The Lost Stories are a bit of a mixed bag. Given their genesis this is hardly surprising though it does set a challenge to the reviewer. One could review then as they were made at the time originally intended, review with modern eyes or consider them as wholly new pieces of work. In this article I will do all three as the need arises. These stories all feature the Sixth Doctor and Peri and comprise the series that would have been the1985-86 series 23. BTW I don’t keep that information in my head – there is a useful reference on wikipedia (List of unmade Doctor Who serials and films).
Warning – this is a longer than usual post: draw up a chair and make sure you’re well stocked with jelly babies…
First up The Nightmare Fare originally by Graham Williams and adapted by John Ainsworth.
The TARDIS has been drawn to Blackpool in the year 1985, where the Doctor intends to investigate a dangerous space/time vortex… while enjoying some local attractions along the way. But an old enemy is watching from his base deep within the amusement park, a timeless being who craves revenge.The Celestial Toymaker has returned. The game is on. And, should he lose, the Doctor will pay the ultimate forfeit…
This is story with strengths and weaknesses: great production and performances, nice in-joke about Kevin and Peri (a British reference I’m afraid – see Kevin and Perry Go Large). I liked Blackpool and though I didn’t watch much of the show at this time it felt authentic. It also felt different from the Main Range (which is probably the point). It isn’t bad but a couple of months from listening to it little sticks out. A great setting and I love fun fairs and ghost rides and as a season opener it’s ok. Could more have been done with the Toymaker? Yes and Big Finish has done that in other stories such as Solitaire and Magic Mousetrap.
Philip Martin is up next with Mission to Magnus:
The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There’s the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor’s life hell during his time at the Academy. There’s also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors.Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on the planet Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And, deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor’s. And the future is looking decidedly colder…
I thought this was one of the weakest things Big Finish has ever produced wasting both Sil and the Ice Warriors. As the extras make clear the sexism and some of the characterisations were left in for authenticity. I may not be an actor but I watched some TV in the early 1980s and this plot is a throwback to the worst of the Carry On / 1970s. I can find no redeeming features and the science in the plot is risible. [note 2020 — I’m just going through tidying some old posts. Is this really one of the worst ever Big Finish stories? It’s not a long list and I do remember being very unimpressed. See also Hollows of Time below.]
Father and son Brian and Paul Finch provided Leviathan:
No one lives to old age in the village. When their Time is come, they are taken and never seen again. That is The Way. And, should anyone try to break with the established order of things, then the fury of Herne the Hunter is unleashed…When the TARDIS materializes near a castle in this mediaeval society, the Doctor and Peri befriend Gurth, a terrified youth who is attempting to flee his fate. And Herne is closing in…Why does the local baron impose the culling? What is the secret of Zeron? And who are the Sentinels of the New Dawn?The answers lie within a cave…
Not that it matters but this was the first Lost Story I heard and it is a strong one. It takes at its heart the plot of a generation ship; this is a gigantic spaceship in which people are born and die as it slowly makes its way out into space to colonise a planet. The inhabitants have no idea of the truth and this allows for a great reveal part way through the story. There are some elements invented to make the story more interesting and this feels a lot like a story that could have been written for the main range – that may have been from how it was adapted but that is beside the point. This is a classy and classic piece of science fiction.
Christopher H Bidmead digs out his script for The Hollows of Time:
The Doctor and Peri have been on holiday, visiting old friend Reverend Foxwell in the sleepy English village of Hollowdean. But why are their memories so hazy?Piecing together events they recall a mysterious chauffeur, who is not what he seems, and Foxwell’s experiments that could alter the nature of reality. Huge sand creatures have been sighted on the dunes, and many of the locals are devoted to a leader known as ‘Professor Stream’.But who is Stream? And what lies within the Hollows of Time?The Doctor will discover that not every question has a definitive answer…
Worse than Mission to Magnus this is a what can happen when an author is allowed unfettered scope to write what they want. In the days of TV this couldn’t have been made and I like to think it wouldn’t have either. It starts with promise — lost memories, links to Bletchley and a Professor Stream who we know is the Master but isn’t revealed as such due to license problems. The story unfolds randomly and the memory problems hides any number of plot problems.
By disc two the story drifts between surreal and psychedelic with a morphing TARDIS, robots, artificial intelligence and more science buzzword bingo than you can imagine.
Time for a holiday on Paradise 5 in PJ Hammond’s (who created Sapphire and Steel and wrote for Torchwood) story adapted by Andy Lane:
The Doctor and Peri visit the planet Targos Delta to check in on old friend Professor Albrecht Thompson, only to discover that he has vanished. He was last sighted taking a shuttle to the holiday resort of Paradise 5, then never seen again. The Doctor’s curiosity is piqued. They must investigate, but they must do so stealthily… Peri will go undercover on Paradise 5, while the Doctor hides in the shadows. Because paradise holds a terrible secret beneath the white marble and golden trimmings. The mute Cherubs have a story to tell. And the Elohim are coming.
What starts off as an innocuous tale of Peri undercover investigating a space hotel grows scene by scene into a cracking adventure that even when it is predictable still entertains. This is easily a tale that could fit the main range with both Peri and the Doctor very strong apart, a difficult resolution and a lot of ambiguity.
A visit to the sixteenth century in Point of Entry by Barbara Clegg and adapted by Marc Platt:
The 16th Century. Playwright Kit Marlowe is attempting to write Doctor Faustus when a darkness descends on his life, in the cadaverous form of a Spaniard called Velez. The monstrosity is in search of a stone blade that was brought from South America… After a near-disastrous collision with an asteroid in space, the TARDIS makes an emergency landing in Elizabethan England. These two events are connected. The Omnim are ready. And the point of entry approaches…
And now we have one of the best things Big Finish has ever produced.How much is due to Mark Platt’s familiarity with Big Finish I do not know but this is an incredible production. The setting of Elizabethan England, dark Spanish evils and Kit Marlowe is well realised in the ear of the listener. Kit is played by Matt Addis who has done a few other pieces for Big Finish — this is the best of those I have heard. [Note from 2020 — strong recommendation and with the benefit of a wider view of the Big Finish ouvre, Marc Platt frequently impresses with the quality of his world-building.]
There are some minor faults including a strange set-up that does work its way into the story and a debatable Peri plays the Queen scene but these are nothing compared to a production in which every actor turns in a wonderful performance.
Pat Mills gives us a chance to hear The Song of Megaptera:
Deep space in the distant future, and Captain Greeg and his crew are hunting mile-long Space Whales on a vast harvesting ship. By pure accident, they also capture the TARDIS.The Doctor and Peri must use all their wits to survive. But what is the creature running loose in the ship’s bowels? And can the Doctor save Megaptera before its song is extinguished forever?
There’s nothing wrong with this Doctor Who version of Jonah and the Whale and it is clear that the cast really enjoyed it, Colin in particular. I found the plot rather thin and lacking in the richness that a main range tale would bring. Saving the whale was huge in the early 1980s and this is an authentic almost episode for me though it did not have enough to grab my attention completely.
The series ends with The Macros by Ingrid Pitt and Tony Rudlin:
The TARDIS materializes on the USS Eldridge, after the Philadelphia Experiment has gone disastrously wrong. Most of the crew are dead, the ship is disintegrating, and the Doctor soon realises that the problem comes from another dimension… As they attempt to find a way to get the ship home, the Doctor and Peri visit the distant planet Capron and meet its tyrannical ruler Osloo. But the search for a possible solution only creates increasingly dire problems. Osloo’s horizons have been widened – and space and time are hers for the taking…
I really wanted to enjoy this tale of the true story behind the Philadelphia Experiment. It was moody and atmospheric but also flawed. The conflict around a micro-dimension and its mad president Osloo was poorly constructed and the her actions were so one-dimensional as to be infuriating. The Doctor as well just sits back, plays with the web of time and allows armed guards into the TARDIS. The resolution is flagged so flagrantly as to irritate and is a gimmick made up entirely to make the ending work.
I found it hard not to compare these stories to the main range and I believe that in many cases Big Finish has done the best it can given the circumstances. Not all episodes of Doctor are that good and merely giving them to skilled artists to polish can’t add quality that isn’t there. And yet there are some real gems in this collection.
I picked these all up as bargains in various sales and I suspect had I subscribed I would have been more disappointed with some of these titles than I was. Nothing in this set of reviews is meant to diminish any of the Big Finish team or actors — some of these things maybe should have stayed lost.
What are your thoughts?