September 2013 gave us the first of the main range 50th anniversary stories themed around 1963 (see The 1963 Trilogy) – Eddie Robson’s Fanfare for the Common Men featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. The story was produced by Barnaby Edwards. After the disappointing end to the Arrowsmith / Klein trilogy (reviewed here) it was fingers crossed that September’s second release would redress the balance.
Were there fanfares all round or was it more of a B side? Read on…
The synopsis from the Big Finish product page sets out the plot nicely:
If you remember the Sixties, they say, then you can’t have been there.
The Doctor remembers the Sixties. That’s why he’s taking Nyssa on a trip back to November 1963. Back to where it all began. Back to the birth of the biggest band in the history of British music. Back to see those cheeky lads from Liverpool…
Mark, James and Korky. The Common Men. The boys who made the Sixties swing with songs like Oh, Won’t You Please Love Me?, Just Count To Three and Who Is That Man.
The Doctor remembers the Sixties. And there’s something very wrong with the Sixties, if the Beatles no longer exist…
The story starts with the Doctor and Nyssa at an airport at which the Beatles are due to arrive, instead the Common Men disembark and we realise that we are in a parallel version of history. The Doctor travels across the ten-year career of the Common Men leaving Nyssa trapped in Hamburg in the early 1960s on the trail of a rogue time-traveller with an attitude problem.
As we encounter gurus, fans, managers and concerts the story eerily echoes the path of true history as a sinister plot involving aliens is revealed. The Common Men are in fact aliens with memory loss here on Earth to soak up the adoration of their fans and become all-powerful. The Doctor is overwhelmed by forces from the deep future until he finds a way to turn the myth of the Common Men against them.
Mitch Benn, Andrew Knott and David Dobson play Mark, James and Korky with just enough tongue-in-cheek Scouse banter that we know who they are meant to be but it doesn’t get in the way of story telling. Alison Thea-Skit plays Rita / Sadie in a lovely echo of two Beatles tracks (Lovely Rita, Meter Maid and Sexy Sadie) who are the yin and yang of the forces of fandom. The story is littered with references to Beatles songs and I am sure I missed plenty of them.
Underneath the amusing tale is a deeply serious story of alien invasion that paints a sinister version of history and we get a sense of the good and the bad side of fan worship. Nyssa is sent off to the early days of the Common Men which allows her to have a mini-plot away from the Doctor. The Common Men themselves are, as any fan knows, a reference to the band Susan is listening to in An Unearthly Child.
Barnaby Edwards directs this spot on – he doesn’t dwell over long on the Beatles moments and does give us plenty of moments where we get a sense of the people behind the image.
There is also plenty of music in the style of the time and the characters do some singing with the music available as an extended medley as the CD Extras.
Everyone clearly enjoyed creating this and it is a joy. The anniversary has begun!