Review: Doctor Who – 133 – City of Spires

City of SpiresJames Robert McCrimmon (aka Jamie) was a second Doctor companion with a certain form for mucking up the timelines. A Highlander fighting during the Battle of Culloden, originally, he left the second Doctor, his memories wiped by the Time Lords, at the end of The War Games, the sixth season story that also saw the end of the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who. But, thanks to a sixth Doctor story, The Two Doctors, which gave us a post-season six pairing of the second Doctor and Jamie, it’s apparent that all is not what it seemed.

Back in the Companion Chronicle, The Glorious Revolution, there were hints that certain other timeline messing has been going on around our Jamie. This appeared to be resolved, but now we have City of Spires, in which Scottish history is all messed up. The Doctor arrives in Scotland decades after Culloden. The Highland clearances and Rob Roy are 40 years late. Edinburgh and Glasgow have been destroyed in favour of a ‘City of Spires’. And the old Jamie has no recollection of meeting the second Doctor at all…

Cue another one of Big Finish’s trilogies. Oh, did I mention David Tennant’s girlfriend is in this?

Arriving in a hail of musket fire, the Doctor unexpectedly finds himself in the highlands of Scotland, where the ruthless Black Donald and his band of rebels are fighting the Redcoats. But the highland warriors no longer fight for the Jacobite cause and the English officers answer only to the mysterious Overlord. What has happened to Scotland and why are its moors littered with advanced, oil-pumping technology?

Reunited with his faithful companion Jamie McCrimmon, the Doctor must venture into the sinister City of Spires to find the answers. But standing in his way is the deadly Red Cap…

Is it any good?
It could do with being a three-parter instead of a four-parter, since episodes three and four are more than a bit flabby in the pacing department, but it’s okay. Disappointingly, the first three episodes are all mystery-building: what’s happening, who are the aliens behind this all, why are the timelines messed up? – but the fourth episode doesn’t answer many of the questions, leaving them to be answered by the rest of the trilogy.

For the most-part, this is mostly a standard run around, with the Sixth Doctor running around the highlands getting mistaken for Frenchmen and Americans, trying to avoid getting shot while working out why Jamie’s lost his memory and why time is messed up. Along the way, he meets up with Georgia Moffett, who’s looking for her missing French husband.

It’s actually quite enjoyable, with Baker giving a very decent performance when he’s not putting on an accent and Hines giving a perfectly acceptable, if a little subdued and a little English performance of his own. Moffett seems more interested with delivery, so while she sounds good, she never really delivers the required emotion when needed.

The script does have a lot of research and there’s many a line where you think, “Oh, interesting turn of phrase. That’s an interesting perspective.” But the aliens are distinctly unimpressive, practically inaudible at times and although a little surprising are more like something out of The Sunmakers than anything else, and Red Cap, the aliens’ worker/grunt, is more comical than threatening.

Without knowing how the new two stories proceed, I can’t tell you if the pay off for all this timeline disruption is going to be good or not. If you listen only to this play, you’re going to be a little disappointed that all the interesting parts of it aren’t resolved, leaving you with a pretty dull villain being sorted out and a Doctor/companion reunion where the companion is old and bitter and doesn’t remember the Doctor.

Not one to buy by itself then, but we’ll see if it’s worth it as the first part of a trilogy in a couple of plays’ time.

Amazon CD: £14.97
Big Finish download: £12.99
Big Finish CD: £14.99

Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon)
Georgia Moffett (Alice)
Richard Earl (Victor)
James Albrecht (Major Heyward)
Russell Floyd (Sergeant Rilke)
Sam Graham (Guthrie)
Charlie Ross (Rob)
John Banks (Red Cap)

Writer: Simon Bovey
Director: Nicholas Briggs


  • 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.

    View all posts