Posting early due to the Thanksgiving holiday, as I intend to spend the next two days in a turkey-induced coma.
We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! This time, we’re starting something special: the eleven-volume special series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Produced during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in 2013, it’s not your average production; each drama is a small-cast audio, read by an actor from the appropriate era’s companions, plus one or two guest readers. Therefore it lacks the full-cast presence of the Main Range dramas—but I think you’ll see that this is not a deficiency. Each volume focuses on a different Doctor, First to Eleventh, with tie-ins and connections among them. Today we’re looking at the First Doctor story, Hunters of Earth, read by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman) and Tam Williams. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!
This story constitutes a very early look at the Doctor and Susan; it begins on a Thursday in October 1963, placing it approximately a month before the events of An Unearthly Child. Susan is already a student at Coal Hill School, and has been for some four months; it becomes apparent that a problem with the TARDIS has left the travelers stranded on Earth longer than they intended. To that end, the Doctor is seeking parts for use in repairing the TARDIS, and Susan extracts a promise from him to get them legally. Ian and Barbara, not yet having any issues with Susan, do not figure into this story, though presumably they are present at the school. Instead, we get Colonel Rook, another teacher, who is both mysterious and menacing.
There’s an emphasis on Susan’s awkwardness and lack of social interaction here. It’s made worse by Rook’s disturbing interest in her and her origins—in fact, in a tiny bit of fanservice, he describes her as “unearthly”. Susan’s isolation makes her perhaps a little unsuspecting when another student, Cedric, shows interest in her and pulls her into his circle of friends. When, they meet, however, strange things start happening; odd radio broadcasts give Susan a piercing headache, and causes people around her to act bizarrely, even to the point of attacking her. It isn’t spelled out, but it becomes clear that Susan’s problem is related to her telepathic ability.
In the midst of all of this, the Doctor arrives to give Susan a message; but he receives one of his own when the radio starts playing a cryptic announcement…from a future incarnation of the Doctor! He doesn’t grasp it all, but readers will recognize the message as coming from the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor departs, heading to Magpie Electricals to purchase the parts he has been seeking. He orders the parts, and plans to come and pick them up in a few days. Unknown to him, Colonel Rook is spying on him.
Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor is assaulted by a group of thugs; but they suddenly and unexpectedly stop and let him go. He hurries home, meeting up with Susan, and learns there is anti-alien graffiti on the junkyard wall. Someone has discovered their identities; the Doctor is now more anxious than ever to leave.
The next day, Susan is attacked again, but again, the attack is cut short when her radio stops. A connection begins to become clear.
A few days later, Susan begins slowly to confide in Cedric. At the same time, the Doctor returns to the shop’s warehouse for the parts he needs, and is locked in. Colonel Rook reveals that he has trapped the Doctor. He confronts the Doctor about being an alien, but the Doctor denies it. Rook dismisses this, and demands the Doctor’s help in promoting Britain’s military efforts. (My British history being a bit weak, I’m not sure what war they were involved with in 1963; Rook never says, but he does speak as though the Soviet Union might be a current enemy.) Meanwhile, Susan and Cedric come under attack again, and flee in the direction of the warehouse. Cedric leads her to the warehouse, and Rook lets them in; Cedric is forced to reveal that Rook is his uncle, for whom he has been spying on Susan.
As things begin to come together, the Doctor figures out that something is causing the mob to act on tribal instinct alone; when they are attacking “aliens”, it is meant in the sense of “foreigners”, not “extraterrestrials”. The Doctor and Susan are caught up in it because they are not local; their unearthly origin is coincidental. As per the Eleventh Doctor’s cryptic message, the signal causing this behavior is being transmitted via the music on Susan’s radio; certain music, popular with the local teenagers, carries the signal. It began with the Doctor and Susan’s arrival four months ago; therefore Rook assumes they are responsible. Upon investigation, the Doctor discovers that an experimental weapon, lost in a nearby bomb site dating back to World War II, was recently unearthed and disturbed, and is causing the signal. He builds a jamming device from the parts in the warehouse; and using the radio (with a different station), he deploys the device. To buy time, Susan uses telepathy to briefly break the signal’s hold on the mob. Unable to maintain it for long, she faints…just as the jamming device takes hold.
In the aftermath, the weapon must be found and destroyed. Also destroyed is Susan’s friendship with Cedric, as she can’t forgive the way he used her. The Doctor confronts Rook with the idea that using them against their will makes him no better than his enemies; he agrees after some thought, and agrees to let them go. Leaving the warehouse, Susan has a premonition that something terrible awaits the Doctor, far in his future…and it is his destiny to face it.
This is a fairly direct story, with no real twists and turns (its one twist—that Cedric and Rook are connected—can be seen coming a mile away). It does presuppose that the reader is at least a little familiar with the events of An Unearthly Child, even though they haven’t happened yet. It’s full of references to 1960s kitsch, but doesn’t seem too overbearing about it. It’s well tied into classic series continuity; Susan’s telepathy is explored in The Sensorites, and she reacts badly at the suggestion that they are running from someone, which will be explored further in The War Games. The overall setting is also explored in Revelation of the Daleks. Magpie Electricals, of course, is a reference to NuWho’s The Idiot’s Lantern.
I give Carole Ann Ford credit; she’s an excellent presenter, capturing the mannerisms of the First Doctor perfectly. Having already listened to further entries in this series, I will say that most of the presenters are very good; and this story gets us off to a great start. The real value here is in the presentation; if we were only looking at the events of the story, we could probably compress them down to a few minutes—these are not the most complex plots. I’ll reserve judgment about the connections and the overarching plot of the series until I’ve finished it all. I nearly missed the Eleventh Doctor’s message; the message in the next story in the series will be more obvious. Overall, this story serves chiefly as a good foundation for what is to come.
Next time: We’re back to the Main Range with The Apocalypse Element; and then, the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe face the Shadow of Death in Destiny of the Doctor part two! See you there.
All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; links to this story and to the collected Destiny of the Doctor series are below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify (search artist “Doctor Who”) and Google Play.