The Minister of Chance
Death Comes To Time

Written by Colin Meek
Format Online broadcast/CD
Running Time 2 hours 30 mins
Released 2001

Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
Also featuring Stephen Fry, Jon Culshaw, Kevin Eldon, David Evans, Leonard Fenton, Richard Garraty, Britta Gartner, Benjamin Langley, Jacqueline Pearce, John Sessions, Huw Thomas, Moray Treadwell.

Synopsis: The Doctor and his faithful companion Antimony arrive just in time to help rebels fight a planetary invasion. Meanwhile, someone very powerful has just rescued a mysterious prisoner.

Note: Online broadcast available at BBC Online


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 9/10/01

It would be unfair to judge Death Comes To Time solely on its single episode, but as that's all we`ve got for the moment, then it will have to do. The first thing I noticed is that the script just generally needed tidying up to make it more coherent; the Seventh Doctor of the Virgin NAs was often caught up in events before the reader, here it isn't made clear whether this is the TV or Virgin Seventh Doctor. The Doctor also gets a new companion in the form of Antimony, who is to all intents and purposes a male version of Leela.

All this aside though Death Comes To Time is essentially enjoyable, the scenario resembles The Phantom Menace (a planet is held to ransom by an evil economic force), the acting is excellent, listen to the scene with Leonard Fenton and Sophie Aldred for an example of this and it also has an intriguing cliffhanger that deserves to be resolved. So lets hope, we get to hear the rest of it sooner rather than later.

Supplement, 11/9/04:

To state that Death Comes To Time is groundbreaking would be something of an understatement, rewriting as it does much of the series mythology. As the first online adventure, it is ambitious enough to dare to be different although in some respects the story retains enough traditional elements to make it enjoyable in its own right. The story concerns The Doctor`s struggles to deal with the machinations of General Tannis and his plans to attack Earth. Throw in vampire attacks, Ace being trained to be a Time Lord, and a new android companion for the Doctor and this is what you are ultimately left with. True much of it flies in the face of what has gone before and there are similarities to Star Wars in terms of the epic scale of events and indeed in some of the preachier scenes.

On the acting front Sylvester McCoy gives a great turn as the world weary Seventh Doctor, and Sophie Aldred manages to give Ace one of her better audio outings. Standout performances come from John Sessions who brings a malicious relish to General Tannis and indeed from Stephen Fry as the Minister Of Chance in what is essentially a sub-Doctor role. And it is this that makes Death Comes To Time as enjoyable as it is; if you`re looking for a story that recognises established continuity then forget it, but just take Death Comes To Time for what it is, a novel take on established Doctor Who.

The Special Edition:

Presented on Mp3cd, Death Comes To Time has been rereleased complete with the original illustrations from the webcast. By comparison to the animation seen in The Scream Of The Shalka, the illustrations look dated and don`t flow as quickly as the story does. The extras are presented via Real Player on a TARDIS scanner and this is an effective way of presenting the extras. The vast majority have appeared online already, and most of the interview clips come across as dull. Most enjoyable are those that feature John Sessions, who appears in character as General Tannis on the Today programme on Radio 4, taking a swipe at politicians along the way. Coupled with various outtakes and spoofs, this is indeed the best way that Death Comes To Time should have been released (as it was originally presented) and for this reason it is value for money alone.

Glorious, poetic and beautiful by Robert Smith? 5/11/02

I must confess right up that I am not an audio person. I simply don't have the concentration to appreciate the audio medium. I've listened to my share of Big Finish audios, as well as various other things, but the net effect is always one of three reactions: I've fallen fast asleep, I'm confused about exactly what's going on and who said what, or I'm groaning in disbelief because characters have stood around describing their surroundings in awkwardly written dialogue (stand up Barry Letts).

I had none of these reactions to Death Comes to Time.

DCTT is a thing of grace and beauty. It may very well be the best performance Doctor Who story there is. It uses poetry and metaphor to tell its story, which is an astonishingly effective touch. The story of the painter in episode 1 is a clear sign that we aren't in Kansas any more. It reinterprets the Doctor Who universe as an epic fable, a myth that seems far older and wiser than our twentieth century pop culture series should be. Just listening to the words unfold is a joy unto itself.

The passing of the gods is a tragic and wondrous thing to behold. The nearest comparison I can think of is Dead Romance, not just for its tale of the gods, but for the reinterpretation of the Doctor Who universe with fresh eyes and the sheer quality of storytelling it presents. This is a story which rewards the listener's intelligence deeply. It's positively dripping with themes and irony and parables.

Ace seems about right and Sophie plays her role well enough, showing how the original plan for her character could unfold. However, this might be the performance of all performances for Sylvester McCoy. By turns powerful and bone-weary, he gives us a Doctor who's alternately wise and tired. The scene where he revokes the Minister's TARDIS is astonishing, but so too is the aching weariness he puts into a simple line like "I'm tired". When he tells us he's a God of the Fourth, we believe him.

The other Time Lord actors are universally excellent. Tannis especially is marvellous. He's utterly chilling, in a way that Doctor Who villains so rarely are. His plans are breathtaking in many ways and he's such a well developed threat that the payoff works. The Minister is a great character, more Doctorish-than-thou and the richer for it. And Leonard Fenton could spend the entire CD reciting the digits of pi and I'd still be in heaven. There are a couple of actors which drag the production down, most notably the Captain in the middle episodes and the horribly misplaced comedy Americans near the end, but these are minor niggles which don't take away the power DCTT has.

The opening scene in particular is utterly astonishing, although the whole first episode is quite brilliant. The action moves around on quite a vast scale, making this feel quite appropriately epic, but not once was I lost. The intercutting between parallel scenes (which happens quite frequently) is brilliantly done and utilises the audio medium to perfection.

The revelation about Antimony is not only quite shocking, but it fits the nature of the world-weary Doctor perfectly. I'm also amazed by how naturally the humour is integrated into the story. The first episode might be spectacular, but the second is witty, fun and very Doctor Whoish. Oh, and the music is simply glorious. It doesn't feel at all weird when they ramp up the volume. This is incredibly classy stuff.

The ending is amazing, most of all because it actually works. It's not a cheap shock effect or some sort of deliberate continuity busting statement, but rather the only possible conclusion to the story that's been carefully unravelled before it. And besides, when the Doctor says "Why not? I've died before" he sounds more playful than the rest of the story, paradoxically suggesting that there's life in the old Doc yet.

The extras on the CD are probably the most disappointing thing about it. The only amusing outtake is Anthony Stewart Head's plea to Buffy and the interviews with General Tannis and the Dalek degenerate fairly quickly. The interview with Sylvester McCoy and Michael Hanlon is fascinating to see the level of vitriol the latter has towards the show, but Sylvester's eloquent defence of the series is quite magical. He even sounds rational and forward-thinking when discussing the merits of the internet, which is quite a feat as he reveals he isn't all that familiar with it elsewhere in the program.

In short, I cannot rave enough about Death Comes To Time. It's everything Doctor Who should be and more. It's one of the best Doctor Who stories ever told, it utilises the show as myth, it gives us poetry on a platter and it understands that Doctor Who is at its absolute best when it devotes its all to story. It's powerful, brilliant stuff that rewards on a great number of levels, but most of all encompassing the intelligence of the listener. Not for philistines.

Death Came To Time by Jamas Enright 7/11/02

Let's grant Death Comes To Time at least one thing: it is epic. It comes in at near three hours, putting it up there with the likes of Inferno. Also, one cannot fault the writer for thinking big. The nature of Timelords (sic) and how they are created are revealed, whole planets are at stake, of which Earth is only one, vampires, love, destruction and despair. What more could you want?

I think the biggest problem is that we didn't want any of this in the first place. Epic ideas are all very nice, but what we get is a single stamping of ideas that doesn't really make a lot of sense in the wider picture of the Doctor Who universe. And there are just so many ideas here. Whole stories have been based on concepts that form just part of Death Comes To Time. For examples, for vampires see State of Decay or Vampire Science, for despair try Shadow of the Scourge. The last time we had this much a mish-mash of a story, it was Resurrection of the Daleks.

Of course there are good points, it would be hard not to have any. John Sessions is a particular high point, playing a bad guy that goes ever so slightly over the top. We have Stephen Fry as the Minister of Chance, who falls in love and goes mad, what can be wrong with that? All the characters get at least once chance to shine, even Casmus, whose main good point is admittedly that he was played by Leonard Fenton. And, hey, Anthony Stewart Head...

Which, as must inevitably happen, brings us to the bad points. Anthony Steward Head was, what, not even on 'screen' for two minutes? Yes, thank you for that, really showed up Big Finish there (note: sarcasm). And why do that to the Americans in the last part? (Apparently the response to finding out there's an alien invasion is to wet your pants...)

But the biggest issues are to do with the plot. As has been pointed out, many ideas, but they just aren't carried through. There are black holes threatening the universe, and they... remain, and are in fact ignored. Antimony is the Doctor's best friend, and the story so wants us to care about what happens to him, but... we don't, because we just haven't had the time invested in the character to form that much emotional connection. The Minister of Chance goes mad, brings the universe to the brink of destruction, and in the final confrontation... has his power of TARDIS revoked. Eh? What was that all about? Then there's the Timelords themselves. The time has come to an end, and the next generation of Time Lords has begun. Um, what's the word I'm wanting here? Oh yes: bollocks. One of the aims of this production (as the people involved have revealed) is to give Doctor Who a proper send off after the series ended in 1989. That may be a nice sentiment, but that does negate all the fine work that come afterwards, the TV movie, the books and the audios. That is something that can't be countenanced.

Mention must be made of the format. Intriguing idea, playing in segments over the internet, available to all for free. Take your choice, with or without great graphics by Lee Sullivan. However, tuning in each week, week after week, for only about ten minutes of story split further into smaller parts... this is not a great way to distribute a story. I doubt every hard-core fan listened in, let alone Jon Q. Internet-User. Death Comes To Time does have fine points to it, but its intention, and, ultimately, its execution make it something to be faced by the very masochistic of us. Let me finish by quoting the Minister of Chance: 'Make it stop. I just want to make it stop.'

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 27/2/03

I have the Internet, have done for a few years now. Trouble is I ain't got no sound. The Internet is a glorified magazine for me, which is plenty to get my teeth into. Thus Death Comes to Time was a show I missed as an all new BBC Production. I hoped they would release it on audio, and BBC promptly obliged - in a box very similar looking to all their DW audio input. Thus it now sits on the shelf next to Slipback.

I was amazed at how long this was. I had no idea there was so much material in this drama, presuming that it was 5 or 6 10 minute segments. I eagerly unwrapped the CD case, and discovered 3 CDs in there. It's almost 3 hours long, for goodness sake! That makes it the longest audio to date. In the little booklet (always like these minibooks) Lee Sullivan's illustrations introduced us to the main players, and the main locations - this was nice, my hopes were raised further.

Death Comes to Time is unique. Being so used to Big Finish, and their nostalgic approach to packaging and presentation, it was clear this was a very different kind of beast. There was a conscious attempt to raise the stakes, presenting something epic. The main feeling for this comes from the music and sound effects. There's more of them, and for the most part they were excellent.

The musical score is varied and classical. Orchestral scores are plundered, giving the whole thing a grander scale. The space battles really sound as though many fleets are involved. The rain just doesn't fall quietly, but explodes around the players. The overall sound design is excellent - and I was caught up in the grand nature of it all. Whether this kind of music is suitable for a DW production I was less sure of - but they were trying something different, and I would save my opinions for the whole.

This is very much Doctor Who though as the 7th Doctor arrives to save the planet, almost on cue. Death Comes to Time has him as a mystical figure, not quite sure of himself, but knowing he must act for the good of all. Sylvester McCoy is a great Doctor, he's just not my favourite Audio Doctor. He's good throughout, just not magnificent, and I wanted him to be. He's also pushed to the side by the mass of other characters, and is not the dominant player like the box says. Ace is there too. Big Finish have tried to re-invent one of the most memorable TV companions after overkill was threatening to destroy her popularity. Death Comes to Time keeps with TV Ace, and it therefore doesn't do Ace any favours at all. I agree with a previous reviewer who believed it was time to bring the 7th Dr another companion. This production does just that!

Antimony is the new companion, and he's in it far more than Ace initially. I wasn't massively struck on this character, I didn't feel Kevin Eldon and McCoy worked that well together - the characters just didn't mix. He is a big part of the play however, and really should have his name in lights on the box. It's just the character isn't that interesting or original. My attention, and major remembrances of this audio, are drawn to the guest stars, and specifically the big 2 - Tannis and Chance. Death Comes to Time has more guest stars than any DW production I can think of. It fairly glories in the big names (or DW names) it has taken on board. Fact is that Stephen Fry and John Sessions are head and shoulders more effective than anyone else. Stephen Fry's Minister of Chance is the single best thing to emerge from this production - full stop! This Doctor-like character deserves more than what he has in this drama. Because of the vast cast, the Minister is often away for long stretches. It's just not on really. Stephen Fry is excellent, he's now convinced me he could be a very good Doctor.

The story is a long one, and I listened to it in segments. I often got confused as to where we were though. Scenes shifted all over the place, and many times I lost track of the ongoing narrative. Distractions abounded as our mammoth cast moved around. The story blatantly borrowed from Sci-Fi/Fantasy classics - but it was clumsily sourced - and turned out to be a poor homage to the likes of Star Wars and Flash Gordon. Yet amongst it all there were isolated moments of brilliance. McCoy and Fry were brilliant together. The teacher with Ace, and his stories, had their moments. The easy callousness of Tannis was manifested in all kinds of understated butchery.

Death Comes to Time, the whole shebang, was Dan Freedman's baby. Turns out though that one Colin Meek is the writer - Freedman is Producer and Director. As in all productions, this is a joint effort. Ultimately though it is Freedman's production, and therefore he must be applauded or castigated more than most. He has certainly given us a lot of characters to entertain us, but only the aforementioned 2 are worth their salt. He has certainly given us a grander Who - but is it one that we like?

The whole thing is designed to be (as quoted on the cover blurb) - an original audio adventure uniting elements from the Doctor's past with bold and original ideas for his future. The blasts from the past are the Doctor and Ace, that's it really. The resolution is certainly bold - but it just doesn't sit right. I am not one for canonicity, or putting stories in their correct place in the DW Universe. I can handle diverse dimensions, diverse ways of concluding story arcs - seemingly at odds with one another. But Death Comes to Time just seems wrong. Both the passing of the torch from the Doctor, and the Time Lord new vast powers - they just didn't feel right. It was pushing the boundaries of Who a little too far. I can't help but be glad that Big Finish are now the sole keepers of the Doctor on audio - they certainly deserve that place. This I'm afraid, despite much that is good within, was just not up to BF excellence.

I really wanted to give this a very good review. I had read a fair few shockers, it's really not that bad. But that end rightly has riled a fair few. It looks like this attempt to push DW into the future has floundered. It was bold, it was superbly produced - but it ultimately also contained far too much that I just couldn't warm to. I know this isn't the last we've heard of McCoy's Doctor and Ace. I really hope this isn't the last we have seen of the Minister of Chance too - and that I will take as my major positive memory of the whole thing. 6/10

A Review by Rob Matthews 28/7/03

Thank goodness I stumbled upon Robert Smith?'s thoughts about this story amidst the rather more dismissive reviews displayed above. Had I not, I might not have been persuaded to give this originally-broadcast-on-the-web audio story a go. And if I hadn't given it a go, do you know what I'd have missed out on? One of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made, that's what. I'm gonna big it up here, because I simply can't belive that a production this stunning, this beautiful, this perfectly performed hasn't received more praise on this site in the year or so since it was made.

As with that horrendous McGann television movie, the makers of this tale had a stated intention of weaving together elements from the show's past with bold new ideas for the future. Unlike the horrendous McGann televison movie, Death Comes To Time succeeds in its intention.

The story is themed in a way around the immensely ancient universe-weary Doctor Sylvester McCoy made his own in the latter TV seasons, and fortunately this production features McCoy himself at his very best. I dread McCoy's Battlefield-style off-days because he can be so bloody marvellous at some times and so awful at others. And the weird thing is that those occasional lapses into awfulness aren't even down to anything obvious, like laziness, say; he seems to putting the effort in just as much when he's bad as when he's good, and you just don't know which McCoy you're going to get with any given story. So it's hugely fortunate that this is indeed him at his best, this Methuselahan, tired melancholy demigod-cum-hobo that only he, unique amongst all the Doctors to play the Doctor, can do. The story, in other words, is tailor-made for McCoy, and for a script like this only the, er, real McCoy will do. Extremely lucky that we get him.

I've thought for a while now that the Seventh Doctor is too creatively played out, artistically exhausted; when he turns up in BBC Past Doctor Adventures they just seem redundant additions to the NAs and I can't say I ever rush out to buy them. But this adventure has succeeded in reminding me of everything I ever liked about McCoy's Doctor. He's back, and it's about time. As the saying goes.

Contrasted with this wearied take on the Doc is Stephen Fry's character, the Minister. The former Melchitt plays a really excellent part here, as we all knew he would, with the Minister - very poignantly - essentially the Doctor in all but name. But not the old and tired Doctor, rather the exuberant romantic young adventurer who's brimming with optimism and wants to see everything. Yet he too brings a subtle, abiding sadness and loneliness to the role, just as he did to the role of Oscar Wilde. The parallels between him and the Doctor are reflected very fluidly in the crosscutting structure of an overtly thoughtful script, the Minister's scenes bouncing off the Doctor's, and both of them bouncing off Ace's journey of Empire-Strikes-Back-like Time Lord training.

Of the other main characters, Antimony makes a likeable if perhaps underdeveloped companion. The story would have probably benefitted from a few more scenes between him and McCoy in the early episodes, to establish more of a relationship. And yet... when that revelation comes it's thoroughly believable and really rather moving anyway. Because McCoy's performance makes it so.

As a tip of the hat to modern SF, the story sets itself up in the first instance as a big space opera thingy (someone's already pointed out a resemblance to the trade blockade situation from The Phantom Menace). A predictable choice of milieu, perhaps, but - again rather like Star Wars - this allows for the unfolding of sheer Myth, in all its glory. Indeed, ray-guns'n'spaceships-type science-fantasy is surely just an extension of all those older legends that arose from people looking up at the vastness of the heavens and being inspired to make up stories about them.

I don't really want to go on about the mechanics of this story too much here though. Not because of spoilers or anything, rather that the devil is very much in the details and I just don't think my clumsy yatterings or any summary of the plot would do justice to the sheer poetry of the thing. I simply want to recommend it as a very considered piece of work, one that's up there with Kate Orman in the gorgeous lyricism stakes, and one that features one of the finest central performances in all of Doctor Who's history. This is really a standalone re-imagining of Doctor Who and the nature of the Doctor's universe, sealing the deal on the Doctor as a romantic, mythic tragic figure in the only way you really can seal the deal on a character as a romantic, mythic tragic figure. By having him die. Giving it real finality.

Course, that's a problem for some people.

Speaking for myself, the idea that fans might be ignoring this stunning piece of work because of an asinine Comic-Book-Guy-from-The-Simpsons type dedication to 'continuity' is one that has me rolling my eyes virtually out of their sockets. The point of Doctor Who was never to cumulatively build a universe or a history - even if it did this incidentally sometimes -, rather it was to tell great stories. And since that's what Death Comes To Time does, I really don't see why anyone should have a problem with it. It's not pretending to be part of the Big Finish Whoniverse, or the BBC books one, it's just one more alternative. So perhaps now that Big Finish have endorsed 'non-canon' Doctor Who stories with their Unbound series, some of the more boringly phallocentric fans will stop worrying about bloody 'continuity' and just appreciate that rather more important attribute: quality.

For this is superb drama on its own terms and in its own right. As a Doctor Who fan, I'm very very proud of it. And I'd like you to be too.

The Last of the EDAs by Antony Tomlinson 1/8/03

Death Comes to Time was one of the highlights of my week back in 2001. Every Wednesday, at the same time, I would tune in and watch the rather jittery action on my computer monitor (alas, I do not have broadband - but I was rather glad to have problems with my reception as it added to the nostalgia of the thing) and I loved it - until the final episode.

Death Comes to Time is a very fresh breath of air. It's style - the epic, philosophical tale that seems to take in most of the universe - is pretty new to Doctor Who (though not to Star Wars, as Stuart Gutteridge points out.

In fact this story is rather like Attack of the Clones [which I happen to think is a good thing]). And, to an impressive extent, the story is also free of much of the baggage of the old series (there is no Eye of Harmony, no regeneration, no Daleks and no Master in this one, thankfully).

Furthermore, the performances are absolutely brilliant. Phil Sessions is great as the camp-but-cruel General Tannis (there is not one un-evil bone in his body) while Steven Fry provides a joyous, Doctorly performance as the Minister of Chance. And as Robert Smith? and Rob Matthews point out, McCoy is also at his most compelling here - he seems more bitter and morose than ever, but that intense sparkle remains beneath it all.

The problem with Death Comes to Time, however, arises due to its central structure. The story is, in essence, a series of mysteries - who is Minister of Chance? Who is killing off the Time Lords? What is happening to Ace? What is Tannis's real plan? It is pretty thrilling stuff. But unfortunately it all goes wrong when it comes to the revelations.

The difficulty is that we do not understand the universe in which the story is operating. For one, the Time Lords are clearly a different species from the creatures we see on TV. They seem to be a race without a home, they seem to have all kinds of Jedi-like powers, they seem to have some God-like role in the structure of the universe, and it is possible for human beings to become Time Lords. But none of this is made very explicit prior to the actual playing out of the action.

As a result, we are asked to get excited by the prospect of the Minister of Chance using his powers for evil. Unfortunately, I had no idea prior to the finale that this meant that the Minister would be able to call down lighting bolts from the heavens. So, I sat back waiting for him to do something quiet and Borusa-like, and was then totally bemused to discover that he had wiped out the baddies in some weird, apocalyptic way (probably involving fireballs).

Then, it is later revealed that Tannis is a Time Lord. Of course, I thought that this was a pretty dull revelation. For me this means that he can regenerate and travel in time (and for the casual viewer it means nothing). But then we are told that this is somehow essential to the very fabric of the universe. But how was I supposed to know that? I am then told that he is a Yang to the Doctor's Yin? Well, so what? And Ace is going to replace them all after they cancel each other out? Why? What difference will it make to the universe? The problem is that unless the writer tells me beforehand what the significance of such events is, I have no idea how excited I am supposed to be.

Another supposedly important revelation that leaves the listener cold is the fact that Antimony is actually a robot. Well, to be honest, I had no idea that he wasn't a robot - I didn't know what he was. So when it was revealed that he was mechanical it meant a lot less to me than it was clearly supposed to. (It would have been different had his non-robotic status had some relevance. In one of the Aliens comics, the heroine sleeps with a man, only to discover he is a robot as he is ripped in half hours later. If Antimony had had such a relationship with Ace, for instance, this would have been fascinating. But ultimately, it is without significance to the viewer).

This whole situation is made even more confusing, however, by the last episode. I had just got used to the new mythology, when who should turn up? The bloody Brigadier. What's he doing there? Is he part of this universe? And if he is there, then does that mean that Spearhead from Space, The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors happened after all, and that the Time Lords really are boring people who live on Gallifrey? And if it does not, then why should we get excited by his presence? I mean, we can't tell if he should even know the Doctor? It's fine to have a new mythology, but you can't then expect us to get excited when the old one rears its head.

The tone of the final episode then goes to pieces. Suddenly the apocalyptic atmosphere gets trashed by an impression of Tony Blair, the Brigadier in a space-shuttle and a pointless laser fight. What the hell is going on? My head hurts. Did they run out of time at the last minute and ended up calling in Nicholas Courtney and some radio impressionists to end the thing? Help me.

What Death Comes to Time seems to be, to me, is a sequel to some unseen Doctor Who tale. It seems that we should already know who Antimony is, why Ace is Tannis's prisoner, what the Time Lords are doing scattered around the universe, and how Earth is involved in all of this. But we don't. Instead, it feels like they've made Destiny of the Daleks without bothering to make Genesis.

My theory on all of this is that in terms of continuity, Death Comes to Time actually follows the EDAs. The universe of the latter EDAs has clearly come about - Gallifrey and its history have been deleted and only a few Time Lords now roam the universe. Clearly, at some point, then, the Eighth Doctor is forced to regress back into his Seventh incarnation (after all, McCoy does seem to be wearing McGann's costume throughout Death Comes to Time). The remaining Time Lords then gain some scary powers and end up battling the Vampires again, while the Doctor meets up once more with Ace (perhaps she's turned up from a parallel universe - the universe of the New Adventures). The Doctor then invents Antimony, who sleeps with Ace, or Fitz or something. Ace is then captured by Tannis and locked in a cupboard and the rest is history...

Or perhaps we should forget the whole thing and get on with watching the Star Wars sextology...

Oh, and by the way, if anyone likes the whole 'painting parable' at the beginning of Death Comes to Time, then they should read E.A. Abbott's 19th Century masterwork, 'Flatland'. Enjoy it...

How The McCoy Era Should Have Ended by Matthew Kresal 7/1/09

Ah, Death Comes To Time. The BBC's first serious attempt at bringing Doctor Who back after the 1996 TV movie. First aired as a webcast in 2001 and 2002 before being released first on audio CD and then on MP3. Since then it has seemingly divided fans that have seen/heard it into two groups: those who love it and those who hate it. I fall into the former category and here's why: because Death Comes To Time does two very important things. First, it sets out to be something different and more importantly it offers a more satisfying end to Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor.

Death Comes To Time features one of Sylvester McCoy's best performances as the seventh Doctor. Long known to fans as both a master clown and as a dark manipulator during his TV era, McCoy finds the right balance between the two here. There are moments where McCoy's comical side shines brightly (especially in his scenes with Antimony) without it being either forced or intrusive. Yet that is just the tip of what makes McCoy's performance so good. The Doctor of this story isa tragic figure: a tired old man who is watching everything he has spent his life fighting for being brought to the edge of destruction. McCoy conveys this tragic sense well and no more so then in the final moments of the story. The result is a much finer exit, both writing and acting wise, for McCoy's Doctor then was provided in the TV movie.

On top of McCoy's performance, there is one of the best casts ever assembled for a Doctor Who story. Sophie Aldred returns as the seventh Doctor's companion Ace and, like McCoy, gives one of her best performances as an older, wiser Ace training for a new destiny. John Sessions (who incidentally auditioned for the role of the eighth Doctor) plays Tannis, the villainous Supreme Commander who is not only bent on universal domination but is far more than just another megalomaniac. Stephen Fry gives an apt performance as the Minister of Chance, as does Leonard Fenton as Ace's rather poetic Time Lord mentor Casmus. Then there's the Doctor's newest companion: the naively happy-fisted Antimony, played with great humor (and even sympathy before the story is over with) by Kevin Eldon. Then there are also strong performances from Britta Gartner, Robert Rietti, Charlotte Palmer and Peggy Batchelor. Add on cameos from Anthony Stewart Head, Jacqueline Pearce and even Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier and the result is one of the strongest casts ever assembled for any one Doctor Who story.

Death Comes To Time seems to have received a lot of flack from some fans for doing something different than being just another Doctor Who story. To begin with, this is a story with an epic feeling. Many have called this epic feeling more akin to Star Wars, but in the past we've seen Doctor Who successfully emulate things like the James Bond Films in stories like The Enemy of the World and The Ambassadors of Death and this story proves Doctor Who can do epic stories just as well. For a story like this it needs to be. It travels from Santiny to Micen Island to the Canisian Empire to Earth in a story that crosses space and time in a epic fashion not previously seen in the series.

That brings us to the most controversial aspect of this story: where (or rather if) it fits into - and mucks about with - the established continuity of the series. First and foremost is the fact it gives the Time Lords seemingly god-like powers over Time. Now, to be fair, this isn't the first time we've seen them with such powers because we need see them briefly with such powers in Patrick Troughton's last story, The War Games. This is also not the first time the series has tried to rewrite its own continuity either (the Dalek,s for example, had their backstory rewritten several times during the run of the original series, especially in Genesis Of The Daleks). In fact, many elements of this story have similar aspects in the series. For example, the background of the Fraction regarding the events on Micen Island bears quite a resemblance to the Minyans in Underworld. In fact, Ace's training and the Doctor having god-like powers were both aspects that would have been explored had the series not been canceled after the airing of Survival in 1989. The Doctor's new abilities bring a new aspect to a character we think we know.

Now for the ultimate question: is Death Comes To Time canon? I approach that question from the angle of also being a Sherlock Holmes fan. The novel The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer is a terrific Sherlock Holmes pastiche that mucks about quite heavily with the canon of that character (sound familiar?), but that makes it no less enjoyable. Does a story really have to be canon to be enjoyed? In the final analysis, I believe that that Death Comes To Time can be enjoyed whether or not it fits easily (or at all) into the continuity of the series.

Canon or not, there can be no doubt that there is something truly special about Death Comes To Time. From strong performances to a galaxy-spanning story, here is a story that takes much that we know about our favorite series and gives us something new and different. It proves to be both something different from other stories of the series and a more satisfying conclusion to the Seventh Doctor's era. For fans of McCoy's Doctor looking for something different from their favorite show, Death Comes To Time is recommended. This is how the seventh Doctor era should have ended and it is a shame it didn't.