This box set of two of the First Doctor Lost Stories are performed by Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Doctor’s grand-daughter, and William Russell as Ian Chesterton (or ‘Chesterfield’, or ‘Chatterton’ as the Doctor keeps mis-naming him). All the other roles are played or narrated by these two actors, with two exceptions.
Farewell, Great Macedon 5 stars
This story is over three cds (so 6 parts), and was originally written by Moris Farhi for the first season in 1964. (Farhi worked on Doctor Who in its early years.) The story has been adapted here by Nigel Robinson. It would seem that the story would originally have fallen in the timeline between ‘The Reign of Terror’ and ‘Planet of Giants’. In it, the Tardis is somewhat stranded until the Doctor can get some more ‘fuel’, which is a thread running through this story.
The Tardis has materialised in what the travellers quickly work out is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They are astonished when they then meet the King, who is Alexander of Macedon, or as he becomes known to history, Alexander the Great. Barbara is awestruck, then becomes afraid when she realises that Alexander being at Babylon could be the prelude to a very tumultuous period of Alexander’s reign, according to the history that she knows. When Alexander befriends the travellers, they find themselves very close to deadly palace politics; could they fall victim to some of the plots?
I can only imagine how brilliant this story would have been, had it ever made it on to the small screen in the 1960s. William Hartnell’s Doctor is irascible and enigmatic, yet lovingly watches over his grand-daughter and tries to ensure his companions are kept safe. I have to mention John Dorney’s performance in this story. Having heard him recently in Big Finish audio stories playing rather meek and mild characters (Henry Noone in ‘A Death in the Family’, and Bob Dovie in ‘The Light at the End’), it came as a bit of a jolt to find he was performing the part of Alexander, a learned yet warlike man who rules over a great Empire. His performance was hugely impressive in its power, and in its integrity to the role.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance 5 stars
This is a single cd story, and was also written by Moris Farhi, and adapted by Nigel Robinson. This is a delightful story. As the closing credits ran I found I was rather surprised, as for a story with such a simple little premiss, it had flowed beautifully with never a wasted or dull moment. The Tardis crew have been staying on a beautiful world known as Fragrance. The people are gentle and kind, and the Doctor has worked with them to build a part for the Tardis which he believes will help with its navigation. On their last day, the travellers discover that on Fragrance, love is taken very seriously.
John Dorney plays a pivotal role in the story, as the young man Rhythm, and does so wonderfully. Helen Goldwyn plays the parts of Melody and Harmony. The other roles, and narration are again undertaken by Carole Ann Ford and William Russel.
At the end of the last cd, there are interviews with members of the cast and crew. This is a wonderful box set, and it is fantastic to think that these stories, which would have featured in the tv series in the 1960s are now able to be experienced by Doctor Who fans. Moris Farhi’s two stories are absolutely wonderful, and quite different from each other. Farewell, Great Macedon is a faithfully reconstructed historical, while The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is a story with a very 1960’ish ‘feel’ to it in its links to emotion and life. Definitely recommended.
If you agree that `The Aztecs' is brilliant and wish you could actually watch `Marco Polo', then you have come to the right place - this box set contains a classical epic that is the true equal of John Lucarotti's splendid historicals, starring the iconic original crew of the TARDIS.
I've tried not to give away details in this review, but to cut a long story short, if you like the Hartnell era `serious' historicals you will love this box set and can stop reading now and buy it! The richness of the drama deserves to be listened to as you would any classic play; it's a great experience. 5*
Moris Farhi has not one, but two `Lost Stories' to his name, both brilliantly produced here by Big Finish almost half a century after they were written. They form a sharply contrasting pair; an epic historical on the grand scale and a tragedy in miniature set on a distant, beautiful world. I learned after listening to both stories (from the included audio documentary) that Moris Farhi wrote the scripts very early indeed in the life of the show, during the original broadcast of `Marco Polo' - only the fourth story ever to be shown - yet they have an astonishingly sure `feel' for the spirit of the earliest days of `Doctor Who' and the original characters who established the legend. Nigel Robinson's adaptations of the scripts keep that authentic atmosphere perfectly.
Big Finish have produced each story as a sort of `Super-Companion Chronicle', with William Russell and Carole Ann Ford brilliantly recreating their characters of Ian and Susan, also playing the Doctor and Barbara and most other characters as well as sharing the narration. They give magnificent performances throughout, bringing to life ancient wonders and creating an alien world. They are joined by either one or two other actors, each playing a specific role. The packaging describes these stories as `dramatic readings' but the emphasis is very much on the dramatic and the results are superb. The box set contains four packed CDs, including about 30 minutes of very interesting documentary tracks to finish the set.
When you've enjoyed the adventures, look into each CD sleeve for fascinating background details from Moris Farhi and Nigel Robinson about the stories, and production notes.
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`Farewell, Great Macedon' (6 episodes, 3 hours 40 minutes, 3 CDs)
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 323 BC. Beyond the Ishtar Gate a mighty army is encamped with its leader, the ruler of the known world - Alexander the Great. He is a man with "a beautiful dream", a dream of a world united across East and West, across different peoples regardless of `race' or religion, a world of order, peace and knowledge.
But not all in his army share that dream, and so conspiracy is born, tragedy and death stalk the camp and caught up in it all are four travellers from a place that not even Alexander can conquer - the future - bringing with them the knowledge of events yet to pass ...
After reading other reviews I'd expected a special story, and found it was even better! It's a colossal drama, a wonder of the ancient world of 1960s `Doctor Who' and if it had been made for television it would have taken its place among the epic historicals beside `Marco Polo' and `The Aztecs'.
I briefly wondered if the `Companion Chronicles' format could sustain a six-part production lasting more than three and a half hours - no problem! William Russell and Carole Ann Ford are superb and they are matched by John Dorney as Alexander. With Lisa Bowerman's excellent direction the three actors bring every last drop of excitement, tension, emotion and humour from a great script with some terrific cliffhangers. The music and sound design are wonderful, from the Aeolian music of the Hanging Gardens and the roar of crowds to the tiny sound details that create a landscape as convincing as any studio set. The sound style is as perfect for the First Doctor's era as the rest of the production.
The first episode has a lot to take in as we are introduced to a cast of characters with names that were mostly if not all Greek to me - as the story develops they become familiar but it does take concentration to begin with, because of the part-narrated format of this drama. Some of my spellings may be wrong, but here's the main `cast list' which I hope might be useful: the four conspirators are Antipater (an elderly, ruthless politician), Seleucus (a treacherous general and would-be king), Iolla (a cynical priest of Apollo) and Glaucius (a quack `doctor'). Alexander's four most trusted generals and loyal comrades are Cleitus (a tough old soldier and father-figure), Calannus (a brilliant Indian philosopher), Ptolemy (a Nubian nobleman) and Hephaesteon (Alexander's closest friend).
The diversity of Alexander's entourage displays his `one world' vision, though the real Alexander did not conquer the known world by the age of 25 just by preaching love and peace! However, if the story presents a somewhat rose-tinted view of Alexander the Great, according to the sleeve notes the events the TARDIS has landed in are real in most of their details.
The characterisations of the four crew of `The Ship' are astonishingly good and accurate even with hindsight. The Doctor is tetchy, brilliant, pleased with his own cleverness and self-assured enough to address the king of the known world as "young man"! We also learn he is a *qualified* doctor of human medicine - a very important fact in this story, which was confirmed on television in `The Moonbase' (where we discovered he took his degree under Lister!)
Susan is sometimes knowledgeable and sometimes naïve in what is for her a doubly alien world, picking up on similar themes from `An Unearthly Child'. This partly explains a scene that otherwise seems out-of-place, at the beginning of the story. On hearing the "heavenly music" of the Gardens around them, Susan is seemingly convinced they have all died and gone to Heaven - in the TARDIS! Strange as this may now sound, perhaps it was trying to reflect Susan's partial understanding of beliefs picked up from an alien culture - ours.
Other than that one scene, it's hard to believe this story was written so early on (though I know it was) because in continuity terms it fits perfectly some time after `The Aztecs', as reflected in the storylines of Ian and Barbara. Ian is exactly the same confident, athletic man who defeated Ixta, Chosen Leader of the Aztec warriors. I commented in my review of that story that Ian must have done his National Service in the Commandos - after this story I'm sure of it! In 15th century Mexico, Barbara the historian was prepared to impersonate a god to change history in a good cause. She learned her mistake the hard way - here she has still more detailed knowledge of the events that will unfold, person by person, over the days ahead...
Perhaps this story wasn't made because it would have coincided in production with `The Aztecs' and was thought too similar in its theme of the burden of knowledge of the future? It now seems the perfect `sequel', of a similarly high standard and appears to explore that same theme in the full knowledge of the travellers' `past' - which of course had yet to be written when Moris Farhi created this script; astonishing.
The ending is emotionally charged and will leave you thinking. Could the Doctor and his friends change / have changed history if they chose? Did they in fact do so, by action or inaction or a careless word - or were they part of history all along? That's not a spoiler, just some of the questions I was left asking myself - this time, I'm not sure even the Doctor knew...
This is a fabulous historical, subtly exploring questions of time travel while its other themes of mutual tolerance between cultures of East and West, integration, and belief in universal standards for humanity are just as relevant today as they were in 1964; as Alexander says, "a beautiful dream".
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`The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance' (1 episode, 37 minutes, 1 CD)
Fragrance is a beautiful, kaleidoscopically coloured Utopian world orbiting a distant sun. Its people live in tranquillity and love - but even these can hold their dangers when two cultures meet across Space and Time. The travellers are preparing to leave after a few delightful weeks on Fragrance. But a few weeks is not long enough to understand all the ways of another culture, especially in something as complex and fragile as love ...
The music, sound design and John Ainsworth's direction respect the slightly elusive nature of the story, as John Dorney and Helen Goldwyn join Carole Ann Ford and William Russell to perform this one-act tragedy, written by Moris Farhi as a writer's introduction to then `Doctor Who' script editor David Whitaker.
It's a character drama in miniature, in complete contrast with the historical epic it accompanies but surprisingly moving and equally well written and faithful to its time. Poignant and very different, this short story again characterises each of the four travellers perfectly and perhaps only the First Doctor would do what he does here ...
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These two stories revisit a unique time near the very beginning of `Doctor Who'. They are truly `historical' and are produced here still sounding fresh and new; highly recommended. 5*
I'd like to thank Timelord-007 for the review that introduced me to 'The Lost Stories' and this classic in particular.
Thanks for reading.
Released in 2010, this was the forst release in the second season of Lost Stories from Big Finish, in which scripts that were written for Dr. Who on the television but never made are brought to life for the audio medium.
The first series was a set of full cast audio dramas featuring the Sixth Doctor. However, for these 1st Doctor stories William Hartnell was unavailable to reprise the role, so an alternative approach had to be found. The stories are therefore narrated by William Russell and Carole-Anne Ford (Ian Chesterton and Susan Foreman from the TV series), with them acting their own characters and providing voices for all the others. William Russell’s 1st Doctor is impeccable, and really recalls the character.
The first story here is ‘Farewell Great Macedon’, and epic adventure in which the travellers meet Alexander the Great and get caught up with the politics in his Kingdom. The script is superb. It shold have been made for TV and would have stood alongside ‘Aztecs’ and ‘Marco Polo’ as an absolute classic in the historical genre. The tempo of the script is perfect, with each of the six half hour episodes ending on a perfect cliff hanger, preceded by an inexorable and skilful build up of tension. There were whole passages where I was so gripped by the sotry I found I had forgotten to breathe for a while. It is no perfectly paced and well narrated that it is totally engrossing. An absolute classic.
The fourth disc contains a one episode story ‘The Fragile Yellow Arc Of Fragrance’, a tragic little piece which is essentially a character study designed to show that the writer understands the characters. It’s another delight, especially with the final twist. It’s tragic and moving, a great story. There then follows about half an hour of extras in which the cast and crew discauss the making of the boxset.
An absolutely essential release for fans of the Hartnell era, 5 stars.