Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures – The Outlaws (Big Finish Review)

Re-casting the Doctor is something of a challenge and badge of honour for Doctor Who. The regeneration from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton was the audacious life-line the show needed, and ensured it continued to this very day.  But there’s a difference between transforming the Doctor into someone with a brand new look and personality (and gender) and recasting the same incarnation of the Doctor.

Of all the Doctors, the First Doctor is the one with the more different versions than any other. After season four’s The Tenth Planet saw the Doctor regenerate for the first time, William Hartnell reprised the role once more in season ten’s The Three Doctors. When the show  celebrated it’s 20th anniversary, the sadly deceased Hartnell was replaced by William Hurndall, who did a serviceable attempt to bring the First Doctor into the multi-Doctor adventure. And then, playing Hartnell in the marvellous 50th anniversary drama An Adventure In Space And Time, David Bradley recreated the First Doctor for Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat’s swansong Twice Upon A Time. It’s a role he’s created several time since at Big Finish, and we’ve had ten excellent stories across five volumes, with his An Adventure In Space And Time cast taking on the roles of Ian, Barbara and Susan.

However, these five volumes are fleeting events and as Big Finish has done before with Tim Treloar’s Third Doctor, the time has come to recast the First Doctor once more, presumably to record and release a whole series of regular adventures with the First Doctor and Dodo (recently re-cast with Lauren Cornelius). Enter actor and former Royal Shakespeare Company member Stephen Noonan, who, like Treloar, has taken on the mantle from Hartnell, Hurndall and Bradley before him.

The Outlaws follows the First Doctor and Dodo, some time between Stephen’s departure in The Smugglers and Dodo’s sudden exit in The War Machines. Cornelius, of course, voiced Dodo in the excellent The Secrets of Det-Sen last year, and continues to breathe life into a companion that got very short shrift on television, where she was played by Jackie Lane for nineteen episodes.

The Outlaws

Big Finish has been quite canny in launching this new range of Doctor Who: The First Doctor AdventuresIt has new leads, recasting a Doctor and companion that is much less known than other TARDIS dynamics, largely due to a sizeable number of First Doctor and Dodo (and Stephen) stories being lost. So delivering a sequel to one of Hartnell’s most dynamic stories – The Time Meddler – is quite clever, particularly when it throws in a larger than life version of the infamous Meddling Monk in Rufus Hound’s Big Finish incarnation. It’s both an historical adventure perfectly in keeping with the First Doctor era and a fusion of more modern Doctor Who sensibilities.

Of course, it all rests of Stephen Noonan’s performance as the First Doctor. It’s very different to David Bradley’s version and much closer to the original. Noonan is an established actor with years of experience and he has thrown great care into recreating Hartnell for the Big Finish crowd. There’s no denying that there are differences; Noonan’s accent slightly breaks the allusions, but oh boy, has he nailed aspects of Hartnell’s voice. There are so many delightful vocal mannerisms and quirks that are pitch perfect First Doctor, right down to the line fluffs. It’s an absolute delight to listen to and any sense that Noonan doesn’t quite sound like Hartnell in every aspect is soon forgotten.

He’s the livelier, more energetic Doctor seen in later stories of the First Doctor and he’s matched by an equally energetic companion in Dodo. Lauren Cornelius has a great test run as Jackie Lane’s companion in last year’s excellent The Secrets of Det Sen and she brings new life to a companion largely forgotten in Doctor Who fandom. Dodo’s writing was widely inconsistent in the original run, but there’s a clear direction in her journey across this story and the next and there’s great chemistry between Noonan and Cornelius, that offers great promise for future stories to come.

As for the story, Lizbeth Myles crafts a fun tale that really plays on the Robin Hood nostalgia in a dramatic story of Thirteenth Century England in the grip of the conflict between King John and King Richard’s overseas’ crusades (there’s some nice references to The Crusade in addition to The Time Meddler). There’s a fabulous cast too. Glynis Barber commands every scene as Lincoln sheriff Nicholaa de la Haye, a powerful matriarch balancing the frivolities of her daughter Idonea de Camville (Carly Day) and the conflicts with outlaws, French and any other power seeking to destroy her city. There’s some great rapport with Noonan’s Doctor as he navigates the perilous line between guest and potential prisoner of her court.

There are many larger than life characters in the story, but none more so than Rufus Hound’s Monk, who is just a blast in this story. It’s surprising that he fits so effortlessly into this type of story as he would a more modern Big Finish production like the recent Missy series. Whether it’s leading his own band of merry men or indulging in his rivalry with the First Doctor after their last encounter in 1066, it’s clear Hound is having the time of his life without stealing the show.

The Outlaws is a strong opening four-parter to this new era of First Doctor adventures, with a great balance of drama and humour, all while keeping within the historical setting Hopley has drawn upon. It is a swashbuckling sequel to one of the First Doctor’s best stories, with Stephen Noonan delivering a pitch perfect performance as the Doctor

 

The Miniaturist

From historical high adventure to sci-fi psychological drama with a ‘contemporary’ setting for the First Doctor, Lizzie Hopley’s script has a very different tone, while still on keeping with the era of the show. Again, Noonan and Cornelius lead a strong ensemble, particularly Paul Copley’s Mick Huff, a gruff local watchman with plenty of gravitas and Annette Badland mysterious Miniaturist, who sits in the grey area of antagonist in this tale.

There’s plenty of atmosphere in the Yorkshire setting, brought to life through Nicholas Brigg’s strong direction, that is a million miles from the forests of Thirteenth Century Lincoln, but the real strength of the story is in the psychological mystery box element of the story. At two parts (though the first half stretches to an hour), it’s more narrowly focused then The Outlaws, with some clever twists to keep the listener on their toes.

The Miniaturist certainly requires plenty of attention though; it’s not as breezy as its predecessor and there were moments where I struggled to keep up with the story. But when it comes together in the second half, all that mystery and tension pays off with the Doctor on fine form uncovering the alien presence and going head to head with another powerful opponent in Badland’s titular Miniaturist. There’s also plenty of agency with Dodo here, who is clearly flourishing as a companion under much stronger material.

It’s a fine end to a strong first set of stories with the First Doctor and Dodo, delivering a more complex sci-fi narrative than other stories of this era and makes me eager to listen to more with this TARDIS team as they continue on at Big Finish.

Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures – The Outlaws is available to purchase at the Big Finish sit here, and goes on general release on the .

The Extras

In the behind the scenes interviews, Nicholas Briggs and producer Mark Wright talk about the plans to re-invent the First Doctor Adventures range with a new voice and a performance reminiscent of William Hartnell’s, the audition process and praise for Stephen Noonan’s approach to the part of the First Doctor. Noonan shares his memories of first witnessing Hartnell’s Doctor watching The Three Doctors as a child and mimicking him in the playground. His research into Hartnell’s voice as the Doctor is fascinating, as he looked beyond his Doctor Who episodes to the actor’s wider work. Wright also talks about the politics surrounding Jackie Lane’s time on the show and Lauren Cornelius’ casting as Dodo Chaplet, using the feisty, fun version of The Gunfighters as inspiration. Noonan and Cornelius share their thoughts on working together and finding their rapport as Doctor / companion and as actors.

There’s also plenty of discussion on The Outlaws, with writer Lizbeth Myles drawing on the legacy of Robin Hood, while Noonan draws upon the love letters to The Time Meddler and The Crusades. Rufus Hound delights in getting to work with the First Doctor and returning to the origins of the Meddling Monk. Cornelius is hugely enthusiastic for the comedic moments, while actress Glynis Barber (Nicholaa de la Haye) draws upon the fascinating concept of playing the real-life female Sheriff of Lincoln in the Thirteenth Century.

In the discussions for The Miniaturist, writer Lizzie Hopley talks about her inspirations for the story, while Noonan continues the exploration of his journey as the First Doctor and the challenge of filling William Hartnell’s shoes. Briggs explores the explores of using an established cast to bring the story to life, as Anne Badland and Paul Copley delve into their character motivations and history working with Big Finish. Producer Mark Wright wraps up the conversation with his aims to recapture the First Doctor’s mix of traditional and ‘out there’ roots for the First Doctor and Dodo’s first new adventures together with this new cast.

 

Synopsis

Brand new adventures for the Doctor and Dodo.

1.1 The Outlaws by Lizbeth Myles
Landing in 13th-century Lincoln, the Doctor and Dodo are soon caught up in the battle between Sheriff Nicholaa de la Haye and outlaw gangs in the nearby forest. King John requires funds for his conflict with France, and Nicholaa is determined to provide them, whatever the efforts of William of Berkshire and his gang of wolves’ heads…

After taking refuge in Lincoln Castle, the Doctor and Dodo are separated. The Doctor is detained at the pleasure of the Sheriff, while Dodo indulges her adventurous spirit and plays forest outlaw with William’s gang.

But William is not acting alone. The outlaws’ true leader knows the Doctor and has a plan for revenge. A man with a passion for meddling. A man who wears a monk’s habit…

1.2 The Miniaturist by Lizzie Hopley
Coulton Salt Mine: a rare environment for geological exploration on the North Yorkshire coast. The Doctor is fascinated by the experiments of Professor Medra on the Zechstein seabed, but Dodo is distracted. Didn’t her family settle in this part of Yorkshire?

As the Doctor delves deeper into the work of Professor Medra, Dodo is helped by security guard Mick Huff, who is concerned about the strange happenings in recent weeks. Who are the children that keep appearing around the mine workings? Why are local landmarks vanishing? And how can the bedrock of a geological ‘quiet place’ be screaming?

Cast

Stephen Noonan (The Doctor)
Lauren Cornelius (Dodo Chaplet)
Rufus Hound (The Monk)
Annette Badland (The Miniaturist)
Glynis Barber (Nicholaa de la Haye)
Benedict Briggs (Child Voice)
Paul Copley (Mick Huff)
Carly Day (Idonea de Camville)
Barnaby Edwards (The Messenger)
Christian Edwards (William of Berkshire / Gregory)
Caroline Hrycek-Robinson (Child Voice)
Yasmin Mwanza (Professor Medra)
Sam Stafford (Sir Hugh de Courtney / Eustace)

Production Credits

Cover Art by Claudia Gironi
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Producer Mark Wright
Script Editor Mark Wright
Sound Design by Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Written by Lizbeth Myles & Lizzie Hopley
Senior Producer David Richardson

Recommended Listening

Doctor Who: The Secrets of Det-Sen

Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures Volume 05

Missy Series 03: Missy and the Monk

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