Sometimes Big Finish have a good idea and they run with it: make lots of audio plays featuring the original actors from Doctor Who. Sometimes they have a bad idea and they still run with it: make lots of audio plays featuring none of the original actors from Sapphire and Steel.
But sometimes they just have an entirely mundane idea that no one would really consider re-using – and they run with it. Case in point: 100 was a series of four, one-episode plays gathered together to celebrate the 100th Big Finish Doctor Who audio release. So far so good. What you might not then have expected is for Big Finish to release four more one-episode plays under a numerical umbrella for no really good reason whatsoever.
Which is why Forty Five would have surprised you. It’s just four plays, all featuring the number 45.
1. FALSE GODS
In the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert Howard Carter and his team search for the lost tomb of Userhat, a servant of the god Amun. What they discover sheds new light on the history of the world as we know it.
2. ORDER OF SIMPLICITY
Dr. Verryman has devoted his life to the advancement of knowledge. When his experiments on a remote planet threaten the entire human race only the Doctor can help – if he puts his mind to it.
3. CASUALTIES OF WAR
Opportunity knocks in postwar London. But when a tea leaf steals from the wrong woman it becomes a race against time to discover the truth. Only some truths are best left untold.
4. THE WORD LORD
In a top secret military bunker deep beneath the Antarctic ice a mysterious death threatens peace negotiations and could spell disaster for the inhabitants of Earth. Can the Doctor cross the t’s and dot the i’s? Or will his efforts get lost in translation?
Are they any good?
They’re a bit of a mish-mash, with some good(ish) and some not so good, but collectively, they’re pretty bad.
First, as a global criticism, Sylvester McCoy manages to be absolutely appalling in every single one of these. You have admire his consistency, when Sophie Aldred manages to spoil her track record by turning in a decent performance in Casualties of War. But he’s absolute diabolical in all of them, painfully so in The Word Lord.
Moving on a little to the guest cast, most of them are taking this as an opportunity to ham it up something rotten. Jon Glover goes massively over the top in Order of Simplicity – although fair dues, he is playing a mad scientist – and Paul Reynolds (Colin off Press Gang) hits the rafters in both his. Benedict Cumberbatch, it must be said, does a good job of actually acting in False Gods though.
…is pretty execrable fan wank, I’m afraid. It takes an almost interesting idea then shovels it under 15 feet of continuity and never knowingly fails to use gobbledygook when it could have used normal speech instead. It doesn’t help that Ace and Hex come across more like William Hartnell’s grandchildren in the TV comics than fully fledged adults, either.
Order of Simplicity…
…takes a really bad idea but still manages to have a little fun with it. Ace and Hex are better characterised and feel like themselves, once again. The resolution is pretty dumb (that’s a clue), as is pretty much the whole of the play, but at least Jon Glover’s having fun. On the whole though, I’d rather have the 25 minutes I spent listening to this back.
Casualties of War…
…is a whole lot better than both, but pretty unmemorable in terms of plot. The characterisation is good, and manages to use both Big Finish and television back story to make all three TARDIS inhabitants act in character, while developing them. There’s a somewhat tedious and pointless bit involving Big Finish’s evil Torchwood, the Forge, that Alan Barnes appears to have foisted on it for no good reason, but it’s enough of a character piece that it survives that particular indignity. Minor note: the Second World War did not end with VE day; that’s the whole point of VJ day.
The Word Lord…
…is the best of the bunch, managing to wrap all the plays together and explain the 45 motif, while involving a reasonably clever idea – that unfortunately feels too much like a Doctor Who version of a couple of Big Finish’s Sapphire and Steel ‘big bads’. If you’ve not heard those, you might be more impressed though. It’s a little too daft, right down to Pokemon references by the villain, to really cut the mustard, the Ace and Hex characterisations are off, and Sly does absolutely maul a somewhat emotional scene. But it’s interesting and fun all the same.
Overall, probably one to skip, just because it’s not that impressive, although completeists will probably want it for Casualties of War, which slightly advances the Doctor/Ace/Hex dynamic.
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Philip Olivier (Hex)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Howard Carter)
Lucy Adams (Jane Templeton)
Paul Lincoln (Robert Charles)
Jon Glover (Creodont)
Paul Lincoln (Robot)
Order of Simplicity
Jon Glover (Dr Verryman)
Lucy Adams (Mrs Crisp)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Thing 2)
Paul Lincoln (Thing 1)
Casualties of War
Paul Reynolds (Joey Carlisle)
Linda Marlowe (May)
Beth Chalmers (Audrey)
Beth Chalmers (Miss Merchant)
Andrew Dickens (PC Miller)
The Word Lord
Linda Marlowe (Commander Claire Spencer)
Paul Reynolds (Nobody No-One)
Andrew Dickens (Captain James Hurst)
Paul Lincoln (Private Fenton)
Beth Chalmers (System)
Writers: False Gods – Mark Morris; Order of Simplicity – Nick Scovell; Casualties of War – Mark Michalowski; The Word Lord – Steven Hall
Director: Ken Bentley