06 February 2015

BF: Little Doctors

Little Doctors is the second in Big Finish's new format for the Short Trips series, and it upholds the unspoken promises made by last month's Flywheel Revolution. While this story feels entirely authentic of Patrick Troughton's final series, it also defies the conventions of that period and turns them on their head. 

We begin, in a very modern narrative trick, midway through the action, before circling back to introduce the landscape we'll be spending the next half-hour or so in. Olympus is arguably duller than Dulkis; a colony run by a machine named Zeus which can be summed up in a single colour, beige. Before long we meet Lev and Drex, two particularly bland citizens who've been selected for the procreation programme. Entertainment in Olympus consists essentially of cycling or turning energy into matter in a futuristic version of shopping.

Overthrowing oppressive rulers is something a cliché when talking about 1960s Doctor Who but Philip Lawrence's latest effort offers an interesting moral stance: is it still oppression if the populus don't know they're being oppressed? Luckily the Doctor's on hand to answer that one for us; of course it is! And so he sets his mind to freeing these colonists from their world of mediocrity. In the process, he does of course create havoc, although there's not a foam machine in sight. 

No the trouble he generates here is decreed in the title. In the inciting incident that instigates the story, Lawrence gives us a glimpse of a tiny impish creature. The description is such that I was convinced immediately it was the Troughton Doctor. As it transpires, I was slightly wrong. What we actually heard was a 'little Doctor' created when the original, you might say, fused his mind with Zeus to help them evade the equivalent of Olympus' police force. These creatures are popping up all over the city, trying to eradicate some of the tedium-inducing aspects of Olympian life. 

This is a well-written, tightly-plotted story that almost seems geared around this particular TARDIS team. Zoe's part towards the end is especially characteristic as she explicitly defies logical practices. All this means that aside from some enjoyable camaraderie with the Doctor, Jamie is left with comparatively little to do. This isn't a criticism, as it's (a) barely true and (b) only 'notable' in hindsight. Overall though, this is well-constructed tale from a writer who has a clear handle of this era of the programme. I was surprised that Little Doctors displayed even more imagination than many of Lawrence's Action Figure Theatre strips which we've reviewed, and as such it becomes something of a favourite. I look forward to discussing this story with him.

On the production side of things, this is equally accomplished. With phonics from Toby Hrycek-Robinson (he of lunch-making fame), Olympus is a bustling, apparently happy world - until the little Doctors arrive. The incidental score for this release was stronger than that of the first, I felt, and overall left a more polished impression in my mind. The lack of vocal treatments may be to blame for that, but it was nonetheless enjoyable. Frazer Hines is of course an excellent reader, and if you're familiar with Big Finish at all you won't need me to tell you how good his recreation of the Second Doctor is. It helps that the dialogue he's been given is so faithful of course, but it's nonetheless an assured performance. 

Little Doctors delivers on many levels. First and foremost it is an intriguing narrative nestled at the top end of Season 6, but more than that, it's a faithful homage to one of my comfort eras of Doctor Who, enhancing its legacy rather than simply relying on it. The 33 minutes zipped by, and I'd have no hesitation in recommending this to any fan familiar with the Troughton era, no matter their previous Big Finish mileage.

In a Nutshell: An indisputably fun way to spend half an hour (and three quid). Roll on Time Tunnel.

You can buy Little Doctors here, visit the Action Figure Theatre here, or follow Philip on Twitter here.

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