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?
The Sirens of Time marks the start of the Big Finish Doctor Who monthly range and it is perhaps important to regard it in the context of when it was released, rather than judging it retrospectively. Viewed from a modern lens, it can seem a little unpolished, especially when considered in light of the company’s more recent output. I think, regardless of this, it is a perfectly serviceable Doctor Who story, if a bit unconventional to be the opening installment.
I can see that you’re a brave and honourable man, Schwieger. I hope that both of us can live with the consequences of your decision.
That is a state of affairs I am well accustomed to, Doctor.The Fifth Doctor and Captain Schwieger
There is no question that opening a monthly range of Doctor Who adventures with a multi-Doctor story is something that is geared more towards the existing fanbase rather than new audiences, especially as the most recent Doctor featured had last been seen ten years previously. There are various other options you’d go back and do if you were looking to do this, and possibly the easiest thing to do to attract new listeners would be to wait until Paul McGann was ready to return to the role. I like the way that this gives us three different mini-stories, one with each of the three incarnations of the Doctor, before bringing them back in the final part rather than having them all put together from the outset. Keeping the Doctors mostly separated for a multi-Doctor story feels novel and unusual compared to the televised multi-Doctor stories, and is something that Big Finish did again for The Four Doctors.
The individual stories that make up the first three parts do vary in quality. The first part is definitely the weakest of the three and does feel rather generic. It all feels little bit too arch, which Doctor Who can sometimes get away with, but it feels a little bit out of place here. The twist that Sancroff is a war criminal does work well, but the script doesn’t feel as sharp as in the later parts. The second part is probably the strongest, with the Doctor winding up on a German U Boat in World War I, ultimately revealed to be the one destined to sink the Lusitiania, but this part does jar a bit with the rest of the story. The third part feels a bit more like a traditional romp, but because each story is spending time having to set up a new location each time, the stakes feel artificially heightened by the time we get to Part 4, and the conclusion is not helped by the fact that the Temperon really saves the day rather than the Doctor. Equally, having the narrative split in three ways before the concluding part leads to plot threads being left dangling before the conclusion – for instance, we have the Knights of Velyshaa introduced in the first part, then they don’t appear again until the end – and it just makes the whole thing feel a bit disjointed.
Considering how early in the run of making audio Doctor Who this is, it is impressive how competent the music and sound design are. It sounds like something glaringly obvious to say now, but Nicholas Briggs is a really solid pair of hands to have on the wheel for a story like this, and makes everything feel suitably epic, from the majesty of Gallifrey to the sound of the drones and assassins that come after Sancroff. Directorally, Briggs does a solid job, even if I think that Maggie Stables’ character of Ruthley could have been brought in a bit to make her less glaring and make that first part slightly less arch.
There are some great standouts in the guest cast. The most notable of whom is Sarah Mowat, who has to play four different faces of the same characters, three of whom are supposed to seem like companions of the week and other is the central villain, Lyena. She manages to make each of these characters feel distinct, even when given less than half an hour to each of these variants of the same character. Another is Colin McIntyre playing the war criminal Sancroff, who manages to convince the listener that he is a benevolent old man. I’d forgotten about this twist when listening to The Sirens of Time for this review and it really works. The third guest performance that really stands out is that of Mark Gatiss, playing the U Boat Captain Schwieger. He brings a quiet and resigned dignity to the part and again makes a more nuanced take on what could easily be an out and out villain.
Well done Lyena, or Ellie, or whatever you choose to call yourself. You have accurately identified some of my defining traits. Compassion, and a capacity for self-sacrifice but you’ve made the mistake of bringing together three distinct incarnations of the same personality. Each time I regenerate the balance of those traits alters. I have alway been pragmaticin all my lives, as I am in this incarnation. But more so!The Sixth Doctor
The three actors playing the Doctors seem to fall back into their roles relatively easily, even if Sylvester McCoy seems a little off, especially in the first part. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but wonder whether he had not thought about how his Doctor would translate to audio, which is certainly not something exclusive to McCoy when it comes to voice work. The Seventh Doctor is quite a visual incarnation, so not necessarily the easiest to rely to the world of audio, but is possibly not aided by the fact that the script for the first part is perhaps the weakest of the four. On the other hand, both Peter Davison and Colin Baker seem to have given it a bit more thought. Davison, whilst sounding (understandably) a little older than he did when he was on television, delivers a reassured performance and this is certainly the start of rehabilitation for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. Baker attacks a lot of the story with the necessary verve and gusto required for his more bombastic Doctor, aided by the fact that a lot of the best lines, especially in Part 4, fall to his Doctor. McCoy rises to the challenge in Part 4, and the Doctor’s bickering amongst themselves is delightful, especially when the Seventh Doctor escapes unharmed after using the Sixth Doctor to cushion his fall.
Verdict: The Sirens of Time is not the greatest script but a solid adventure and features some good guest performances. It isn’t helped by a weaker first part and one of the lead actors not being at the top of their game. 5/10
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 Zentner/Pilot Azimendah/Sub-Commander Solanec), Mark Gatiss (Captain Schwieger/Captain/Knight 2), Nicholas Briggs (The Temperon/Drudgers) & Nicholas Pegg (Delegate).
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- This was the first Big Finish audio release for Doctor Who.
- Each of the four parts were given a title by Nicholas Briggs: The Knight of Velyshaa, Ship of Destiny, Death of Wonder and Nexus Point/Curse of the Temperon.
- The original aim by Gary Russell was to have this story be written by someone who had written for televised or prose Doctor Who.
- Briggs had originally wanted a Dalek story for Big Finish’s first story, however, they could not obtain the rights.
A lot of the cast would go on to appear in numerous Big Finish stories, as listed below:
- Andrew Fettes (The Land of the Dead, The Apocalypse Element, Nekromentia, The Nowhere Place, The Magic Mousetrap, Heroes of Sontar, The Monsters of Gokroth)
- Anthony Keetch (The Sirens of Time, The Apocalypse Element, Neverland)
- Michael Wade (The Sirens of Time, The Apocalypse Element)
- Sarah Mowat (Suan Mendes in Dalek Empire)
- Maggie Stables would go on to play the Sixth Doctor’s first audio companion Evelyn Smyth, a role she played up until her retirement from acting in 2013. She passed away in 2014.
- Colin McIntyre (Jake in Dalek Empire III)
- John Wadmore
- Mark Gatiss would go on to write for both Big Finish and the revived 2005 series from Series 1 up until Series 10. He has appeared in the television show as an actor on several occasions; as Richard Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment, as Gantok in The Wedding of River Song (credited as Rondon Haxton), and Twice Upon A Time as The Captain. For Big Finish, he has played multiple roles, perhaps most notably the Unbound Master, where he is occasionally credited as Sam Kisgart.
- Nicholas Briggs is one of the current executive producers of Big Finish Productions, the voice of the television and audio Daleks, Cybermen and Judoon, amongst other foes and writes, directs and acts for Big Finish frequently.
- Nicholas Pegg has worked with Big Finish as a writer, director and actor on various productions, including writing, directing and acting in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, the story that saw the Sixth Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart meet. He has also worked as a Dalek operator since 2005 on the television programme.
Why is it anywhere I go there are people like you stomping around in shiny boots, pointing guns and asking stupid questions?The Sixth Doctor