We’re back, with another audio drama review! As previously mentioned, this is one of an occasional series I’m putting together, in which I’ll review various Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas. Generally the plan is to follow the Main Range (or Monthly Range, if you prefer), with occasional forays into other ranges. Today we’re going way back to the beginning, with the very first Main Range audio—and in fact, the very first Big Finish audio for Doctor Who, period—The Sirens of Time. Let’s get started!
(As always, spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this production!)
Big Finish starts off, well, big, with a multi-Doctor story in four parts. We get the last three Classic Doctors—Five, Six, and Seven. Interestingly, the Seventh Doctor was the only classic Doctor to never participate in a multi-Doctor story onscreen; but now he meets his two immediate predecessors. In part one, the Seventh Doctor is manipulated into landing on an unnamed planet in the year 3562; there he meets a girl named Elenya, and then finds himself instrumental in the liberation of Sancroff, an old man who later proves to be a war criminal. Along the way, he finds himself unable to re-enter the TARDIS, and they encounter assassins who were sent to kill Sancroff, and are taken by them. Behind the scenes, Gallifrey itself is suffering invasion, and falling.
Part two takes us to Earth during the first world war, with the Fifth Doctor. While searching out a lost signal, he lands aboard an unidentified merchant ship. The signal is a message from the Time Lords, but they are unclear; they seem to be urging the Doctor to return to the TARDIS, but he is unable to get inside, and Tegan and Turlough—trapped inside—are unable to answer him He meets a woman named Helen…and immediately the ship comes under attack from a German U-boat. The Doctor and Helen are collected as survivors by the Germans, who lock them up as potential spies. While locked up, an officer on the ship is possessed and attacks the Doctor; the Doctor assumes, correctly, that it’s the Time Lords. Meanwhile, the Germans see British ships on approach, and debate whether to attack. They are spared the decision when the Doctor seizes control and navigates back to the TARDIS’s position; he locates it, but can’t get inside, leaving him trapped at sea.
Part three sees the Sixth Doctor land on a starship called the Edifice, near the astronomical object called the Kurgon Wonder, year unknown. The Wonder is a massive time distortion in space. He meets a woman named Ellie, and correctly surmises that the ship was struck by a time disruption emanating from the Wonder, which killed the rest of the crew; together they also meet an android named Azimendah. This Doctor, too, cannot return to his TARDIS. He is manipulated by Ellie into eliminating the Wonder; afterward he discovers that it had existed as the result of the battle between the savage Knights of Velyshaa and a creature called the Temperon. Ending the disruption freed both the Knights and the Temperon.
In part four, the rather complex plot comes together. The three Doctors, now gathered and imprisoned on a conquered Gallifrey, find that it was the Knights who have conquered the planet. The woman they each encountered, under three different names, is actually the Knight Commander, Lyena; she has manipulated the Doctor in three time periods to create a timeline that is favorable to the Knights. In 1915, the Doctor’s redirection of the U-boat caused it to fail to sink the Lusitania, which prevented the USA’s timely entry into the war. While the war went similarly to original history, it allowed another change: Alexander Fleming was killed prior to developing penicillin (and by extension, other antibiotics); this later allowed form of pneumonia and meningitis to ravage humanity, thus preventing their eventual conquest of space. Therefore, in 3562, humanity did not defeat the Knights; and the rescue of Sancroff, one of the Knights’ leaders, re-inspired them to form their second empire. In between, the knights were able to control the now-freed Temperon, which produces a form of time-related power, and use it to develop time travel.
And yet, that’s not the end. It becomes clear that Lyena is not what she seems. In fact, she is a part of the Sirens of Time, a race of eternal creatures who feed on the energy produced by disruptions to the time stream. The Sirens have manipulated the Knights and the Doctor to create a terrible alternate timeline; if they are permitted time travel, the Sirens will essentially dominate and devour all of history. Like the legendary Sirens, they called to the Seventh Doctor, resulting in the course correction that led to his freeing of Sancroff; it becomes clear that anyone who answers their call a second time will become eternally enslaved to them. The Doctor, however—or Doctors, as they work together—find themselves trapped in a situations where any choice will result in failure—either they obey the Sirens and become enslaved, or they disobey and take actions that will ensure the new timeline remains unchanged. They are saved by the intervention of the Temperon; it sacrifices itself to travel back to the beginning of time and contain the Sirens throughout all of history. It can’t destroy them, but it can bind them.
It’s an interesting story, and one about which I have mixed feelings. The Sirens are a great villain, but really they can only be used once; their fate here takes them out of continuity forever, and any effort to re-use them would either have to be a work of genius or a cheap trick. The Knights of Velyshaa are interesting, but actually we don’t get a good look at them here; they are overshadowed by the Sirens and the Temperon. They do appear again in the audio Invasion of the Daleks. Other elements reappear as well; the Time Lord Vansell, who has a bit part here, reappears in multiple audios, and the Sixth Doctor’s visit to the Kurgon Wonder is referenced in the novel Instruments of Darkness. The Doctors make telepathic contact with each other in the same manner as the first, second, and third Doctors in The Three Doctors. There’s a good bit regarding the various characteristics of the different Doctors, and how they represent different facets of his personality; all of them possess his whole personality, but they emphasize different parts.
On the downside, it’s unclear for much of the story what the Temperon is: at times it appears to be a living being, and at times it appears to be an energy or a form of particle. With regard to the story, essentially, the Doctor loses at the end; the situation is saved, and Gallifrey is restored, not because the Doctor succeeded, but because the Temperon intervenes. While that’s perfectly fine on occasion, I don’t know that I would have started the series with a story of that type. It’s a convoluted plot, and that’s not unusual or a bad thing in Doctor Who; but for many people this would have been the first exposure to the audio format, and I find it would have been difficult to get used to that non-visual format while dealing with the rapidly-shifting complexities of the plot. As well, it’s a bit disappointing that no companions appear (beyond, that is, the mention of Tegan and Turlough), although I have to acknowledge that their presence would probably have complicated an already-convoluted plot.
Overall, it’s a bit disappointing as the audios seem to go. It’s certainly not bad, and is worth a listen; but it was not quite what I was hoping for. Still, it’s the first in a long line of audio dramas, and for that, we owe it some recognition.
Next time: We’ll take a look at the second installment in the Main Range, Phantasmagoria! Also in the works, I have the Destiny of the Doctor series which was produced in conjunction with AudioGO before that company’s end. See you there.
All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below. This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.