Big Finish Productions
Circular Time

Written by Paul Cornell and Mike Maddox Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2007

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton

Synopsis: In the springtime of a distant future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord politics on an alien world. During the stifling heat of a summer past they suffer the vengeful wrath of Isaac Newton. In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn in an English village while the Doctor plays cricket. And finally, many years after their travels together have ended, the two friends meet again in the strangest of circumstances.


"Let Newton Be!" and All Was Light by Stephen Maslin 8/6/12

After a year or so of generally poor stories, the end of 2004 saw Big Finish stage quite an impressive recovery. Throughout the following two years, the standard was pretty high and their output formed a neat little retro companion-piece to the bold new future on TV. Sadly, soon after the start of 2007, they suddenly seemed overcome by a fit of change-for-change's sake. Aside from their more trusted writers being shunted off to The New Eighth Doctor Adventures for BBC7, the monthly series' cover design was changed (shrinking the actual cover art by about a third); there was the gradual expansion of the incorrigibly smug 'CD Extras' interviews; an increasing patchiness in sound design. Moreover, the format of choice became a never-seen-on-TV 'three-parter plus one-parter'; another failed attempt to instill a continuity of purchasing. Depressingly, the one-parters were often the only bit worth shelling out for: Urgent Calls, Urban Myths, The Vanity Box, Mission of the Viyrans, every one a gem, were tucked away behind some far less successful longer stories.

Circular Time and, later in the year, 100 were nothing but one-parters, four each. 100 wasn't that bad overall but Circular Time had only one story worth uncorking the champagne for. Its whole two disc pot-pourri is based around a 'Four Seasons' theme which seems to have been applied retrospectively and, consequently, doesn't work at all.

'Spring' has lots of clever references to the show's past, but is ultimately a depiction of a naff alien culture with some stupid names, a lacklustre supporting cast and really intrusive 'bird music', all topped off with Toby Longworth's trademark nutty villain routine. 'Autumn' is based around a cricket match (er, cricket is played in summer, guys) featuring another romantic encounter for Nyssa, almost as cringeworthy as the one she'd had in The Game. 'Winter' seems to be aiming at a bitter-sweet valediction, which it might have come closer to had it been Peter Davison's and Sarah Sutton's last-ever performances in their respective roles. (It wasn't. They'd be back, back, back in a mere couple of months to wade their way through Christopher H Bidmead's Renaissance of the Daleks, quite obviously written to include two original series regulars who weren't available and was thus hastily 'edited'.)

There's only good story in Circular Time, but it is exceptional. Even without the central set-piece, 'Summer' would still be an intelligent and at-times-amusing piece of work, but what really makes it shine is its managing to achieve intense drama by a remarkable economy of means. A process of verbal deduction in fact; one of history's geniuses gradually revealing the Doctor's true nature from a handful of disparate coins. Sounds dull? It really isn't. The pace, both of the script itself and of its delivery, is quite simply breathtaking (and it should come as no surprise that Isaac Newton, the genius in question, is portrayed by David Warner who has stolen the show in every Big Finish production he has been in).

Yet even such a brilliant story carried a twofold disappointment. Firstly, rather than palming Mr Warner off on Sapphire and Steel (one of Big Finish's many second division script dumps), why couldn't he have been given a central role in their Doctor Who stories, a milieu to which he has proved himself so eminently suited? (An extended run of Unbound stories perhaps or as a recurring villain?) Secondly, if Big Finish are capable of producing drama of such high quality, why did they think that later 2007 crap-fests such as Nocturne, The Wishing Beast, Frozen Time and, heaven help us, Absolution would be even remotely tolerable by comparison?

Subsequently, one could still find the occasional good story in Big Finish's monthly release schedules (The Doomwood Curse, The Magic Mousetrap and the two D I Menzies stories, for instance) but from 2007 on, they had stopped producing them with any regularity. So perhaps the feel of melancholy farewell that pervaded 'Winter' wasn't so ill-timed after all. Circular Time really did feel like the end of an era.

Season's Fade by Jacob Licklider 9/12/21


This is the story that opens the first anthology of Big Finish's catalogue, and while it is still an extremely good story, it's the weakest of the release. The plot representing the green spring sees the Doctor and Nyssa sent on a mission to a planet where the children of criminals are punished for their wrongdoings of their families while those who actually committed a crime go scot free from punishment. It's a really good idea with a Time Lord played by the wonderful Hugh Fraser already on the planet there to rule, but peacefully. The biggest weakness is that the story really doesn't have a good enough conclusion; the Doctor and Nyssa show up, the Time Lord forces himself to regenerate, accusing them of a crime, they leave, he in a new avian body repeals the original law of punishing families and the story is over. Hugh Fraser is great, however, in his role as Zero, as he always is, and the writing does work well for being a short story, even if it almost feels like it's going to be like The Ark and the next part is going to return to the planet, but it doesn't. 70/100


The stifling heat of summer is what this story is meant to represent, and honestly it does that. It is the comic-relief story of the release, with many jabs taken at Doctor Who and its penchant for running through corridors. The Doctor and Nyssa are captured in the castle belonging to Sir Isaac Newton who is a crotchety old man trying to get his ideas across to a public who won't listen to him. The portrayal by David Warner is a comedic great alongside other characters who have to put up with the constant complaining of their master. Again, this story keeps it brief, but gets some extra points mainly down to the fact that the Doctor recites "I am the Doctor" while Nyssa lets slip to Newton exactly what is going to happen in the future to him. 80/100


From a story poking fun at Doctor Who to a story that is the evolution of Doctor Who. It's a story that would fit in nicely with the Virgin line of Doctor Who novels. As a short story, it has as much story as a full two-hour story translated extremely well into a small thirty-minute short story. The plot is that, in the golden autumn while writing a novel, Nyssa falls in love, and we get to see the rise and fall of that relationship. Like the Virgin novels, it is not afraid to shy away from the adult topics of love, which is all there, and it becomes quite a good story for the things going on. Sarah Sutton really shines as Nyssa, as she has never felt feelings of love or attachments, especially since her father was taken over by the Master, which of course affected her completely. It ends with some great soliloquies from the Doctor and Nyssa in reflection, which was great to listen to. It's a really good story, and for this purchasing the audio is worth it. 95/100.


And now on to a story that just kills you in the feels even more than Autumn did. It is the only story not taking place in succession as it takes place during the final scene of The Caves of Androzani. The Master has set a trap for the Doctor with an older Nyssa and her husband's consciousness being dragged into the mind of the Doctor which is now inhabited with his family. Yes, the Doctor is given a family, and it is up to Nyssa to try and save his life. This is a story that is extremely informative on the end of Logopolis explaining just exactly the Watcher's place in what the Doctor's mind is, and the ending is honestly heartbreaking. I don't want to give any more away except that it feels different this time. 100/100

To summarize, Circular Time is an anthology release that has continually increasing quality and must be judged as the average of its parts, leaving us with a final score of 86/100.