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Review: Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song’

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Doctor Who began 60 years ago, presumably not knowing the legacy that it would leave on the science-fiction landscape. When the first serial, An Unearthly Child, aired, viewers were introduced to the insanely intelligent but equally grumpy curmudgeon who was the first of now fourteen Doctors, soon to be fifteen with Ncuti Gatwa’s introduction later this year. William Hartnell brought the alien from Gallifrey to life through his adventures with his granddaughter Susan (Carol Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell), and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill). Now, the First Doctor returns in new full-cast audio from Big Finish, in The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song, with two new stories featuring the Doctor and companion Dodo.

While Hartnell is no longer with us, Stephen Noonan has stepped into the role of the First Doctor, while Lauren Cornelius takes over for Dodo. Both chapters are directed by Nicholas Briggs, who’s been involved in quite a few Doctor Who projects and even provides the voice for the Daleks. Briggs also wrote “The Demon Song”, while Bob Ayres wrote “The Incherton Incident”. In honor of the 60th anniversary, it’s only right to take a step back to the first incarnation and explore everything that The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song has in store for avid Doctor Who fans.

[Warning: Spoilers from Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song are below!]

“The Demon Song” written by Nicholas Briggs

Perhaps the most interesting part of this first story is the setting in which we find the Doctor and Dodo. “The Demon Song” begins with our duo landing in the early 2020s, ergo present day for our listeners. It’s a setting that we’re all so accustomed to, but not one we’re used to seeing the First Doctor in. However, in modern-day London, The Doctor and Dodo stumble upon a mystery, with people disappearing after hearing a mysterious song.

The song is ever present, playing throughout the background of most of “The Demon Song”, adding an air of creepiness. A creepiness that grows as the listeners learn of the origin of the song and what is happening to those getting trapped by its melodic tune. The Doctor’s and Dodo’s involvement begins with meeting Archie (Bhavnisha Parmar), someone who is looking for her missing boyfriend. As fans of Doctor Who know, the Doctor is not one to walk away from someone in distress, so naturally, he and Dodo take it upon themselves to help Archie locate her boyfriend as well as everyone else who is missing.

With the help of Daniel, a paranormal investigator, the Doctor learns that whatever is at the core of this mystery is controlling people through its song. Also, there have been appearances of demon-like creatures throughout the town, some of which have been caught on camera. Why is the demon torturing these people and what is it using mind control for? All those answers and more lie in part two of “The Demon Song”.

Doctor and Dodo
Dodo (Jackie Lane) and The Doctor (William Hartnell). Doctor Who (BBC).

“The Incherton Incident” written by Bob Ayres

The Doctor and Dodo find themselves stranded in Incherton-on-Sea, an evacuated town shrouded in mystery. The duo was forced to leave the TARDIS after something latched onto the energy of the time-traveling ship. The TARDIS needs more time to recalibrate before they can move on to their next adventure. However, it’s possibly a good thing, as Incherton-on-Sea seems to be a town that fell victim to a fire, causing it to become a ghost town.

The story flips to Captain Andrews (Thomas Michaelson), a soldier with the UK government who is in charge of the Incherton evacuation. He phones Professor Dalton, asking about an object found within the town, an object that the mysterious Miss Sanderson seems rather interested in. Miss Sanderson seems otherworldly from the moment she walks on the scene and her powers of hypnotism don’t help her case.

There’s a third thread in “The Incherton Incident” which follows Virginia Hancock (Genevieve Gaunt), an American who decides to ignore the warnings and ride into Incherton. Quickly, she meets up with the Doctor and Dodo, disclosing that it’s 1947. Together, they journey into the city and discover that the town was hit by something from the sky. Confronted by Captain Andrews, The Doctor and Dodo decide to hide, but Virginia takes the direct approach of starting a fight that ends in an explosion.

Through hijinx and misadventures, The Doctor and Dodo become separated, although it’s important to the story that they do. Dodo links up with Captain Andrews, who shares with her a mass grave, freshly dug and containing the bodies of 137 people who everyone assumes once lived in Incherton. The Doctor comes to believe that the energy surge on the TARDIS at the beginning of part one is tied to the mystery of Incherton. His theory is that aliens are involved, which is the typical answer in Doctor Who.

The reason for Miss Sanderson’s appearance and preoccupation with the Doctor unravels across the final two episodes. Can the Doctor and Dodo fix what’s going on in Incherton, or will Miss Sanderson complete her mission on Earth? Questions you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The positives and negatives of this Doctor Who audio drama

Prior to beginning this chapter of The First Doctor Adventures, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not as well-versed in classic Who as fellow writer Sam Pearce. I’ve watched exactly one serial from the First Doctor, but fully intend to go back and watch the rest of Classic Who eventually. That being said, what I know about the First Doctor is from “An Unearthly Child” and “Twice Upon a Doctor” from Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the time-traveling alien. That being said, The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song felt like an exceptional outing of this incarnation of the Doctor.

He’s still as cranky as he is in “An Unearthly Child”, however, has a bit of levity that shows growth after years of traveling through time and place. While the voice isn’t a direct one for one such as Jacob Dudman for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor, it’s close enough that you can’t tell the difference all that much. What Noonan managed to capture rather well is the spirit and energy that the First Doctor has.

This incarnation of the Doctor is not spry or energetic, but instead stern and steadfast. He is truly the embodiment of a grandfather, which carries on from his relationship with Susan. He may not be able to run as quickly as David Tennant or Matt Smith’s Doctors, but he can scold the offense into defeat. His relationship with Dodo is similar to that of Susan, however, Dodo seems a bit more independent than Susan has in what I’ve seen of her. Susan goes along with what The Doctor says and does because of the familial blood relations, Dodo doesn’t have that tie, which switches up the dynamics just a bit.

I thought Noonan did a brilliant job as the First Doctor. All the nuances of this incarnation are still present and that’s due to Noonan’s approach to the character. He balances the legacy left behind by Hartnell with his own spin on the character. Cornelius was also fantastic as Dodo, especially in “The Demon Song.” I loved seeing the character in the modern world, out of her element but enjoying every second of it. It’s reminiscent of Marty McFly in the second Back to the Future film. There’s an excitement of watching someone from decades past interact in a world that we’ve come to know so well. Through that, we get small inside jokes, which makes the fish out of water gag even funnier.

I also loved the spookiness that came with both “The Demon Song” and “The Incherton Incident”. Both of these stories have the perfect feel for Halloween, with winged monsters, towns disappearing, and the haunting melodies that cause people to disappear. The entire atmosphere within both stories is off-putting but in an intentional way. I felt transported into a horror movie, though perhaps one aimed at a younger crowd.

Both stories suffer just a bit from slightly under-developed villains. The scope of each narrative is ambitious, with a ton of ground to cover in such a short amount of time. That being said, I can rationally understand why the aliens/monsters lack the well-rounded development I’m used to from Doctor Who. There simply wasn’t enough time. I do think part of this as well is the format in which the story is presented. With the full-cast audio, descriptions don’t exist. We have to rely on the senses to determine what the monster is like. Therefore a ton of energy is used to convey that to listeners, as well as having a rewarding narrative. Still, I would have loved just a bit more exploration of the perpetrators, to give it that true Doctor Who feel.

Final thoughts on this First Doctor adventure from Big Finish

Overall, The Demon Song is an excellent collection and one I highly recommend for anyone looking to get a taste of what the First Doctor is like. It’s impressively written, with another hit from Nicholas Briggs and the crew. This collection alone has made me excited to visit more of The First Doctor, and specifically Dodo, who just might end up being one of my favorite companions.

The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song is available now from Big Finish! Are you interested in checking this one out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Comsic Circus Discord!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

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