Since January of this year, Big Finish have relaunched their Monthly Range as a few boxsets for each classic Doctor every month. For most Doctors, this is merely a continuation of pre-existing ranges (Eighth, First, Third Doctor Adventures etc) and reinvigorated those for the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh. However, the Second had never had his own range before, restricted to the Companion Chronicles, Early Adventures, Short Trips and Lost Stories along with others, with Frazer Hines taking on the role of his friend and co-star. But now the Second Doctor gains a new lease of life set after his TV run conclusion and Patrick Troughton’s son, Michael, taking on the role originated by his late father.
Taking place in the fan continuity referred to as ‘Season 6B’, Beyond War Games depicts the Doctor in service of the Time Lords and delaying his exile and regeneration to the Third Doctor, but not as we know it. Big Finish are doing their own take which allows for a new subsection of the era to take place. Highly anticipated since the relaunch announcement, let’s delve into this debut set and see how it holds up…
THE FINAL BEGINNING
Mere seconds after The War Games concludes, we’re thrown straight in. The whole first scene is an utter delight, hearing Troughton emulate his father’s giddiness and excitement from the role with the Doctor’s triumphant victory speech. Already you believe you’re in the presence of the Second Doctor and from there it doesn’t let up. The whole story (and set as a whole) is really one of the best debut tracks for a recast Doctor there is on Big Finish, perhaps even the best, and you love every second of it.
The side cast of Silas and Catrona are serviceable although don’t do much in the story (however praise for Tim Treloar’s new role away from the Third Doctor) but Raven is brilliant. What starts out as a lost young girl the Doctor takes under his wing despite being lost himself ends up becoming a whole new dynamic that’ll recur throughout the range. Emma Noakes is perfect casting for Raven and I look forward to much more of her in the coming years.
The plot itself isn’t what you come here for and overall that’s a good thing. A very short story (each episode lasting a mere fifteen minutes), I can’t help but wish more had been done with the core idea here. The whole idea around Skaro forcing its way back into the universe after Evil of the Daleks is something that deserves a whole full length story in itself, but alas we’re left here with a tantalising glimpse at what could have been. Perhaps it’s a mercy, considering April’s Companion Chronicles set also tackled aftermath of Evil and this could have been oversaturation. No, the real core here is the Doctor finding himself caught up in the missions he’s sent on (and in a clever twist, making it the Celestial Intervention Agency – or CIA) who are the ones operating the whole debacle…).
As previously mentioned, this is not Season 6B as you know it. Rather than have the Doctor holding off his exile and regeneration, Big Finish tackle it as a sidestep, if you like. The exile and Jon Pertwee have already happened, and this is a splintered-off version of Two that the CIA extracted. It’s certainly an interesting way to go about things and also offers the Doctor a dilemma of ceasing to exist does he not complete his tasks and merging back into Pertwee which raises the question: Does the Third Doctor remember these missions? Perhaps we’ll learn the answer later down the line…
WRATH OF THE ICE WARRIORS
After the more unique flavour of the previous story, Wrath of the Ice Warriors is very much familiar. It’s not quite the full Pertwee years ‘UNIT and the Doctor against mad scientists or the Master. In fact, it’s, more in line with The Invasion. The reunion of this Doctor and the Brigadier is wonderful, and Troughton immediately clicks with Culshaw’s infallible Brigadier.
The companion of the week, Sheena Flynn, is absolutely wonderful and puts me in mind of Fiona McCall from February’s Old Friends. Sheena instantly strikes up a joyful friendship with the Doctor after rescuing him from UNIT bombardments and Lucy Goldie really puts her all into the performance. Equally, her dynamic with the Brigadier is just as fun if not as present as the Doctor’s.
It’s a joy to go back to a time when the Doctor and the Brigadier respected each other but were still a bit unsure of one another. The Doctor’s glee at teasing him over the UNIT call signs are a particular highlight to listen to. As ever, Culshaw gives his all and really does make you believe that Nicholas Courtney is there in studio with the cast.
The plot itself is a decent run-of-the-mill good time with a few twists and turns although there’s only so much you can do with the Ice Warriors, although they give it a good go here with a civil-war type rogue faction which has been seen with many other iconic Doctor Who villains. Thankfully, Katy Manning turns up halfway through as Ice Queen Zelanda, and you’re immediately drawn in to her performance. Miles away from Jo Grant, Manning hams it up slightly as an utter delight, yet still a capable and menacing threat and there’s the feeling of wanting her to return.
The conclusion of the story is arguably the weakest element unfortunately, as suddenly we’ve left Scotland and we’re now on Mars traipsing through some city ruins (something which happened at the end of the previous story in the set too…). Not to say it isn’t a stupidly fun time having the Brigadier on Mars and UNIT jeeps rolling across the planet’s surface, but it requires some suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy. Thankfully, the rest of the story is great enough that you’ll forgive writer Andrew Smith for having a bit of fun with his pitch.
As well as the interviews for each story, the boxset comes with an extended version of each although just with the download version. For The Final Beginning, we get a wealth of anecdotes and behind the scenes info on the new range, away from Frazer Hines playing the Doctor. Troughton himself recalls visiting the set of Evil of the Daleks and after thinking about doing the role, seeing the fans convinced him to do so, while Mark Wright discusses how they were vaguely aware of Season 6B but not too deep into the lore.
On Wrath of the Ice Warriors, Andrew Smith recalls how the idea came pre-packaged as familiar Doctor Who ‘comfort food’ and the joy of writing for his favourite Doctor, revisiting old stories. Nicholas Briggs mentions how he was distraught at the wiping of old episodes (as were we all) and how he had no idea that Troughton was leaving the role and in a touching moment recalls how he cried when he reunited Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury for the Main Range (presumably Legend of the Cybermen), while Culshaw remarks on the different tones of the Brigadier depending on where in his life he is.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
After all these years, it’s beautiful to see the Second Doctor finally get his own range along with all the other Doctors up to Tennant and the casting is perfect. Michael Troughton really embraces his dad while equally doing his own take on the role in a fusion which puts a grin on any fan’s face. It’s just such a shame that there’s only one set a year… How do we wait until July 2023 for the next one?!
Doctor Who: The Second Doctor Adventures – Beyond War Games is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, and goes on general release on the 31st August 2022.
Before Earth, before UNIT, before exile, the Second Doctor enters into a dangerous bargain in return for his freedom…
The Final Beginning by Mark Wright and Nicholas Briggs (4 parts)
Believing he has escaped exile – and a change to his appearance – by the Time Lords, the Doctor finds himself lost on a snowy, alien world. He is not alone – prospectors Catrona and Silas are stranded on this nightmare planet, but without his TARDIS, the Doctor is powerless to help them.
Seeking answers – and freedom – the Doctor’s hopes and suspicions are aroused when a crashed TARDIS is discovered in the snow. Are Catrona and Silas as innocent as they seem? And who is Raven, the young woman who watches from afar?
Long buried secrets are about to be revealed in this icy wasteland, and the Doctor discovers that every end has a terrifying new beginning…
Wrath of the Ice Warriors by Andrew Smith (4 parts)
Plunged into the middle of a desperate mission by his new masters, the Doctor is delighted to be reunited with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT near Cape Wrath, Scotland. The Doctor’s arrival coincides with the sighting of black cylinders in the sky and an attack on a trawler by a ‘creature o’ the sea.’
The Doctor quickly realises he is dealing with Ice Warriors and investigates with the help of the Brigadier and local crofter Sheena Flynn. With a space fleet lurking in the vicinity of Jupiter, the Doctor believes the Martians are planning a new invasion of Earth – but who is the true enemy?
Battle lines are drawn and the Doctor races against time to prevent Earth being caught in the crossfire.
Michael Troughton (The Doctor)
Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Jon Culshaw (Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart)
Mark Elstob (Skaar / Tam Walsh / Dougie)
Lucy Goldie (Sheena Flynn)
Katy Manning (Lady Zelanda)
Anna-Maria Nabirye (Catrona)
Emma Noakes (Raven)
Tim Treloar (Silas)
Cover Art by Claudia Gironi
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Benji Clifford, Nicholas Briggs & Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Producer Mark Wright
Script Editor Mark Wright & Nicholas Briggs
Sound Design by Steve Foxon & Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Written by Mark Wright, Nicholas Briggs & Andrew Smith
Senior Producer David Richardson