AUDO REVIEW: AN ORDINARY LIFE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: MATT FITTON / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: PETER PURVES, JEAN MARSH, RAM JOHN HOLDER, DAMIAN LYNCH, SARA POWELL, STEPHEN CRITCHLOW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Matt Fitton gives us An Ordinary Life, the fourth in a short run of Big Finish/Doctor Who audios in their new Early Adventures range. These are stories featuring companions from (for this series) the First Doctor and set over two discs with a full cast. This story is set in 1950s London and stars Peter Purves as Stephen Taylor and Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom.
What do two people from the future do when they find themselves abandoned in 1950s London? This is the set-up Matt Fitton gives us and uses this simple idea to allow Steven and Sara to do more than run from Daleks or wander the universe in the Doctor’s company. The Doctor is taken completely off stage early in the story, leaving Steven and Sara to find accommodation, food, work, and survival.
For the entire first disc, the story focuses almost entirely on the fish out of water story putting the time-travellers alongside a family of Jamaican immigrants – Joseph Roberts (Holder – ‘Porkpie’ Grant in Desmond’s), young mother Audrey Newman (Powell) and her husband Michael (Lynch). This is very clever stuff – we the listeners see racial prejudice and poverty, Steven and Sara are oblivious to any implications of the Newman’s skin colour and focussed on making their way in this time. This includes Steven getting work on the docks with Michael and falling foul of local bully Billy Flint (Critchlow). Listeners spot Michael behaving strangely long before Steven or Sara; the second disc takes the story away from pure historical to science fiction as we learn about some Body Snatchers-style events all centred on the docks.
The final quarter of the story sees the return of the Doctor, who takes over and changes the tone of the storytelling and this whole piece feels less satisfying than the excellent beginnings of this adventure. Steven and Sara are almost marginalised, though Sara does get to help save the day.
This should not detract from the core story, which is strong and well realised – we can feel the chill of the winter snow, share the poverty of the Newman family, and rail against the injustice of the racial prejudice of the time. Fans might be reminded of Ace’s reaction of prejudice in Remembrance of the Daleks – An Ordinary Life is much more subtle writing.
The audio is up to the usual standards of excellence for both directing (Ken Bentley) and soundscape (Toby Hrycek-Robinson) and has plenty of atmosphere. It also has one of the best chip-eating scenes ever presented!
There is something endlessly compelling to Doctor Who fans of the potential of Sara Kingdom, who appeared in The Dalek Masterplan and died in the same story (though did survive nine episodes). Fitting this story into the continuity gives a real chance to explore the possibilities of a relationship with Steven and if for nothing else this story should be commended.
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