Cold Fusion
Big Finish Productions
Cold Fusion

Adapted by Lance Parkin Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2016

Starring Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Matthew Waterhouse

Synopsis: A newly regenerated Fifth Doctor arrives on an occupied ice planet - where the Seventh Doctor is investigating dangerous energy experiments conducted by the Earth Empire. But events spin out of control when a refugee from the distant past arrives: Patience, the Doctor's Wife!


An Old Fusion Anew by Matthew Kresal 16/11/18

There are few things that Doctor Who fans (and probably fans in general) enjoy more than a mystery. For more than a year after Big Finish first announced their series of audio drama adaptations of a number of Wilderness Era novels, the last announced release was exactly that. Speculation was rife about which novel was being adapted, with many favoring the legendary and hard to get a hold of Marc Platt novel Lungbarrow, a novel that dealt heavily with the Doctor's background on Gallifrey. Well, it turns out it wasn't Lungbarrow but another novel that deals with many of the same themes: Lance Parkin's Cold Fusion, being adapted by the original author and released some two decades after it was originally released. And boy was it worth the wait...

That is large part because this features not one Doctor but two. Cold Fusion was famously the only Virgin novel to be a multi-Doctor story, and the Big Finish adaptation is no exception. That being said, it does tend to favor Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor over Sylvester McCoy's Seventh, but that isn't a bad thing at all. What it does is really highlight the differences between these two Doctors and their companions, how their approaches are different and how Terrence Dicks' claim that "the Doctor ir always the Doctor" isn't quite the case. The Fifth Doctor, fresh out of his regeneration and with a TARDIS full of young companions running around, is getting directly involved in the action and is quite empathetic to the plight of the people around him. Meanwhile, the Seventh Doctor is off being the Seventh Doctor: behind the scenes pulling strings and orchestrating events. Never once in listening to the story do you wish that the Doctors would swap places, because they are precisely where they need to be. Davison and McCoy both play their roles to the hilt as well, with Davison in particular getting a chance to shine in his sequences with Patience especially. If nothing else, Cold Fusion is worth a listen for a chance to hear these two Doctors at some of their finest moments.

Indeed, that can be said for the companions as well. If you've often felt that the 1982 TARDIS crew was let down on screen by writers having no idea what to do with everyone, then Parkin presents the cure for that. Every single one of the Fifth Doctor's companions from Nyssa and Tegan right down to Adric gets something to do across the length and breadth of the tale. In fact, it might very well be the best work Matthew Waterhouse has done as Adric beyond his stretch with Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, with some nice moments alongside both Doctors. The Seventh Doctor's companions, the novel characters of Chris and Roz, are both well served here as well, with Chris getting plenty of fine comedic moments (and some wonderful chemistry with Sarah Sutton's Nyssa), while Roz gets a fair share of action-heroine moments. It's five companions being put to good use with no one feeling out of place or like a spare part.

Let's not forget the supporting cast as well. Of particular note will be actress Christine Kavanagh as the mysterious Patience, a woman whom it seems as a bit of a hidden history involving the Doctor and the Time Lords. Kavanagh plays the role with a considerable amount of warmth and sympathy, as we go along with her and the Doctor in trying to piece together who she is and what her role in events is, was and will be. For those with an eye on continuity, the character and Kavanagh's performance will be of special interest. The supporting cast also includes Jeremy Hitchen, Peter Caulfield and Sharon Maughan in a number of roles both large and small, though you'd never know it listening to this with its feeling of "a cast of thousands" as one of the cast puts it on the brief extras track that concludes the release. Along with the ever-strong Big Finish production values, it is them who back a strong main cast and help bring the story to life.

It is to Parkin though, both as the originator of the source material and as adapter, that the lion share of credit for Cold Fusion's success goes to. Those of us who are fans of what is today termed Classic Who (and let's be honest, if you're considering purchasing this release you probably fall into that category) likely think that six-part stories could often be overlong and lack enough story to cover between two and three hours of running time. Indeed, this novel adaptation is the longest of Big Finish's run by a full disc's worth of story. Parkin's tale, though, is up to the challenge with a story that takes in two Doctors, five companions, a conspiracy on an Earth colony world, beings from alternate timeline and a whole series of continuity references (including some that will make longtime readers of the Wilderness Era novels perhaps literally punch the air with delight) into one quite sizable and often surprisingly funny package. Yet it never drags, as the plot and a series of action set pieces keep the story moving while one twist after another leaves the listener begging more. Even better, for all of the continuity that Parkin brings up (and all the implications that might very well go along with them), Cold Fusion never once drags or ends up so far down the show's past as to be of interest only to die-hard fans. While I can not speak to its faithfulness to the original novel, I can certainly say that this audio drama is a riveting piece of work and one for which Parkin deserves a good deal of credit.

If this should prove to be the last of Big Finish's novel adaptations, then they have gone out on a high. From performances to production values, Cold Fusion highlights what Big Finish can do both in front of and behind the microphone to bring Doctor Who to life on audio. Yet it is Parkin's novel and script that showcase the best of these new adaptations have to offer: a chance for a new generation to encounter these tales "too broad and too deep for the television screen" for the first time. Cold Fusion certainly proves itself up to that task and makes for grand Doctor Who storytelling along the way.