Having concluded the last of the lighthearted adventures with the Doctor and Lucie Miller in Series 3 of the EDAs, Series 4 dives immediately into a far darker and more melancholy take on the ‘New Series’ style Big Finish had developed across the four series. This series is full of twists and turns, and requires a little more context than the others, requiring a Bonus Story to be listened to in order to understand the finale. This series of audios represents the pinnacle of Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith’s time together as Doctor and companion, though ironically the Doctor has a new companion, Tamsin Drew, for the majority of the series. Although it requires a fair bit of listening to reach this point, this is where the EDAs really pay off as Big Finish delivers a strong series of audios with some great excellent rug-pulls along the way.
4.1 – Death in Blackpool
This is a Big Finish Christmas Special, and it shows – from Lucie’s nostalgic recounting of the ‘perfect Christmas’ at the beginning, to the depiction of an actual Father Christmas. In many ways this audio is a deconstruction of the classic format of New Series TV Christmas Specials. This one is particularly bleak and taps into the more melancholy aspects of Christmas, such as the idea of the ideal Christmas being tainted by the loss of a loved one is a concept that is as relevant as ever. We revisit the character of Auntie Pat, who is actually still the Zygon Warlord Haygoth in disguise unbeknownst to Lucie, and Haygoth reveals to the Doctor that he is dying. Having felt guilt at the fact of essentially cheating Lucie out of mourning her Auntie, Haygoth now wishes to enjoy one final Christmas with Lucie before passing on.
This audio is a great outing for Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith, and we see the character of Lucie Miller pushed to the extreme as she discovers that the Doctor has been keeping secrets from her. Her psychological battle with the sinister entity attempting to steal her body is grim to listen to, but this is arguably second to her reaction to the horrific discovery she makes as the Doctor and Auntie Pat unwittingly reveal Haygoth’s true identity. It represents a huge step forward in Lucie’s character as she is forced into a decision that shakes up the status quo for the first time in the entire series.
An unexpected highlight of this story is Father Christmas, who initially comes across as a comedic character, rather like Nick Frost in Last Christmas, but as with that interpretation of the mythical figure, there is more to this than meets the eye. The villain, a ghoulish ‘Zynog’, is a great concept: a Zygon who has been reduced to a body-hopping entity after having its original form destroyed, due to the fact that it committed the Zygon sin of attempting to take the body print of another Zygon, and this presents a very personal threat to Auntie Pat. It goes without saying that Auntie Pat’s character arc is one of the best things about the EDAs, and the idea of a Zygon genuinely falling in love with its stolen Human life is a fantastic concept that this story concludes well, as Auntie Pat’s conclusion is one of the most heart-breaking things in the series.
Bonus Story VIII – An Earthly Child
An Earthly Child is a Bonus Story set after the events of Death in Blackpool, that depicts the long-awaited ‘return’ of the Doctor to 22nd-century Earth, to reunite with his grand-daughter, Susan. This audio introduces Susan’s son and the Doctor’s great-grandson, Alex Campbell, and depicts the Doctor fulfilling his promise and coming back to see Susan again.
Having been left behind on 22nd-century Earth at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan has married a freedom-fighter and built a life for herself as a politician, attempting to build alliances for humanity with alien races while facing a huge amount of anti-alien sentiment from the majority of survivors of the Dalek invasion. Even decades after the defeat of the Daleks Earth is still a mess, as people are still being discovered living in caves across the planet, cities are in ruins and the population is still recovering from decimation.
This audio fulfils a fan-favourite moment that has been anticipated for quite some time, to the point that it is odd that the New Series has not brought Carole Ann Ford back as she is excellent in the role and recaptures the character of Susan excellently. This audio is required to fully understand the finale to the series, so for that purpose it is ‘required listening’, but ultimately this is also a treat for fans so it is well worth listening to even without the context of the EDAs.
4.2 – Situation Vacant
This audio appears on the surface to be Doctor Who does The Apprentice, as the Doctor is interviewing potential new companions by giving them various tasks which eventually leads into a full-on alien invasion, so one would be forgiven for thinking that this is another throwaway comedy story, but it doesn’t take long to discover that this is far more than just a story based on The Apprentice. Not only is the setup suspicious at best, as it seems far too grandiose for the Doctor, but there are plenty of surprises in this story that make it a fun listen.
The supporting cast in this story is great, as it features James Bachman, Joe Thomas and Niky Wardley, who all do fantastic jobs in their roles. This audio takes a few bold turns with its main characters, as each of them are keen to secure the position of new companion and so the four of them are working to help the Doctor investigate an issue whilst also competing against each other, which is fun to listen to, to say the least. The most fun thing about this audio is the eliminations, in which the Doctor objectively analyses the performance of the candidates and selects who should be deselected, which is always entertaining.
The hints throughout suggest that there is more to this situation than it first seems – over the course of the story the events snowball, and the tension builds as it soon becomes clear that the situation is spiralling out of the Doctor’s control. Nonetheless, what follows is by far one of the most enjoyable stories of the EDAs so far, and if the New Series was ever to do an Apprenctice-themed episode for TV, we can only hope that it takes inspiration from this audio. We are also introduced to our new companion in this story, though from this point on we reach severe spoiler-territory, so if you haven’t yet listened to these audios and want to experience them for yourself, stop reading now and go listen to them!
4.3 – Nevermore
Nevermore deals with some interesting ethical dilemmas, as the Doctor and Tamsin arrive on the the planet Nevermore and meet its only living resident: convicted war criminal Morella Wendigo, who was condemned to spend her lifetime living on the planet that she destroyed, guarded by squawking mechanical ravens. There is a running motif of cats throughout this story, as one appears in the TARDIS seemingly out of nowhere at the start of the story and sets co-ordinates while walking over the console, bringing the Doctor and Tamsin to Nevermore seemingly by accident. This audio is steeped in the lore of Edgar Allen Poe, and those who have not read his works will likely be less appreciative of this audio than those who have. The designer of Wendigo’s prison, Senior Prosecutor Uglosi, has a bizarre obsession with Poe that permeates through the entire design of the prison.
This audio does some great character building for Tamsin, from a great scene at the beginning where the Doctor is showing her different rooms of the TARDIS to her desire to save the cat that inadvertently kicks off the plot of the entire story. She also reveals her acting skills came in handy by using her skills in escapology to untie some difficult knots – she ultimately proves that she is a suitable fit for the role of new companion. She is definitely a very different companion to Lucie, and her interactions with the Doctor are a treat to listen to as she learns the ropes of travelling in the TARDIS.
The backstory of Morella Wendigo is a compelling one – having doomed the planet of Corinth Minor with a virus that led the Time Lords to destroy the planet with a substance called the Red Death to prevent the biohazard from escaping, she was subsequently imprisoned on the planet, now renamed Nevermore, to serve a penance of eternal contemplation for her murderous crimes against the population of an entire planet. Overall, Nevermore is an interesting listen for many reasons, though those who are unfamiliar with Edgar Allen Poe may find it more dull as it is clearly intended as a love letter to that particular author.
4.4 – The Book of Kells
The Doctor and Tamsin arrive in Ireland, 1006 in the Abbey of Kells, as the TARDIS is dragged off-course by a temporally-sensitive individual currently at large in the area that is dragging other time-travelling entities, including an unfortunate Vortisaur, to the 11th century. It soon becomes apparent that someone wants to steal the Book of Kells, and the Doctor and Tamsin are caught up in a mystery of intrigue and deception. The cliff-hanger to part one is an interesting revelation that the temporally sensitive individual at large is none other than the Meddling Monk, though the context of the story is a dead giveaway to those who are familiar with the character.
This audio casts Graeme Garden as the Monk, and it is worth mentioning that he was a fantastic choice for the role. It makes sense that, should the Monk ever return to the TV series, they would be played by a comedian, and Graeme Garden brings that essential levity to the character whilst also maintaining the presence that a villainous Time Lord should have.
For those not in the know, the Book of Kells is a real historical artefact, and it was stolen from the Abbey in 1007 only to be found a few months later, and this audio plays off that event and makes several references to current events of this era, so history fans are bound to enjoy this one. In some ways it is almost a pure historical, were it not for the presence of another Time Lord. Though these stories have a mixed reception in the fanbase, The Book of Kells proves that the New Series would be able to do a pure historical in an interesting way.