From Romana and K9 avian-hunting through hitherto unexplored areas of the TARDIS, to the revelations about Cuthbert’s Conglomerate that pave the way for next month’s Casualties of Time, this is a rum release and no mistake.
Douglas Adams had a penchant, never more so than in the season of Doctor Who he script-edited in 1979, for apparently meandering satire on bureaucracy and capitalism that masked the genuine bite his scripts generally incorporated. Ostensibly comedic sci-fi like Nightmare of Eden and of course The Pirate Planet would always have something much more fundamental to say about life on 20th century Earth – and Nicholas Briggs’ two-part (in the sense that Steven Moffat writes two-parters) finale to the fifth series of audio Fourth Doctor Adventures promises to follow this approach to the letter.
The Pursuit of History, a title with a double meaning if ever there was one, concerns the return of a number of characters and elements from Big Finish’s second series of Tom Baker stories, notably David Warner in the guise of the aforementioned Cuthbert. Having previously been a partly unexplained presence, Briggs was always intending to bring the character back and finally the arrival of Lalla Ward in the audio universe has given him the wherewithal to do so, the original Conglomerate story arc having featured the sadly departed Mary Tamm.
The story itself is a curious concoction, albeit one with quite a pedigree. Joining Warner and the regulars are David Troughton as the teasingly named Mr Edge, John Dorney and Lisa Bowerman in a number of smaller roles, and the returning Toby Hadoke as a much-evolved Mr Dorrick. To dwell on how these characters slot together would be to spoil the sense of a net tightening that the story engenders, suffice it to say it’s an ambitious amalgamation of space opera, time paradox, personal drama, historical chicanery and high concept science fiction, one that in spite of a certain excessiveness of production, is never confusing for the listener. The slight-seeming plot is actually deceptively complex, and there’s tremendous fun to be had hearing the initially bewildering strands coming together.
Fans of the repartee between the Season 17 regulars will have to wait till next time for more of the same, as Briggs deliberately and quite brazenly tears them apart from the off, deriving much of his tension from the Doctor’s quest to rescue Romana, a mission that mirrors her own objective once she is made aware of the terrible truth about what powers the Conglomerate’s Time Engines.
The cast are having a party ahead of next month’s climactic intrigues, and The Pursuit of History is a rollercoaster of an appetite whetting experience. About as bonkers as Big Finish comes.
DOCTOR WHO: THE FOURTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES - THE PURSUIT OF HISTORY / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / AUTHOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, JOHN LEESON, DAVID WARNER, DAVID TROUGHTON, TOBY HADOKE, JOHN DORNEY, LISA BOWERMAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW FROM BIG FINISH, ON GENERAL SALE FROM SEPTEMBER 1ST