Review: 1963 – Fanfare for the Common Men / Author: Eddie Robson / Publisher: Big Finish Productions / Starring: Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Mitch Benn, Andrew Knott, David Dobson, Ryan Sampson, Alison Thea-Skot, Jonty Stephens / Release Date: Out Now
As part of their commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Big Finish are releasing three stories each set in 1963. The first of these is 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men, written by Eddie Robson and featuring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.
With a title of sheer simplistic genius, Fanfare gives us a story that is both amusing and compelling. Imagine you had a time machine and decided to pop back to 1963. One of the things you might choose to do is look in on the greatest musical successes of all time, Liverpool’s finest, the Fab Three! Yes the Doctor and Nyssa are enjoying the music of Mark, James and Korky, aka the Common Men! But wait, the Doctor is insisting that some group called The Beatles have been replaced and he incurs the wrath of fans and manager alike as he tries to set time back on the correct track.
The Doctor has to travel across the 1960s touching base with the Common Men at key points in their career – meetings with a guru, the split-up, solo careers and more. Meanwhile Nyssa is exploring Hamburg in the early 1960s as the Common Men first come to public attention in the many clubs of the city.
Of course this is a tale of twisted timelines and alien intervention along with an exploration of fandom and an affectionate look at the trappings of pop culture. All the way through there are little nods to The Beatles, including characters named Sadie and Rita. The title of the band is taken from a line in the first ever Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, when Susan listens to a band called the Common Men on her transistor radio.
Overall this is a joy and it strikes great notes of originality, nostalgia and affection. The packaging recreates that famous photo of the Abbey Road zebra crossing and the CDs are printed as 45 rpm singles (for those who remember them). The performances of Mitch Benn and colleagues are spot-on as pastiche versions of The Beatles and there are even bonus music tracks from the band!