Doctor: Seventh (Sylvester McCoy)
Companions: Ace (Sophie Aldred) & Hex (Phillip Olivier)
Written by: Mark Morris, Nick Scovell, Mark Michalowski, and Steven Hall
Released: November 2008
Release Number: 115
Need to Know:
In the history of Doctor Who, the series has mainly operated in the serial format, with rare exception until the new series began. Even rarer in Doctor Who is the short story. Pioneering that medium for Doctor Who storytelling has been Big Finish‘s domain for several years, primarily in the Short Trips audio book collections. Recently, Big Finish has been releasing short story collections in audio, each featuring a different Doctor, like 100, The Company of Friends, and this collection, Forty-Five.
Now, to the review!
Forty-Five is made up of the following four stories:
False Gods features one of those weirdly common archaeology meets time travel stories in Doctor Who, with a great new take and a couple of great twists. This easily could’ve been a full serial on its own, I think. It features a great Howard Carter, as played by Sherlock’s now-well-known Benedict Cumberbatch, and a good turns by all of the lead cast. The writing is well above par in this story too, to the point where I want to spoil as little as possible.
Order of Simplicity is a bit less of a rollicking mystery and more of a straightforward adventure, and the writing follows as such. If it were stretched to full serial form, I’d have been disappointed, as it’s not really a complicated story. It’s a good, simple adventure, so I can’t fault it too badly. A good entry into Doctor Who, but clearly a middle-story in an anthology, if you know what I mean.
Casualties of War is another slow starter and takes the darker tone of later Seventh Doctor TV adventures, with a seeming gloom to the proceedings that I quite enjoy, plus it gives Ace a lot of solo plot work that Sophie Aldred excels in performing. This also lets the Doctor and Hex do some one-on-one work that lets Philip Olivier and Sylvester McCoy show the rapport they’ve built, which is plenty enjoyable. The story has another great twist to it and contributes further to the development of the TARDIS Team. The writing is solid, though the plot is less than compelling at certain points.
The Word Lord wastes no time getting to the action, which I really like. The action moves fast and feels, as with False Gods, to be a story worth a full serial for all of the action fit into the piece. The monster of the piece is also, frankly, completely brilliant. All of the characters are given a lot of fun work and the plot lends itself excellently to audio. There are great little details and in-jokes hidden in the dialogue and the writing shows an excellent effort. I can only hope for more from this story’s writer.
Weirdly, the greatest harm to the stories in Forty-Five is the need to jam a reference to the number Forty-Five in each, but the problem is quickly shaken out and made a vital piece of the story in the final part, which saves it for me. The anthology is well-produced, well-acted, and well-written. Every one of the leads gets something to do in the stories and each of the actors does it very well. It is yet another of the great Big Finish releases and a welcome addition to the smaller group of truly great Doctor Who short story collections.
Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor is his darker mode here, yet his performance displays his acting range between the stories very well. The Seventh incarnation is quickly becoming one of the preferred models to me, and the audio stories only improve that standing. He has a short-tempered take on the Doctor that I’ve always preferred in my Doctors. But, far from being one-note, McCoy is also allowed some levity in the tales, which is great to hear.
Sophie Aldred’s Ace gets a lot of great acting work to do in the four stories of Forty-Five and performs admirably in all of them. There’s a great sense of character evolution that has always been something rare in companions, and it’s great to see that Big Finish has stepped up to the plate to continue that arc of the Ace character. Ace has always been a favorite companion of mine, and the stories herein allow Ace to do the things I love about her. She solves problems without the Doctor’s help, which I love. She never acts as a damsel in distress, preferring to fight her way out, rather than just scream and freeze.
This is the first story featuring Philip Olivier’s Hex that I have listened to and it’s a great introduction to his character. He’s a fun foil for both the dark Seventh Doctor and the gradually darkening Ace. I really do like the addition of a kinder soul to the Seventh Doctor’s TARDIS and Olivier is a fantastic voice actor, playing off his fellow leads as well as his character. He’s a genuinely great idea and is well-executed within the stories presented here.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. Whole-heartedly. There’s a lot of great work here and it’s a terrific sampler-pack of Seventh Doctor adventures. It’s a great range and a lot of fun.
I give it 5 forty-fives out of 5.