Big Finish Productions
Destination Wars

Written by Matt Fitton Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2017

Starring David Bradley

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives in a gleaming utopia in the Space Year 2003. Has the Doctor truly brought Ian and Barbara home, to glimpse their future? The world owes much to its legendary Inventor, and Susan finds herself face to face with the great benefactor. But soon, the time travellers are in a world at war and the Doctor must confront his past.


Paleo Future by Jason A. Miller 1/12/21

It's hard for me to get very excited about yet another new Big Finish series. Big Finish seems to have reached a stage where, flush with cash from years and years of selling expensive cassettes, then CDs, and now audio downloads, they can just take any character who ever appeared in Doctor Who, or any other 1960s' or '70s' sci-fi franchise, and create an endless array of spinoffs starring that character. It seems that Bulic, the one character who survived Warriors of the Deep, may soon be getting his own box set.

However, the idea behind the recent Big Finish First Doctor Adventure series really tickled my fancy. Yes, Big Finish have done many stories with William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in the past, But this time, they've reunited the cast from the 2013 docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time and produced a whole new series of William Hartnell-era adventures using the replacements for the First Doctor (David Bradley), Susan (Claudia Grant), Barbara (Jemma Powell) and Ian (Jamie Glover). And now that Bradley has played the First Doctor on TV in Twice Upon a Time, that makes the Big Finish release especially relevant.

You could do anything with this new Bradley-led cast. You can pretend that it's 1964 again and that decades' worth of continuity have been cleared from the table. It's not a TARDIS, it's the Ship. We don't know where the Doctor and Susan are from, or where they're going. You never know where the Ship is going to land. It's the perfect blank slate. Redoing the First Doctor era with a new cast must be the most liberating concept in the world.

Except that this is Big Finish, and there is a rigid formula for everything. So there is, in fact, no liberation.

Case in point, the first story off the first season of the First Doctor Adventures is a big tease. We're told at the beginning of Destination Wars that we've landed in the Year 2003. Oh, wow! We're 40 years into Ian and Barbara's future! It's the paleo-future of 2003 as it would have been imagined in 1963 -- boxy robots! flying cars! video screens!

... except that it's not really 2003, and we're nowhere near Earth. We're on a future colony that's in their own year 2003, and the colony is populated by exactly three guest humanoids. Ian as written for the First Doctor Adventures is a congenital idiot who keeps broadcasting the fact that the TARDIS crew are mysterious off-worlders rather than locals, and trouble ensues. And, because we're dealing with an isolated space colony cut off from the motherworld, there's a ravenous reptilian menace, the Dalmari, lurking outside the gates. Big Finish has told this story 900 times before.

But there is a wrinkle. Big Finish loves bringing back old baddies with new voices. They can't deliver on the paleo-future premise; their formula won't let us, in a story released in 2017, take an alternate look at 2003 as it would have been imagined in 1963. They're given the ultimate blank slate, and have refused to use it. So, instead, they bring back a favorite old baddie and have given him a new voice. At the end of Episode 1, we learn that the colony is benefited, from time to time, by a mysterious scientist and traveler known only as The Inventor. Susan knows, and is terrified of, The Inventor, who starts telling Ian that the Doctor is not to be trusted.

At the end of Episode 2, the Inventor reveals himself to be...


The Master, in his first incarnation. He's now voiced by an actor named James Dreyfus, who has a menacing voice with a faint regional accent. If you squint your ears, he's doing an early Roger Delgado, with some of the silky charm, but he's not quite an expert at being evil (he's more The Baccalaureate at this point, really, and thus should not really be voiced by a 49-year-old baritone). He's got hypnosis skills, which he uses on a super-pliable Ian and a less-pliable Barbara. By the end of Episode 3, he's commandeered the TARDIS and pretends to want to bring Ian and Barbara home.

Of course, the tables are turned on evil, and good prevails. The situation with the Dalmari is resolved to everyone's satisfaction, the colony is freed from the velvet shackles of The Inventor, and the Master is left pleading pitifully for his freedom from a strange prison. The writer of this adventure, Matt Fitton, an old Big Finish hand who once wrote a pre-Bradley First Doctor outing for the remnants of the original cast (The Early Adventures, those were called), dips heavily into the audio-bite sound box. The Episode 3 cliffhanger is drawn almost directly from the end of Part Three of Time-Flight; there's a play on the "How could you do this to your own --" clip from Planet of Fire; and the Bradley Doctor's closing speech to the Master is an inversion of the farewell speech to Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

This is a decent yarn, make no mistake. Fitton moves his pieces around in the right ways and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. My two biggest gripes with this story are conceptual rather than plot-related. One, Fitton's been given a blank slate but doesn't really use it -- he just tell the same stock Big Finish big-trouble-on-an-isolated-colony-under-siege story. Two, there's not much poetry in the script. Bradley and Grant have a nice moment in Episode 4 where you think the Doctor is going to leave and Susan attempts to blackmail him into staying, and you can also see Glover and Powell looking to build off the palpable platonic tension at which William Russell and Jacqueline Hill excelled. But otherwise, it's a stock tale with largely functional dialogue. I liked Dreyfus' turn as the First Master, but he turns out to be a bit of a dunce in Episode 4, and one can only hope that he's more effective in later outings...

Heck, if Big Finish were able to bring Eric Roberts, of all people, back into the Master fold in one of their other spinoff series, you know that Dreyfus is going to have his own ten seasons' worth of box sets in the coming years. We haven't heard the last of the Dreyfus Master.

At the end of Destination Wars, in true Hartnell-era fashion, the Ship lands at the beginning of the next story, and there's an immediate cliffhanger. Where has the Ship brought us this time?