Doctor Who – “The Sirens of Time”


Gallifrey is in a state of crisis, facing destruction at the hands of an overwhelming enemy. And the Doctor is involved in three different incarnations – each caught up in a deadly adventure, scattered across time and space. The web of time is threatened – and someone wants the Doctor dead.

The three incarnations of the Doctor must join together to set time back on the right track – but in doing so, will they unleash a still greater threat?

Peter Davison is the Doctor, and Colin Baker is the Doctor, and Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor, in The Sirens of Time.

The Seventh Doctor is in Episode 1 of this four-part story; the Fifth Doctor is in episode 2; the Sixth Doctor is in episode 3; and all three Doctors are in the final episode.

Cast
Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor)
Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor)
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Andrew Fettes (Commander Raldeth / Schmidt)
Anthony Keetch(Coordinator Vansell)
Michael Wade (The President)
Sarah Mowat (Knight Commander Lyena)
Maggie Stables (Ruthley)
Colin McIntyre (Sancroff)
John Wadmore (Commandant / Lt Zentener / Pilot Azimendah / Sub-Commander Solanec)
Mark Gatiss (Captain Schwieger / Captain / Knight 2)
Nicholas Briggs(The Temperon / Drudgers)
Nicholas Pegg (Delegate)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-sirens-of-time-619

X X X X X

In 1989, Survival was the last episode of Doctor Who broadcast on the BBC.

The show was “suspended” at the end of that season, ending with Sylvester McCoy’s melancholic monologue about “work to be done.” While the show was no longer being produced for television broadcast, the adventures of the Doctor still continued. Doctor Who Magazine contained both an ongoing comic strip and original fiction within its pages each month. Virgin Publishing put out the New Adventures, a series of novels that told further stories involving the Seventh Doctor and Ace. And several of the more dedicated fans both together what are called the “Doctor Who Audio/Visuals,” a series of unlicensed cassette recordings containing an original Doctor, Nicholas Briggs, and a handful of actors and writers.

In 1998, most of these actors and writers formed Big Finish Productions, a company dedicated to putting out a series of original audio stories taken from the New Adventure novels. After a few months, Big Finish obtained permission from the BBC to do something special; a completely original adventure, based on a script by Nicholas Briggs, starring not just one or two, but THREE Doctor, as Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy agreed to reprise their role of the Doctors in the first multi-Doctor story since The Two Doctors.

The Sirens of Time was the first official release for Doctor Who by Big Finish. Fans were understandably excited; an officially licensed production, with a dedicated staff and professional production, starring three actors who made their names playing the Doctor. The time spent wandering in the wilderness wasn’t quite over yet, not until 2005 and Rose, but Sirens went a very long way toward showing that the Doctor was still alive and well in the hearts and minds of many fans. The story itself is lackluster, a sign of the growing pains Big Finish would exhibit for their first couple of releases, but it still serves as an important milestone in the long life of Doctor Who as a proof of concept that the audio format could and would become successful!

The ringing of the Cloister Bell causes the Seventh Doctor to land on an isolated planet, where a young woman, Elenya, is drowning in quicksand. Nearby, a mysterious hag cackles that the Doctor and the young woman will die. While confronting the hag, the Doctor notices a spaceship slipping through the planetary shields. The assassins onboard are there for one purpose; to kill Sancroft, First Knight of Velyshaa, a prisoner to which the hag is the jailor, for war crimes. And to them, the hag, Elenya, and the Doctor are unnecessary witnesses…

A chrono distortion and the voice of Time Lord calling for him to return to the TARDIS because of “the destruction of time” is what greets the Fifth Doctor as he finds himself stepping onto a British freighter under attack by a German U-Boat. As the freighter begins to sink, the Doctor and Helen, one of the few survivors, find themselves the guests of the submarine’s captain, as well as under attack from a member of the sub’s crew. The Doctor slowly realizes that the crewman that attacked him was under the mental control of the Time Lords, and that he and Helen are the lone survivors of the Lusitania

The Time Lord Vansell tries one last time to contact a Doctor. This time, the Sixth Doctor is in the middle of crashing his TARDIS (completely by accident, of course!) into the spatial anomaly known as the Kurgon Wonder. Elly, the only survivor from a nearby starship that also crashed into the Wonder, reveals that she is part of an organization dedicated to freeing the legendary time beast known as the Temperon, which is trapped inside of the Kurgon Wonder. The Doctor’s efforts to escape see him accidentally freeing the Temperon, who repeats the same message to the Doctor over and over again. “Beware the Sirens of Time…”

The Doctors, all three of them, find themselves deposited by the Temperon onto a ruined and devastated Gallifrey. The Time Lords have been defeated by a powerful organization known as the Knights of Velyshaa, who now consider themselves the true masters of time. It turns out that Elenya, Helen, and Elly are the same woman, Lyena, and that the actions of the Doctors have led to the destruction of the Time Lords. The Seventh Doctor drove off the assassins and saved Sancroft, whose legend drove the Knights’ dreams of conquest. The butterflies caused by the Fifth Doctor and the sinking of the Lusitania sees that penicillin is never discovered and that a plague-ridden Earth is easily conquered. And the destruction of the Temperon by the Sixth Doctor allowed the Knights to obtain the secrets of time travel from its corpse. But the mucking about in time has given the Knights a horrible chronological disease, and only the Doctors can save them. But, with Gallifrey in ruins, the Knights on the verge of success even as a plague ravages their bodies, and the Temperon pleading with the Doctors to beware the Sirens of Time, is there much more to this story than first appears?

Big Finish does their best to hit the ground running. The script by Nicholas Briggs takes full advantage of the audio format to set the story in several widely different locations, a feat that would strain the budget if this had been a televised story. Briggs also allows each Doctor their own individual episodes, giving them a full adventure and a chance to spread their wings and introduce themselves to new listeners and re-introduce themselves to those who may have forgotten or not be familiar with a particular Doctor’s television run. No official companions join the Doctors on this adventure; it’s the Doctor and the Doctor alone, which also works to the story’s advantage.

As soon as Sylvester McCoy “steps” onto the “screen,” it’s incredibly obvious that the Doctor is back as he speaks sweetly to his TARDIS. McCoy, to me, has been the Big Finish Doctor who’s needed a bit of a push or a really good script in order to turn in a solid performance. It might be returning to the role that sees McCoy step back nearly to where he stepped off at the end of Survival. Putting himself immediately into unknown peril to rescue a complete stranger, McCoy keeps up with the quick pace of the first episode with his one-liners and fast-thinking. When the Doctors come together in the fourth and final episode, McCoy’s Doctor steps back a bit, not so much as letting the Sixth Doctor hog the spotlight so much as letting the Sixth Doctor take all the attention off of him; shades of the “planner” Doctor that Seven is. Sure, there’s a bit of McCoy’s “quiet overacting,” but not enough to distract from the tale at hand.

Peter Davison’s turn comes next. It’s very strange to hear the difference in Davison’s voice, almost 20 years or so after his television run, as it’s matured and deepened in those decades. But the youthful charm and caring nature is still there in Davison’s performance. Compassionate and educated, Davison nonetheless doesn’t quite carry on like he did in the television series. Maybe it’s the lack of any companions (who were stuck back in his TARDIS according to the script), but the joking, carefree nature isn’t quite there. Even when confronted with the Nazis, Davison’s Doctor easily makes up lies to get back to his TARDIS, but it comes off as a bit harsh. The final episode sees a lot of Davison shouting at the villain in a philosophical battle, but as opposed to the superb trial scene in The Eye of the Scorpion, the Fifth Doctor is longer on anger and shorter on wisdom. Luckily for Big Finish, Davison improves when paired Mark Strickson in Phantasmagoria, so I’ll chalk it up to Davison finding his footing after time away from the part.

Now, Colin Baker…when it comes to Big Finish, Six comes out of the blocks strong with The Sirens of Time, picks up speed in Whispers of Terror, and truly hits his stride with The Marian Conspiracy. In this story, the listener truly gets a glimpse of what could have been for the Sixth Doctor had he been given an honest chance during his time on the BBC. Loud, bombastic, and immediately taking center stage as soon as he walks in, Baker’s Doctor also shows the pragmatism that was one of his Doctor’s defining characteristics. The listener can hear just how eager Baker is to play the role again, but instead of subduing it a little bit like McCoy, Baker leaves it all out there. Baker only gets better as time goes on, and even now, almost thirteen years after coming back to the role of the Doctor, Baker still puts on a grand performance each time.

The supporting cast is much bigger with The Sirens of Time, and this is one of its flaws. While there are three Doctors and one “companion” in every episode who turns out to be the same woman, each episode has its own dedicated “cast,” and it’s a bit difficult to keep track of all of them or their importance to the story. The standouts are the scenery chewing Maggie Stables as the hag Ruthley, Anthony Keetch as Vansell, and Sarah Mowat as Lyena and her counterparts. Big Finish fans will quickly become familiar with Stables, who will take on the defining role of Evelyn Smythe in The Marian Conspiracy. Here, she plays completely opposite how she will portray Evelyn, turning it up to 11 as she proclaims the death of the Doctor and taunts her prisoner with maniacal glee. Keetch’s Vansell will return in vital supporting roles in The Apocalypse Element and Neverland. The seeds for his conniving and “win at any cost” personality are planet in this story, 48 serials before his fate in Neverland, as he pleads with a Time Lord to let him kill the Doctor so the fall of Gallifrey does not come to pass. Sarah Mowat would go on from this serial to star in the Big Finish series Dalek Empire, and it’s not hard to imagine that her performance as FOUR different and distinct characters that make up the main villain of the piece.

As I said earlier, the best way to look at The Sirens of Time is as a “proof of concept,” a rough draft of sorts to show that Big Finish could produce quality stories worthy of the Doctor Who name. If looked at in that light, The Sirens of Time barely gets a passing grade, and the large majority of blame falls onto the script itself. Nicholas Briggs is a vital part of Doctor Who, especially serving as the early “showrunner” for Big Finish, as well as penning and directing several while also providing a solid number of voices along the way. An author of several fan-based productions, Briggs’ first script for an originally licensed production is just that; a first script. It suffers from two main flaws. First, the script itself has a LOT going on. Four locations, and that includes bouncing back and forth from wherever the Doctor is and Gallifrey under assault, means that it’s very easy for a listen to get a little lost or forget just who is involved with what. The editing scalpel would have been of great use with this script, as attempts to explain and keep continuity intact come under the assault of a large amount of technobabble and a heavy dash of exposition. To Briggs’ credit, he avoids the temptation to cram in Time Lord mythology or callbacks to the series. The second flaw, however, is the most glaring. The Sirens of Time is just BORING. For all the locations and the fact that there are three Doctors running around trying to save the day, there’s just no sense of urgency to keep the listener interested. Part of it could be the lack of chemistry between the three actors; this is the first time Davison, Baker, and McCoy have not only played the Doctor in years, but this is also the first time (outside of Dimensions in Time) that the three actors have acted opposite each other as the Doctor. As such, there’s no chemistry ala The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors. That helps add to the overall “eh” factor of this story. Even with Gallifrey at risk, there’s just not enough emotion or sense of rising stakes. If this had been the very first Big Finish audio I listened to, I might have ended up passing on the entire line. Instead, what I got was a decent story to pass the time, but anyone looking for a kick-ass multi-Doctor story should skip right to the 50th anniversary special The Light at the End.

Synopsis – Big Finish gets its feet wet with The Sirens of Time, but it would take a few serials for them to find their footing, sacrificing what could have been an interesting multi-Doctor story for a bland paint-by-numbers story. 2/5.

Next – Zagreus sits inside your head.

Zagreus lives among the dead.

Zagreus sees you in your bed.

And eats you when you’re sleeping.

Paul McGann is the Doctor in…Zagreus.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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