When first we met James Robert McCrimmon, he was fighting the Battle of Culloden in one of Doctor Who‘s last few purely historical stories, The Highlanders. He left at the end of The War Games, his memories of his time with the Doctor wiped by the Time Lords – who then ended up using him and the Second Doctor as time agents during the mythical “season 6a” that the Sixth Doctor story The Two Doctors appears to reveal.
When we last met him in the Big Finish plays, it was for a Companion Chronicle, Helicon Prime, which – to put it bluntly – was absolute rubbish. To be fair, until recently, all the second Doctor Companion Chronicles were rubbish, so Helicon Prime wasn’t on its own for this quality shortfall. But it was rubbish.
Nevertheless, despite this inauspicious return, Jamie’s back in a big way – Big Finish intend to have him in a two-handed Companion Chronicle with Deborah Watling as Victoria in March, and as a companion of the Sixth Doctor in a forthcoming trilogy of plays (one of which will also feature Wendy Padbury as Zoe) and a Companion Chronicle.
So you might have been expecting this play, in which an agent of the Time Lord’s Celestial Intervention Agency gives Jamie back his memories of his time with the Doctor, to be the launch of this Jamie range.
Instead, we have a pretty good historical story – with just a hint of sci-fi – set during England’s Glorious Revolution.
After years as a companion to the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon was returned to his own world and his own time, and his memories of his travels were erased. Until now.
A visitor from beyond the stars needs to explore Jamie’s past, and discover what went wrong. What happened in the year 1688, when the TARDIS landed in London, and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe were welcomed into the court of King James II.
Is it any good?
It’s pretty good. It suffers a little from the framing metaphor, in which the Time Lord CIA agent restores Jamie’s memories purely to find out what he got up to back in 1688. There’s no earthly reason why they’d have to do that, and once again, as soon as the story is being told, the script reverts to “I said…he said” and so on. Seriously, if you’re telling someone a story, that’s not how you talk. Try it some time. We’re not talking books – we’re people.
The story itself is quite interesting, since it sees Jamie (who doesn’t appear to give a monkey’s about Polly and Ben, only Victoria and Zoe, judging by the dialogue explaining what he recalls about his adventures) in his own past for the first time. Learning that he’s at the point where he could prevent William of Orange becoming king by ensuring James II of England (James VII of Scotland) remains on the throne, he interferes with history in an effort to prevent Culloden and the bloodshed in Ireland and Scotland.
Quite why Jamie’s so educated about Irish history or cares about the Irish, I don’t know, but it’s a nice counterpoint to the English-centric view of history that Doctor Who tends to offer.
He actually manages to achieve this for a while, which results in two timelines, and the second part of the story involves the efforts of the Doctor (and the CIA in the background) to set the timeline back on its original path. It’s a good exploration of historical events, filled with detail without that overbearing “let me educate you” tendency you get with some historicals. It is, however, very much a Jamie story, with the Doctor and Zoe out of the action for much of the play, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing – Jamie does come out of it well, a lot less stupid than he appears in his TV incarnation as well as vastly more action-packed.
There are only two actors here, of course. Andrew Fettes, who plays the CIA agent and James II, is a little arch in both roles, but is better as the King.
Hines does a good turn as Jamie, much improved on his accent-free, storyteller rendition in Helicon Prime – although his younger Jamie isn’t very much like his on-screen performance. His Zoe impression is negligible, but his Pat Troughton impression is awe-inspiring this time. There are times you could swear it’s Troughton and Big Finish could do worse than get Hines to pretend to be the second Doctor for a whole series of full cast plays (admittedly, it would be a little tasteless, but they’ve the Seventh Doctor travelling with a Nazi scientist in a range of plays starting this month, so who knows what they’d consider?).
It’s not a must-have, and there is a magic reset button to be found somewhere in the play that stops this from advancing the character. But it’s still good, and light years better than Helicon Prime. It should also make you look forward to all those Jamie plays coming soon.
Frazer Hines (Jamie)
Andrew Fettes (The Visitor/King James II)
Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Nigel Fairs