Blurb: Shoreditch, London, 1963. The Beatles have beaten John Smith and the Common Men to No. 1 and satellites are being launched in outer space. Back down on Earth, strange goings-on are occurring: the normally placid teenagers of Coal Hill are running riot and a master thief is stealing highly specialised equipment.
Schoolgirl Susan Foreman just wants an easy life for herself and her grandfather, the mysterious Doctor. She wants to be liked and accepted by Cedric and all the other pupils at Coal Hill School. But there’s trouble in the streets and bombsites around Totter’s Lane.
The teenagers are becoming dangerous… Their mission: to hunt down anyone different, or alien… Susan’s quiet life is about to spiral out of control. Having inadvertently started drawing attention to herself, she finds herself in a desperate situation. Suddenly, the chase is on and she and her grandfather are now the hunted.
Review: The Destiny of the Doctor series was made for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. One story was written for each Doctor and would feature stories that could be enjoyed on their own but with an overall storyline that would touch on the earlier installments and culminate in the final adventure with the then incumbent eleventh Doctor. Hunters of Earth was the first installment with a story set just before the TV series began. The Doctor and Susan are living in the junk yard in Shoreditch, 1963, and we learn of an adventure that they had just prior to meeting future companions Ian and Barbara. The Destiny of the Doctor series take the “talking book” format. Carole Ann Ford speaks her lines as Susan, but mostly narrates the adventure as if it were a book that she’s reading. Tam Williams assists by reading the lines for the character of Cedric, the second most prolific part in the piece.
Right off the bat, the talking book format makes it hard to get into the piece. The narration in some ways is nice because it allows a description of the scene that you don’t always get in an audio medium without giving cumbersome lines of dialog to the characters. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of taking away the feeling of immediacy to any of the actions in the story. It feels awkward when Carole Ann Ford delivers a line in character as Susan only to have it followed with “she said.” The flow of dialog often feels off and the energy and pace turned almost down to zero. The Companion Chronicles get around this issue by having the narration be in character from one of the companions, so that you get some more immediacy from the emotional connection between the character and the events being depicted. This completely loses that feeling and one wonders why Big Finish didn’t employ a style more like The Companion Chronicles unless that was one of the stipulations that Audio Go gave them for allowing them to do this series.
It’s also unfortunate that Tam Williams is only allowed to read for Cedric’s lines. Carole Ann Ford is wonderful as Susan and is a good narrator. Her first Doctor is informed by love and respect for a man that she worked closely with for almost every day of the week for an entire year. Unfortunately, many of her other characters sound very much the same and it’s difficult to distinguish differences or even genders between her various performances. Tam Williams gives a really nuanced performance for Cedric, giving him many subtle variations to show different moods and tones. It might have helped if he’d been allowed to read for some of the other characters, especially Rook to make it easier for the listener to understand what’s going on.
The core storyline of racism in the 1960’s is a good one. Susan and the Doctor become victims of the same xenophobia that other immigrants to Britain feel. There’s some interesting insight given to Susan and the Doctor’s characters and how they react to this. There’s also an interesting point made that even though someone’s skin color may be the same as others’, they still gives away subtle clues that they’re not part of the same group. It shows that xenophobia can take all sorts of forms beyond the more obvious ones based on different races and ethnicities. Author Nigel Robinson, shows his love for the Hartnell era by tying this in with details of the Doctor and Susan seen in An Unearthly Child. A few lines spoken by them in that serial are given an entire basis through this story, which helps to make the story stronger by tying it in with the larger Doctor Who lore.
Where this story is weakest is in giving a science-fiction reason for the goings-on. The issue of racism is a serious one in our world and it would make for a more dramatic story if the Doctor tackled that head on. It also doesn’t help that everyone is incredibly slow on the uptake for how this is happening, even though the clues are very starkly laid out. The end also feels somewhat forced. Some characters act against their usual motivation just to give the story a nice bow on it, but then also there are some awfully portentous lines of dialog that don’t make sense in context – the character in question won’t even see the culmination of this storyline. Despite Robinson’s love for the Hartnell era, a rather serious gaff appears with Susan’s telepathic abilities being a central focus of this story, but neither the Doctor nor Susan were aware of how powerful her abilities were until The Sensorites. The interference by the eleventh Doctor also feels grafted on and is done incredibly weakly, but since that was one of the requirements by the series, there isn’t much that the author could have done with it. It’s at least an original way to get the message across.
Recommendation: Slowly paced, it’s a love-letter to the first Doctor’s era with a lot of thought given to why the Doctor and Susan act the way that they do in An Unearthly Child. Yet, there’s some questionable motivations and some sci-fi chicanery that muddles what could have been a very powerful, dramatic tale. Carole Ann Ford and Tam Williams give it their all, but the format works against them, creating a distance between their performance and the audience and preventing any sense of immediacy to the tale. If you’re interested in the Destiny of the Doctor concept then give this one a try, but if not I suggest giving it a skip.
A Big Finish/Audio Go co-production
Directed by John Ainsworth
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Nigel Robinson
Runtime Approx 60 min.