`The Light at the End' is a fabulous multi-Doctor adventure, an exciting, creative, complex and immensely satisfying audio `movie for the mind', filled with familiar voices from half a century of travels in Space and Time. An outstanding story in its own right and a 50th anniversary treat for classic-series fans, it really couldn't get much better than this. 5*
This reviews the 5 CD Limited Edition which includes two audio documentaries and a bonus adventure from the Companion Chronicles. It's available (2014/15) for just about a tenner more than the Standard Edition from some sellers and well worth getting; I've reviewed the Limited Edition package and extras after the story review so skip to the end if you just want to see that part.
CDs 1 and 2: `The Light at the End'
According to the `Making of' audio documentary (on CD 3 of the Limited Edition), originally there was no multi-Doctor audio adventure planned for the 50th anniversary. When the idea was accepted, after encouragement from various people including several `Doctors', Nicholas Briggs then wrote and directed what in my opinion ranks as a true classic. It's presented as a two-parter in two episodes of an hour each, with the essential cliffhanger! The many classic-series resonances and references throughout the story are both clear and relevant to the plot.
*** This review contains very mild spoilers, but little you wouldn't guess from a glance at the cast list and the back of the packaging. If you want to keep the story entirely `fresh', then please stop reading now and buy it! Preferably, immerse yourself into this epic with headphones and avoid interruptions, because there's a lot to take in! Be prepared to get considerably (and enjoyably) confused the first time you listen - it all becomes clear in the end.
It's a superb tale of Time and the TARDIS, an adventure that could only happen to the Doctor and could only make sense if the timelines of all eight classic Doctors were folded together into the plot as they are. Shifting from a November afternoon in England, 1963, to the strangest reaches of Time and Space, the tale sees our timeless hero once again confronted by his equal and opposite - the Master, played to silky, sinister perfection by Geoffrey Beevers.
Combining multiple Doctors into a single story was always going to be a challenge, but it's done brilliantly, with the strengths of each incarnation's personality perfectly used in the plot. Which Doctors were paired up depended on logistics, with the writing fitted around that (again, from the `Making of' CD), but it all works so well you would never guess.
Tom Baker's Fourth and Paul McGann's Eighth Doctors make a great pairing, two cosmic adventurers combining to give the Master a problem he should have foreseen. If he could never outthink a single Doctor, then what chance against two - or eight? Paul McGann has of course played his Doctor mostly on audio and is in his element once again. The wonderful voice of Tom Baker, still offering jelly-babies at improbable moments, made the decades fall away for this 1970s `Doctor Who' fan - but then, "what is Time to a Time Lord?"!
Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor displays all the intelligent charm and sensitivity we expect as he tries to help Bob Dovie (John Dorney), an ordinary human caught in an extraordinary moment in time - Saturday November 23rd 1963 at just after five o'clock ... Sensitivity isn't perhaps the first attribute you'd assign to the Sixth Doctor (!) and his incarnation is perfectly used here with Colin Baker on top form, as he bulldozes his way through the covert chicanery behind all their problems. Listening to Peter Davison and Colin Baker was a delight and as if Time had stood still; they might have just stepped out of the TARDIS from mid-season in the 1980s.
Sylvester McCoy is definitely the thoughtful, late-version Seventh Doctor here as he adventures with Ace then joins forces first with the Sixth and later also the Fifth Doctors in some very enjoyable sequences, and understands the explanation of the Light at the End - with some help from three more of his former selves, because this story includes all of them ...
If five Doctors in one adventure weren't spectacular enough, this script goes the whole way! It's done very cleverly and the three earliest incarnations are far more than just bystanders, working as a trio throughout the story, first glimpsed through the mists of Time then later becoming clearer and playing a key role in the plot. All three early Doctors are (of necessity) slightly `elsewhere' in Time throughout the story and this effect is one part of the audio that benefits from listening with headphones for a suitably immersive experience.
William Hartnell's First Doctor is very well played by William Russell (also briefly as his own original character, Ian) and in a nice touch is still undoubtedly the `chairman' when meeting his later incarnations. Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor is raised with uncanny accuracy by Frazer Hines (also in a brief cameo as Jamie) and characteristically co-irritates with the Third Doctor, with Jon Pertwee's splendid incarnation played here by Tim Treloar. Jon Pertwee is *my* Doctor so I was unsure about hearing another actor in his role, but the performance is good with an appropriately rich English voice ("good grief!"). Perhaps a slightly faster speaking pace would have helped this characterisation, but overall I thought it was a great success to have The Three Doctors `together' again.
Every Doctor needs a companion, so it was a surprise to learn that initially no companions were to be included, but happily, in the finished production they are, and each written appropriately. Louise Jameson brings Leela's cleverness, instinct and readiness for action to help the Fourth Doctor in some dangerous moments, while the Fifth Doctor's delicate task on Earth is aided by Sarah Sutton's intelligent, caring Nyssa as they experience the most chilling moment of the whole story. The Sixth Doctor and Nicola Bryant's Peri are still amiably sparring their way through the Vortex after all these years!, while in a sticky situation for the Seventh Doctor, who better to help than Ace, as ever "not carrying" her home-made arsenal and with some great lines including a concise pen-portrait of the other seven Doctors, perfectly played by Sophie Aldred as if no time had passed since 1989.
The Eighth Doctor as cosmic wanderer is ably companioned by Charley Pollard, out for adventure as usual. She certainly finds it when India Fisher has a great scene where Charley briefly `meets' a host of former Doctors and companions, seen hazily through shifting Time. It's very cleverly written with each tiny cameo perfect for every companion, from Ian and Susan to Turlough and Tegan.
Jamie Robertson's sound design and music create an epic scale; the experience is like listening to a `Doctor Who' movie that could never be made visually, without an actual TARDIS to bring the actors from their own `Doctor Who' moments across five decades. After all the high drama and danger, after (of course) the Doctors are ingeniously victorious once again, we come down to Earth for a delightfully small-scale, humorous ending that even has time to name-check one of the most popular and sadly missed companions, rounding off a superb production in style.
`The Three Doctors' and `The Five Doctors' were anniversary high points I've never forgotten seeing for the first time. This adventure is in the same class and it's an essential buy.
Five stars of course - though I'd like to give it Eight, one per Doctor! Thanks for reading.
CD 3: Audio Documentary `The Making of `The Light at the End''
An entertaining `Making of' audio with all the contributors you'd hope for. It was interesting to learn how this superb story, which now seems the obvious way to celebrate the 50th anniversary on audio, was only arrived at by degrees as the essential elements (multiple Doctors, the companions, the companion `flashback' sequence) were added. A great final result though, which sounds just as if it had all been planned right from the start.
CD 4: Audio Documentary `This is Big Finish'
As well as `Big Finish' talking about the work of their company, this audio documentary includes enjoyable comments from many of the actors who play the companions seen only as `visions' in `The Light at the End', looking back not only on this production but right back to the beginning of `Doctor Who' with William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. The final section on the new contributions of Philip Hinchcliffe to the world of `Doctor Who' audio is also very interesting, especially for those who grew up enjoying the splendid `Gothic' seasons he created with Robert Holmes.
CD 5: The Companion Chronicles: `The Revenants'
(Originally released with an edition of DWM; if you don't have it then it's another excellent reason to consider buying the Limited Edition package.)
Beyond the northern rim of Scotland lie the beautiful isles of Orkney, strewn with standing stones and relics that were already ancient when the Vikings sailed from over the sea. Now, another traveller is returning over the sea to Orkney, a man with tales to tell stranger than any Celtic legend or Viking saga, because he is Ian Chesterton and many years ago he sailed in an alien Ship through Space and Time ...
William Russell recreates his role as Ian, narrates and also voices fellow companion Barbara and does a convincing portrayal of the First Doctor. His `hmmm?' made me almost see William Hartnell, head back, eyebrows raised, clutching his lapels! Sharon Small plays two different women of Orkney, one from the present and one from half a century ago but in some ways from a far earlier time. Their excellent performances, together with the atmospheric sound and music and Ian Potter's clever writing, bring to life a story that is very faithful to its era, with a clear emphasis on `science' from Ian and the Doctor as they face a landscape of mystery and a local legend becoming reality, with a couple of great twists at the end.
This is the first of the `Companion Chronicles' I've heard, and it certainly won't be the last. It's presented as two half-hour episodes and is set in the timeline shortly after Susan left the TARDIS following victory over the Dalek invasion of Earth.
Finally, the packaging of the Limited Edition is excellent, done as a small-format hardback book in a similarly well made hardback slip case. As well as the five CDs, cast lists, etc. the full-colour book also contains several pages written as if a report to the High Council on Gallifrey about this strange incident. It would serve as a brief introduction to the Classic Doctors for any who need one and is well done, but one of the illustrations does contain a *spoiler*, so leave reading it until you have enjoyed the show!
Excellent modern group photographs of the five `Doctors' and five `companions' complete the collection, along with a portrait gallery of all the `companions' who appear as cameos - plus `the Master' of course.