Past Lives

While I may be in the form of this old favourite, I’m actually a much later vintage.

The Fourth Doctor
The Big Finish cover for Past Lives, featuring Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith, Jemma Redgrave's Kate Stewart, Ingrid Oliver's Petronella Osgood and Rufus Hound's Monk, as well as armoured crocodiles. The Tower of London features in the background, as does Glastonbury Tor.

This review contains spoilers. If you have not listened to Doctor Who: Once and Future: Past Lives yet, go away and listen to it, and return once you have!


The Time War. The Doctor has been injured and brought to a Time Lord field hospital. His body glows with energy, but this is no regeneration into a future form – instead, the Doctor’s past faces begin to appear as he flits haphazardly between incarnations…

Staggering to his TARDIS, the Doctor sets out to solve the mystery of his ‘degeneration’. Who has done this to him? How? And why? From the Earth to the stars, across an array of familiar times and places, he follows clues to retrace his steps, encountering old friends and enemies along the way. Tumbling through his lives, the Doctor must stop his degeneration before he loses himself completely…

Settling as his Fourth incarnation, the Doctor goes in search of the Monk, with a vague memory that he had something to do with his ‘degeneration’.

On Earth, the Monk is meddling, bringing Sarah Jane Smith to the future UNIT HQ to steal a device for an alien race. The Doctor must help Kate Stewart and Osgood foil an invasion before he can confront the Monk about what he knows…


Degeneration is an idea that hasn’t cropped up massively in the run of the television show, but it has cropped up a few times in the expanded universe. It is an idea that has grabbed some fans’ attention and leads to a great deal of speculation that it may appear on television. In recent years, I remember fans suggesting that the Cloister Wraiths in Hell Bent, glimpsed briefly in the next time trailer, was actually the Doctor degenerating through their past incarnations, whilst there were certainly fan rumours going around that degeneration may feature in The Day of the Doctor. In the most recent televised story, the Doctor was able to degenerate to be able to return to their Thirteenth incarnation to defeat the Master. Now Big Finish have taken up the idea for their celebration of the show’s 60th Anniversary, with all the Doctors from Steven Noonan’s First Doctor to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor included to some degree, starting off with the iconic Fourth Doctor.

The snows of yesterday, where did they go to? Melted, I suppose.

The Fourth Doctor

Robert Valentine’s script has to do a lot of the set-up for this run of stories and depicts our degeneration process from presumably the Eighth Doctor – the Doctor does not speak, nor is described in any detail, but I’m assuming that it is him as the Seventh Doctor is featured first in the degeneration sequence. I think that Valentine largely creates a really good story, one that warns of the dangers of living in the past and of nostalgia. By creating a foe that the Doctor and Sarah have faced off against before when the Doctor was working for UNIT, but creating a time difference of some thirty to forty years means that the real foe that everyone in this story is fighting is change. This is seen through the Doctor, wearing an old face but hundreds of years older, UNIT, under new leadership in Kate Stewart and with a new approach of being led by science, and the Hyreth, who are ultimately revived but the majority of their race are wiped out by meeting a natural death of old age. In a way, it almost reminded me of the approach towards the show’s past in Season 20, more specifically the tragedy of never being able to truly go back. While the story of this first part may seem rather light, it does exactly what a first part of a continuing story should do: poses questions and gets you interested to hear where the story is going next.

I told you, I’m not here to stop the Hyreth. I’m here to rescue the Monk.

The Fourth Doctor

The Meddling Monk is a character that I wish the television show would bring back, having not featured since the Hartnell era. Big Finish have used the character most recently, having had Graeme Garden, Rufus Hound and Gemma Whelan step into the late Peter Butterworth’s shoes. It is perhaps egregious to suggest that the Monk is the mastermind behind the overall plan, as it seems almost too big a scheme for him. That being said, having Rufus Hound as the mustache-twirling Time Lord is rather delightful through the story, and knowing what a massive fan Hound is of the show, the idea of him appearing opposite Tom Baker must have been really exciting for him. He especially shines as his alliance with the mysterious Mr Mallory lands him into bigger trouble with the Hyreth. The Monk is involved in this story mostly to save his own skin, as the character is in over his head attempting to have fun with the gift of time travel but meddling with forces he does not understand. Fortunately for him, the Doctor needs information from him and needs to keep him alive. Hound brings a real sense of charm and old-fashioned whimsy to the character, and I wonder if we’re going to see more of this opportunistic Time Lord as Once and Future continues. We are certainly told that the Monk was present when the Doctor was attacked with the biogenic reversion weapon, but the version in this story is younger and doesn’t know about the Time War yet.

The Hyreth themselves are a rather forgettable element of this story and perhaps are one of the elements that could be improved upon. The bipedal humanoids resembling crocodiles and brandishing broadswords are out for revenge on the Earth following their defeat at the hands of the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier, being put to sleep at the end of this encounter. I felt like they could almost do with more time, or that I’d be intrigued to hear the story that preludes this, obviously with Sadie Miller and Jon Culshaw playing Sarah and the Brigadier respectively, which might make their appearance here land with a bit more oomph. Whilst they seem to have posed a serious problem to the Doctor, Sarah and UNIT in the past, due to the fact that they have aged to the brink of death, they feel rather toothless here. All of this is not to criticise Ewan Bailey, who does a masterful job with what he is given, playing the sinister Mr Mallory and the main two Hyreth we hear, Galavaunt and Baravoar.

The Special Edition cover for Past Lives, featuring the faces of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor and Jemma Redgrave's Kate Stewart, on either side of the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Diamond Logo.

The Doctor is masterfully played as ever by Tom Baker here, and he seems to be having a whale of a time. Baker seems to really imbue the idea of the character revisiting his past lives with a real sense of pathos and it really makes it all land. He really feels like the logical choice to kick off this run of stories, as he is still held by a lot of the fans and the wider public as the definitive article. It is lovely to see this Doctor reunited with Sarah Jane Smith, especially given that the Monk picks her up shortly after the Doctor dropped her off before going to Gallifrey. Sadie Miller steps into her late mother’s shoes so well and gives a great performance, even if Sarah feels a little sidelined at times. It is difficult for the narrative to avoid treading on the toes of School Reunion, so I was expecting a get-out-of-jail card at the end for Sarah Jane to forget this encounter with an older Doctor. Maybe I can justify it to myself by saying that her whole experience in the Death Zone in The Five Doctors caused her to forget this incident.

Readers of this blog will know how much of a fan I am of the Brigadier, and that is certainly something that extends to Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Stewart. She has become such a quintessential part of the show since her debut appearance in The Power of Three that I have been concerned with her character’s safety when she was brought back in Flux and The Power of the Doctor. It is nice to have a story set before she encounters the Eleventh Doctor in The Day of the Doctor and the moment where Sarah recognises that she must be related to the Brigadier is a nice touch. Osgood, the audience stand-in, is great here, and Ingrid Oliver really shines and conveys her character’s excitement at meeting this Doctor and getting to do things like fly the TARDIS. The visit to her home, where she has posters of all the Doctors, is a nice touch to reflect the show’s history and reflect that theme of time once again. Oliver and Redgrave are such veterans in their roles now through their work on television and for Big Finish and this is no different here. It is always nice to have the worlds of modern UNIT and classic Doctors to collide like this.

Verdict: Past Lives gets Once and Future off to a solid start. Whilst the story of the main narrative is a little light and the Hyreth are not the most memorable foes, the performances and the questions the story leaves the listener with are intriguing enough to keep them going. The entire cast are on their A Games here, especially Rufus Hound. 8/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Sadie Miller (Sarah Jane Smith), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Ewan Bailey (‘Mr Mallory’/Galavaunt/Baravoar), Rufus Hound (The Monk) & Dan Starkey (Field Surgeon/Black Market Merchant).

Also featuring: Steven Noonan (The First Doctor), Michael Troughton (The Second Doctor), Tim Treloar (The Third Doctor), Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor) & Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor).

Writer: Robert Valentine

Director: Helen Goldwyn

Producer: David Richardson

Composer: Howard Carter

Release Date: 3rd May 2023

Behind the Scenes

  • The working title for this story was Once and Future, which became the name of the series to celebrate the 60th Anniversary.
  • The Monk mentions that he has taken £1 million from musicians on the beach who were planning to burn it. This refers to the band KLF, who recorded the song Doctorin’ the TARDIS,who burnt this money after retiring from the music industry.

Cast Notes

  • Ewan Bailey provided an alien voice for Voyage of the Damned. He has also appeared in numerous Big Finish stories, including The Sinestrian Kill, The Galileo Trap and The Satanic Mill.
  • Rufus Hound played Sam Swift in the Twelfth Doctor story The Woman Who Lived. He has played the Monk for Big Finish in stories like Subterfuge, The Side of Angels and The Outlaws.
  • Dan Starkey is perhaps best known for playing Strax opposite Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, as well as on audio as part of the Big Finish Paternoster Gang series. He continues to play Sontarans on television, most recently in Flux. He regularly appears in Big Finish productions.

Best Quote

Sarah, I never forgot you, if that’s what you’re wondering, and I never will.

I’ll believe you. Thousands wouldn’t.

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who: Once and Future: Past Lives is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

For more Fourth Doctor reviews, click here

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