AUDIO DRAMA
Doctor Who
Circular Time

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 175 6
Available 21 January 2007


Four seasons, four stories... In the springtime of a distant future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord politics on an alien world...

Rather than being your standard four-part adventure, Circular Time is a collection of four very different one-episode tales. All of them involve the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), though they are not necessarily consecutive - indeed, the last one, Winter, certainly takes place some time after Autumn for both of the travellers.

First up is Spring. Readers of Paul Cornell's New Adventures novels may be familiar with the seasonal motif that ran through his first few novels in variations on the phrase: "Long ago in an English spring/summer/autumn/winter." Those readers may also be familiar with his sometimes controversial references to and interpretations of previous stories.

Here Cornell, co-writing with Mike Maddox, gives us in-jokes such as Nyssa asking what kind of adventure they are to have next - "Alien planet or mad scientist?" - a reference to '60s/'70s scribe Malcolm Hulke's comment about the limitations he perceived in the UNIT format. The writers also play with the possibility of a Time Lord regenerating into a different species. This notion has previously been floated, inconclusively, in Destiny of the Daleks (Romana's temporary regeneration into a blue-skinned humanoid), the 1996 TV movie and The Parting of the Ways (in which the dying Ninth Doctor suggests that he might end up with two heads or even no head). The Time Lords are described as people who "may be gods, and yet they are not gods", a possible allusion to revelations made in Death Comes to Time.

Curiously, on top of all this cross-referencing, the writers fail to comment on the apparent propensity of retiring Gallifreyans to become leaders of planets whose people have evolved from birds. Zero (Hugh Fraser) does just that in this story, as did Azmael prior to The Twin Dilemma.

All in all, though, this entertaining flight of fancy keeps the listener guessing, and certainly isn't strictly for the birds.


Spring to summer, the seasons turn... During the stifling heat of a summer past, the Doctor and Nyssa suffer the vengeful wrath of Isaac Newton...

Each of these tales has a very different setting: an alien world in Spring, 20th-century Earth in Autumn, an altogether stranger location in Winter. Summer is a purely historical tale, in which the Doctor and a very dryly humorous Nyssa meet Sir Isaac Newton (David Warner). But it isn't the pleasant encounter you might expect.

Warner is perfectly cast as Newton: a figure of authority and a genius at the height of his powers. However, his overworked brain causes him great agitation, leading to some riveting scenes.

An intense character piece.


In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn in the quiet English village of Stockbridge while the Doctor plays cricket...

Autumn is also very much a character piece, though of a far more relaxing variety.

It's easy to see how some of the other episodes tie in with their respective seasons. The regenerative themes of Winter and Spring respectively symbolise the end of life and its rebirth. Summer, I suppose, sees Isaac Newton at the balmy heights of his mental prowess, his overheated brain like a stifling midsummer. But how is autumn depicted? I guess there's a sense of winding down, as the Doctor enjoys a few games of cricket in Stockbridge (the setting of several comic-strip adventures, not that you need to know that) and Nyssa tries to write a book but ends up engaging in a tentative romance.

The relationship that develops between Nyssa and Andrew (Jamie Sandford) is beautifully written and just as skilfully performed. This anthology just keeps on getting better.


And finally, many years after their travels together have come to an end, the Doctor and Nyssa meet again under the strangest of circumstances...

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Readers of Cornell's New Adventures novel Timewrym: Revelation will be familiar with his fascinating exploration of the Doctor's psyche. Winter similarly gets inside the Time Lord's head, and comes complete with teasingly familiar-sounding concepts and quotations from previous stories, particularly Logopolis and Castrovalva.

Listeners may at first be confused, as I was, by references to Adric and Tegan. Isn't this episode supposed to be set after the Doctor and Nyssa have parted company? My eyebrows rose even higher at the idea of the Time Lord growing old with a wife (Sunny Ormonde) and kids. How can this be, when we all saw him regenerate, after just three seasons of television stories, at the end of The Caves of Androzani? Cornell and Maddox ingeniously tie all of this together in a sort of Last Temptation of the Fifth Doctor. (As an interesting Christian aside, Cornell symbolically crucified this incarnation in Timewrym: Revelation.) The writers also weave in an element of the dissatisfaction that many fans (and, ultimately, Davison too) felt about this Doctor's all to brief innings - a shortfall that Davison and Big Finish are now remedying with audio dramas such as this one.

My only criticism of Winter is that the "old" Doctor doesn't really sound any older than usual. Other than that, this makes a fascinating conclusion to a varied and inventive collection of stories.

Richard McGinlay

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