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The Sirens of Time

Review by Paul Scoones

“Any more of us?”
“Just the three, it would appear.”
“Well, we must be thankful for small mercies, mustn't we?”

Serving the same function as The Eight Doctors, The Sirens of Time is very much an introductory story, setting the scene for the series-proper to follow. Nonetheless, as a multi-Doctor story, The Sirens of Time is satisfyingly different from any of its forebears in television or novel form. Author/director Nicholas Briggs has structured the tale to give each Doctor their own mini-adventure in isolation from the others. Cleverly, each part ends on a cliffhanger, the resolutions of which are not delivered until the final episode, in which all three Doctors finally come together to work as a team.

The story jumps straight in with a ‘pre-credits’ sequence and within moments, there's mention of Gallifrey, TARDISes and the Celestial Intervention Agency, all making the point that, unlike the plethora of ‘spin-off’ audio dramas now available, this is the real thing - fully-licensed Doctor Who - a point reinforced by the use of the original series theme music.

The first scene in the TARDIS console room with the Seventh Doctor pottering about is evocative of the TV Movie opening moments, almost if Big Finish are subtly acknowledging their immediate predecessor.

Each Doctor's episode is set within a different environment - a jungle on an alien planet, the interior of a WWI U-Boat and a spaceship. Each of these presents a fresh and very different aural landscape to the listener through a plethora of rich background sounds, and all ably serving to override my initial mental picture of a group of actors standing around a microphone.

Sarah Mowat plays an excellent surrogate companion across the three episodes, falling into the traditional “Doctor, what is it?” mode within minutes of meeting the Time Lord in the first episode. The complete absence of any regular companions only becomes apparent with the Fifth Doctor, who finds himself locked out of the TARDIS and failing to elicit any response from Tegan and Turlough, trapped within.

Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker recreate their Doctors well, but Peter Davison deserves special mention for recapturing his Doctor's breathless, undaunted enthusiasm and mild-mannered exasperation with astonishing accuracy. In fact, Davison's ‘mini-adventure’ aboard a German U-Boat in Part Two is the highlight of the entire story. Mark Gatiss is superb as the U-Boat captain, Walter Schweiger, conveying a character that transcends the expected stereotype of his role with in a few scenes. Amusingly, in the best tradition of 'Allo 'Allo, the U-Boat officers speak perfectly good English with a German accent, yet cannot be understood at all by Cockney sailor girl, Helen.

Part Four is a rollercoaster ride of unexpected twists and turns, laden with time paradoxes and counter deceptions. If the story has one major fault, it is that its resolution is too complex, even with the last episode ‘overrunning‘ by about ten minutes. All things considered, this is a story produced in full knowledge that it can be replayed many times over, so just be prepared to listen to the final episode at least twice.

Ultimately, The Sirens of Time sounds exactly like a Doctor Who story. Continuity references to both the television series and the novels abound, and there's snatches of incidental music which sound just like the Eighties era. Hearing the Sixth and Seventh Doctors engaging in gentle bickering is a delight not to be missed. A strong introductory story for what is set to be a great series of adventures.

This item appeared in TSV 59 (January 2000).