Review: Doctor Who – Circular Time

Circular TimeUgh. Ugh. Ugh. I’ve been tarnished. I’ve had to listen to something by Paul Cornell again.

Okay. I’m feeling better now. Actually, the experience wasn’t that bad. Circular Time is definitely one of the better plays of late, despite the Cornellian clouds of pretension looming around every word. In fact, it’s four plays, one for each season.

I’ve no idea why they decided to set the play around the four seasons. I guess you could argue that each play represents different aspects of the age of the characters, with Spring youthful and adventurous, Summer not quite so high spirited (but what? I’m not sure. More religious?), Autumn more mature and Winter the gradual settling down and winding down of life. But it’s more of a gimmick than anything too insightful.

Plot (slowly fading from the autumn of Big Finish’s web site)

Summer to winter, the seasons turn.

In the springtime of a distant future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord politics on an alien world. During the stifling heat of a summer past they suffer the vengeful wrath of Isaac Newton. In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn in an English village while the Doctor plays cricket. And finally, many years after their travels together have ended, the two friends meet again in the strangest of circumstances.

Four seasons. Four stories.

Now close the door behind you, you’re letting the cold in…

Is it any good?

The fifth Doctor’s television era was probably the most continuity-conscious and angst-ridden of them all, and Circular Time recreates that aspect very faithfully.

Spring’s jolly romp is full of TARDISes and time lords as well as a load of second Doctor gubbins, which given the fifth Doctor practically had a Gallifreyan timeshare for all the appearances he made on his home planet, is reasonable enough. Summer’s meeting between The Doctor and the rather scary Sir Isaac Newton (played by David Warner exactly as he should have played Steel in the Sapphire and Steel audio plays but didn’t) doesn’t forget Tombo’s claims to having met Sir Isaac. Autumn is pretty much a Traken retrospective. Winter I can’t tell you too much about without ruining it for you, but every bit of it drips continuity.

Imagine a door marked “Extreme geekiness”. Do you want to go through it?

It is, however, the best of the lot. Spring is ultimately empty and pointless, a massively interesting story in potential that simply ends. You’re left wondering if perhaps Winter is going to explain it all with some kind of tie-in. But no. It’s all for nothing. It’s fun. It’s thrilling. It’s an unfinished, slightly silly symphony.

Summer is similarly trying. A fascinating look at the genius of Newton, it simply ends without explanation and a magic reset button being pushed to nullify its every happening.

Autumn is a completely different kind of story, a “coming of age” tale for Nyssa as she learns about boys and things. Again, a strange ending, but this time there seems to be a point to it all, since it’s a character piece rather than a straight “insert evil-plan-destroyer in evil-plan tab B” plot. It’s quite touching and you wish Big Finish would focus more on these kinds of stories, even if there’s a touch of the teenage fan fic to Autumn at times.

As for Winter, imagine a door marked “Extreme geekiness”. Do you want to go through it? Listen to Winter and you’ll have to. If you are an Extreme Geek, you’ll cotton on to what’s happening pretty soon since it’s a standard Big Finish plot – the important thing is when it’s happening. When you do realise and provided you accept fanon as canon, you’ll feel a sudden thrill while simultaneously realising that one of the best, most emotional moments in Doctor Who history has been rendered dull, science-fictiony and prosaic. Despite that problem, it’s a quite affecting piece, a fifth Doctor character study that also reveals Nyssa’s post-travels fate.

Sarah Sutton does an excellent job as Nyssa and you can appreciate at least one of the reasons why Peter Davison was so keen on that particular Doctor-companion combination. There’s some good dialogue on display that recaptures the onscreen relationship and furthers it. Davison is clearly in his element, too, although you know he really wants to do a bit more comedy. Other than David Warner, the supporting cast isn’t that great and the sheer number that have been in previous Big Finish productions is quite distracting (Jeremy James in particular, since he sounds exactly the same and performs exactly the same as he did all the way through the Sarah Jane Smith stories).

On the whole, not bad then. A bit ephemeral in places – maybe that was the point of Spring and Summer? To be ephemeral? Maybe I’m just being thick – a bit pretentious in the second half. But still a reasonable addition to the range. I’m not sure I’d recommend buying it unless you’re an EG who longs to know more about Nyssa.

Listen to a trailer (Windows Media)


The Doctor (Peter Davison)

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton)


Hoodeye (Jamie Sandford)

Redklaw (Toby Longworth)

Carrion (Lois Baxter)

Snowfire (Teresa Gallagher)

Zero (Hugh Fraser)


Guard (Jeremy James)

Molly (Sunny Ormonde)

Jailer (Trevor Littldale)

Sir Isaac Newton (David Warner)


Andrew (Jamie Sandford)

Jack (Toby Longworth)

Anton (Jeremy James)

Don (John Benfield)


Lasarti (Jeremy James)

Anima (Sunny Ormonde)

Writer: Paul Cornell & Mike Maddox

Director: John Ainsworth

Price: £14.99 (£15.50)


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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