Big Finish continues its journey into the new series of Doctor Who with this latest box-set release.
Hot on the heels of The Diary of River Song and The War Doctor, The Churchill Years is the latest in the company’s New Series output. This box-set features the first official Big Finish stories to include the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, though sadly Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith are nowhere to be seen.
Early reactions to news of this box-set were mixed and was seen as a spin-off too far by some, but I’m happy to report The Churchill Years, whilst not perfect is an enjoyable piece of work.
Comprising four non-connected stories, The Churchill Years is a full cast audio drama structured around a narrative framework provided by recalling his adventures with various Doctors over the course of his life.
It is similar in feel to Big Finish’s previous Companion Chronicle series in which the narrator would tell the story in addition to providing the voice of other characters and the Doctor. This format did provide some great stories with some rather mixed results on occasion.
Thankfully there is a strong supporting cast to act along McNeice, and due to the non-inclusion of Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, Churchill takes all of the Doctor’s lines. This is one of the slight disappointments of the box-set and although McNeice does and admirable job, it just feels too jarring not to have the original actors involved. For example McNeice’s Ninth Doctor is so northern at times you expect him to start talking about trouble at the mill at any second.
The individual stories are written incredibly well to suit each Doctor’s era so it is a real shame we cannot hear the Doctors themselves.
However it is made clear that Churchill has met the Doctor many times before in the past so there is every possibility Big Finish may tell future stories involving past Doctors who I’m sure would be more easily available to appear.
The first of the four stories is The Oncoming Storm by Phil Mulryne and as the name would suggest involves the Ninth Doctor. Churchill is now Lord of the Admiralty and has come into possession of a strange black stone that imparts incredible intelligence to anyone who touches it, although at a cost.
The Doctor is of course on its trail and is rather keen not to get involved with the unfolding events. This story, the strongest of the four is a highly enjoyable adventure and thematically compliments the Ninth Doctor’s damaged psyche. It is hinted he is just fresh out of the Time War, which explains his reluctance to get too involved and form attachments to people. Phil Mulryne captures the voice of the Ninth Doctor very well and it is easy to imagine this story slotting easily along side the television series.
The Tenth Doctor makes his Big Finish debut, (before the upcoming Tenth Doctor Adventures) in the second story, Hounded by Alan Barnes. Set in 1941 at the height of the war, Barnes draws from the real Churchill’s own description of his dark moods during that time, which he called “The Black Dog”. Barnes takes this and translates it to literal creature stalking Churchill. This story provides an interesting look into Churchill’s psyche and though the Doctor has a bit more to do here, it’s still very much Winston’s journey.
In Living History by Justin Richards, Churchill finally gets to go aboard the TARDIS with the Eleventh Doctor. It is not long before he gets stranded in ancient Britain in the middle of a conflict between the locals and the forces of Julius Caesar.
The Doctor disappears for nearly all of this story and his place is taken by Danny Horn returning to the role of the young Kazran Sardick from the A Christmas Carol special. Kazran and Churchill end up on either side of the conflict before uncovering the dark secret behind the mysterious Bronze God. I will not spoil the revelation here but one look at the box-set cover artwork may give it away easily.
Danny Horn and Ian McNeice make a fun double act and Living History is a very satisfying story without the need for the Doctor.
Sadly the weakest story is left till last.
The Chartwell Metamorphosis by Ken Bentley, has a delightfully gruesome set up but goes on for far too long. An intriguing beginning is let down by a convoluted ending.
Churchill’s character goes through a quite drastic change. Set during his retirement at Chartwell House, the ailing Winston has become rather short-tempered and downright nasty as the bitterness towards getting older hits him hard. I understand the need for this change in character to serve the story, it just feels rather jarring considering the engaging character we have spent so much time with already.
The Chartwell Metamorphosis also features the return of Lily Arwell, played by Holly Earl. The character’s first appearance was in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe Christmas special alongside Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.
Lily is now Churchill’s young Nurse who ends up helping both him and the Doctor along the way. This is in no way reflective of Arwell’s performance but Lily is just wasted as a character.
She quickly occupies the role of damsel in distress on many occasions despite some moments of bravery. Her inclusion adds nothing to the story which is a shame as her past history with the Doctor could have opened up many interesting sides to the character.
If The Churchill Years gets another series, I hope Lily if she is involved is given more to do.
Despite a disappointing closing story, Doctor Who The Churchill Years is a solid piece of entertainment with great potential for future installments.
Publisher: Big Finish
GS Blogger: Matt Davis @DecadentGent