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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Doctor Who: The Secret History Review



Doctor Who: The Secret History (Big Finish Audio)
Reviewed By Jesse Kiefer

Written By: Eddie Robson

Director: Barnaby Edwards

Sound Design: Andy Hardwick

Music: Andy Hardwick

Cover Art: Tom Webster

Number of Discs: 2

Duration: 120' approx.

Available on BigFinish.com

Listen to the trailer.


“Of course I know who you are: Steven and Vicki... You see, I'm a younger version, but I'm actually older.”

Well, well, well, long time no see intrepid audio adventurers! This month’s Main Range Doctor Who audio adventure was a big one. Not only was this story the 200th Main Range release for Big Finish but it also closes out the Locum Doctors trilogy. The trilogy included The Defectors and last month’s Last of the Cybermen, if you’ve read my reviews on the previous installments you know I’ve had some pretty high praise for this trilogy thus far. Will this month’s story bring it all home or play the fiddle while Rome burns? Let’s find out!...

The following synopsis comes from bigfinish.com:

“The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Steven and Vicki to the Italian city of Ravenna in the year 540 – besieged by the army of the celebrated Byzantine general Belisarius. Caught up in the fighting, Steven ends up on a boat bound for Constantinople, the heart of the Roman Empire.

Rescuing Steven, however, is the least of the Doctor's problems – because he shouldn't be mixed up in this particular adventure at all. Someone has sabotaged his own personal timeline, putting him in the place of his First incarnation... but who, and why? The truth is about to be revealed – but at what cost to all of the Doctors, and to the whole future history of the planet Earth?”

Ah Peter Davison, I don’t know if I’ve said it before but I do love Peter Davison. Despite the fact that the fifth doctor was my first regeneration (and most people have a hard time with watching their doctor change) I really enjoyed his tenure as The Doctor. In fact The Caves of Androzani is often lauded (and rightfully so) as one of the all time best of the best. Then factor in Davison’s involvement since then with the Time Crash Children in Need Special and his incredible “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” and it’s nearly impossible not to love this man and his work. That being said… I tend to have the hardest time getting into the 5th Doctor Audio Adventures. It might be that he was quite young when he played the doctor and was still quite young when he left the role but whatever the reason my brain has a hard time connecting the rich voice of present day Peter Davison with that mellow jello soft voice of the 5th Doctor from my childhood.

Now it seems like I’m going to hem and haw on this point of how, for me, it’s hard to hear the 5th Doctor but in this month’s release? I hear it. The writing, Davison’s portrayal, how his character reacts to circumstances, how his character ultimately resolves the situation it just works. The brilliant blend of anxiety and bravado are there and it really is a treat. Kudos to Eddie Robson on really all of the characters in this script because the developed characters are done well.

If it wasn’t clear in the Big Finish synopsis above the 5th doctor is transposed into a First Doctor historical type episode with Vicki and Stephen as his TARDIS Companions. This story was a tricky one to review because I feel an awful lot of conflicting things about this story so lets start with...

Some of my favorite parts:

  • Just like last month...The dynamic among The TARDIS Crew… Last month I said I liked how they all kind of disagree and it was not simple to convince them, well interestingly enough THIS TARDIS crew is very accepting of the Doctor’s explanation. They trust the Doctor. It doesn’t hurt that the Fifth Doctor (being potentially the most Diplomatic incarnation) is very succinct in explaining just what he thinks is going on in the pace and manner that they are willing to accept it easily. Vicki first and then Stephen both accept it all quite well with relative ease. Somehow the idea that this is “a younger version” of their doctor is a little easier to swallow to a First Doctor Tardis Crew but it doesn’t feel contrived, I believe that they could believe him. Interestingly enough that total trust they put in the Doctor actually plays directly into the Villain’s ultimate scheme.
  • The Banter, they nail a perfect 5th Doctor quip in this story.  Stephen breaks his foot and the Doctor after examining it has a perfect 5th Doctor interchange with Stephen with perfect 5th doctor delivery.  He also implores Vicki… “Brave heart Vicki” 
  • The Villain makes sense. I’m being vague on the villain mainly because the Big Finish solicits are vague, it’s meant to be a mystery right up to the end and I think they did as good a job as they could  in keeping the surprise.  However for those folks who pay attention to the details it’s staring you right in the face and really it wasn’t much of a surprise when you find out, but it does make sense. (More on this point later...)
  • The First Doctor historical style story. It made a fair amount of sense for this story to be a fiction based on history since so many of the stories of the First Doctor era did harken to historical events. It gave the characters interesting things to do and it really felt fitting and in the vein of a “Marco Polo” quality historical. (This whole trilogy has done a nice job of capturing the feel of their setting era both in the story and the timeline of the characters.)
  • The explanation for all of the Locum Doctors instances once the “big bad” is revealed it all starts to make sense what is going on and why.

Overall I liked this story, however at a certain point the motivations and the ultimate goals of the real villain were maybe a little bit of a let down. Without spoiling too much... a future incarnation of the Doctor mixes it up with this villain and some pretty major plot points resulted in that story… while you don’t NEED to know that “Future Backstory” (Wibbly Wobbly) it is pretty vital to the motivations of the conflict here and yet they really aren’t revealed to the characters of this story or to the listeners who don’t know that backstory. The Doctor has to just react to the fact that he’s going to someday have this conflict but react to it out of chronological order in the present without any idea why. You can enjoy the story without this info but you might find yourself scratching your head. On the other hand if you HAVE listened to the last stories this villain appeared in it’s zero surprise at all. I recognized the voice immediately and much of the fun was kind of ruined before the full reveal was made. (Some of that insider knowledge was still fun but the jig is up way to quickly for my own liking as a listener)

So this ultimately became a story that I liked because of the two that came before it AND the previous stories I had listened to which directly impacted this one. (very hard not to give spoilers and sound coherent in this review) In knowing all the pieces I can say it’s a very clever tying together of past plots that result in the companions being the true heroes of this Trilogy. They really shine as much as the Doctors do and in the end they really make the difference.

Big Finish subscribers tend to get extended behind the scenes extras with each release and I really hope that’s the case with this release because even having heard all the pertinent stories… I  still have a lot of questions. I can live with with my questions but I would like to hear more about what the writer, director, and production team had in mind for this trilogy and how it related to the broader offerings of the Big Finish Doctor Who canon.

A generally satisfying story,  which drew a lot of interesting elements in, but it wasn’t my favorite of the three. It had the daunting task of tying this whole thing together and while it did that okay, I’m not sure if it stands on its own very well. For folks who didn’t know the whole story I think the story would be quite confusing and a little disappointing. I think it really hinges on not knowing the villain’s whole story up to this point. By not including that it really cuts out what the villain truly hopes to achieve with their mad scheme and why they went to these lengths in the first place.

The Trilogy as a whole gets a solid 4 stars from me with Last of the Cybermen as my solid favorite of the three. This one on it’s own gets 3 stars from me. I like it, I appreciate it, but it needs some tweaks to include the missing elements I feel like we had a solid villain but only the people “in the know” would really understand why.

What do you think? Am I right on OR did I have my expectations too high? Was this a worthy story for the 200th release?

 Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think! Or let us know via e-mail: letters(at)grawlixpodcast.com.


3 Stars



Doctor Who: The Secret History (Big Finish Audio Play)
Reviewed by Jesse Kiefer on Jun 18, 2015
Rating: 3Big Finish closes out the Locum Doctors Trilogy AND their 200th Main Range release by transposing the Fifth Doctor into a First Doctor historical type episode with Vicki and Stephen as his Tardis Companions.

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