One of the more troublesome concepts that post-2005 Doctor Who has added to the ‘lore’ of the series is the notion that the TARDIS is a sentient life form that deliberately lands where help is needed, even if the Doctor and crew would rather go to Croydon or an ABBA concert or the Ipswich branch of ALDI. In common with The Doctor’s Wife, the episode that propagated this theory, it’s an awfully sentimental idea that doesn’t bare up to scrutiny when you consider how often the TARDIS does, in fact, go exactly where the Doctor wants it to. But plonk the concept into the Hartnell era and it fits like a glove. The TARDIS must have really detested the First Doctor.
The Age of Endurance, the latest in Big Finish’s new range of Early Adventures, plays this story hand well; landing the crew on a seemingly abandoned spaceship that reveals itself to be in the middle of a war zone just waiting for the Doctor to pop up and save the day. In his way stand the Shifts, a bunch of shape-changing, energy-sucking vampires that have kept humankind enslaved for millennia, the rotters. That’s until a cohort of humans stage a daring escape in a stolen science vessel, their evil captors in hot pursuit.
This play feels like authentic Hartnell; the scope is wide but the settings are limited, BBC studio-style, to a couple of spaceship bridges, some ‘compartments’ and few claustrophobic airlocks. The soundscape is eerily effective and the music has that malevolent, organic quality of the Radiophonic Workshop, back when the series credited its audience with the intelligence to absorb the drama without the need for constant, cheesy, low-rent orchestrations moronically hammering home every single emotional beat in a desperate ploy to keep you from switching over to The X Factor.
Director Ken Bentley keeps the tension high across the four parts of Nick Wallace’s story, mixing in a distinct flavour of The Wrath of Khan to the game of space-chess played out in a gas cloud by opposing vessels Vanguard and Endurance. Performances are also excellent, the standout being veteran actor William Russell’s effortless switching between narrator, Ian Chesterton and a spot-on reading of the Hartnell Doctor. Let’s hope he got paid triple rate.
If there are problems with The Age of Endurance, they are the problems of the early TV series – there’s a lot of running through corridors, the limited ‘sets’ feel repetitive, the main villain is a growling cypher, the Doctor spends an episode in the infirmary, and the morality messaging at the end feels rather quaint. But if you love this era of the show, this’ll do nicely.
DOCTOR WHO: THE AGE OF ENDURANCE / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / WRITER: NICK WALLACE / STARRING: CAROLE ANN FORD, WILLIAM RUSSELL, JEMMA POWELL, RACHEL ATKINS, JOHN VOCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW