (at £10.99) or digital download (at £8.99), at www.bigfinish.com. This story is the first of a trilogy, and will be followed by The Enemy of my Enemy (due for release in November 2020), and Mutually Assured Destruction (due for release in December 2020).
❉ Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture, Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.