THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Full Fathom Five

Written by David Bishop Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2003
What if... The Doctor were capable of murder?

Starring David Collings
Also featuring Ed Bishop, Siri O'Neal, Jeremy James, Matthew Benson, Jack Galagher

Synopsis: The Deep-sea Energy Exploration Project was apparently destroyed by dirty bombs in 2039 AD, turning the surrounding sea bed into a radioactive tomb. Rumours suggest the DEEP was conducting illegal, unethical experiments... In 2066 the Doctor discovers the research centre remains intact. The terrible truth about what happened twenty-seven years ago will soon be revealed. The Doctor is determined to be the first to uncover and confront the secrets of the DEEP.


Reviews

Two Hearts, And Both Of Them Black by Andrew Wixon 17/8/03

Big Finish have been a bit coy about this, the third of their Unbound plays, particularly when it comes to what the deviation from established Who-lore actually is. It's not immediately obvious from the advertising what the 'what if?' on this occasion is, and indeed it doesn't become apparent until three-quarters of the way through the play. It's quite hard to do a proper review of this play without revealing what it is, so - be warned! - spoilers ahead, click that 'Back' button now if you want to enjoy this play as its makers intended...

Twist aside, this is another fairly solid BF production, a tale of fishy goings on at the bottom of the sea, genetic mutation, nasty right-wing soldiers, and irresponsible science. David Bishop's script is okay: some of the dialogue - particularly that of Ed Bishop's General Flint - is incredibly corny and cliched, but it makes up for this by the use of a very clever flashback structure, sustained throughout. Despite the plot jumping from 2030 to 2057 and back throughout the story, there's never any doubt as to what's going on and when - quite an impressive achievement. The music is quite impressive, too, and this is probably Jason Haigh-Ellery's most impressive directorial job so far.

But it's the twist that really grabs the attention here, for all that it comes quite late on. It's fundamentally different from the ones in Auld Mortality and Sympathy for the Devil, which effectively stuck a basically familiar Doctor in an unfamiliar situation. This, on the other hand, changes the essential character of the Doctor while placing him in a fairly routine adventure. Basically put, the 'what if' here is (last chance to look away, folks) 'what if the Doctor was a right bastard?' - prepared to ruthlessly kill in cold blood anyone who disagreed with his objectives (which are really the same as those of the 'canon' Doctor). It's a startling new take on the character, and David Collings is very impressive - he plays the part like an unimpeachably 'proper' Doctor for most of the duration, and does an exemplary job of it, yet manages to make the transition to 'ruthless' a seamless and consistent one. It's startling, and a bit worrying, how much of the Doctor's basic character remains intact even with this alteration, and I caught myself thinking 'I wouldn't mind seeing more of this incarnation' - something, alas, which the conclusion (which manages to be funny and horrible and disturbing all at once) pretty much rules out.

If there's a weakness to this approach it's that it's never really made clear whether this is the way this Doctor routinely operates, or if it's something forced on him by this particular situation (the story suggests this is a late incarnation, so hey, this could be the canon Doctor after all). But it does throw the strengths and basic nature of the 'real' Doctor into sharp relief, and it's always good to be reminded of that. Rather good.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 29/9/03

By far the darkest and most removed from the original premise of the Doctor, Full Fathom Five, treads areas that DW hardly ever touches - whilst still featuring enough identifiable features to firmly plant it in the DW mythology.

David Collings, best known amongst DW fans for playing Poul in the classic TV story Robots of Death, makes a supremely selfish and driven Doctor come alive. This is a one track Doctor, one who lies and cheats his way to get what he wants. A Doctor who has his own morals, and demands everyone agree with them. David Bishop's script, which I never doubted would be very good, takes the character to its selfish extreme. It's interesting that the Valeyard - the TV dark Doctor - follows this, because the contrast between the 2 should be fascinating.

What we have here is a Doctor stuck on Earth, what we don't find out until well in the story is why. David Collings was the alternative Doctor I had most misgivings over before hearing the plays. He wasn't as well known as the rest, to me at least. He's actually rather good, taking the essential character of the Doctor, and then twisting aspects slightly to produce an interesting alternative version.

He's ably backed up by all the supporting cast - especially Ed Bishop and Siri O'Neal, as General Flint and Ruth. The excellence of the performances, combined with the very good script, means we have yet another great story from Big Finish - and exactly what these alternative stories should (and said they would) be.

At times this story feels like a 3rd Doctor story. With its echoes of The Sea Devils (deep sea bases, talking down to all and sundry) I half expected some monster to turn up in the deep sea base. The fights between relevant parties turn this story into something of a political thriller though. Complete with the military and dirty bombs, it at times feels like a Bond inspiration. But the real nature of the Deep Sea projects isolation, and what is hidden there, takes this story down a totally new line - and the Doctors character down an incredibly dark one.

The real memorable aspect of this production is the way each character gets nastier and nastier, as it progresses. As the revelations are uncovered so the characters turn. The conclusion is the natural progression of this nastiness - but what a finish to a Doctor Who story! Arguably the most unforgettable in any medium.

That's three Unbound stories now, and I've been impressed with each one - all for different reasons. The Doctors have been sufficiently diverse, both from each other, and the TV versions. With excellent writers, producers and performers the Unbound series is actually becoming the best series of spin offs DW has ever produced. 8/10


Daring... by Joe Ford 22/10/03

Oh my God. What a mini masterpiece. I have just finished listening to this story and I am in total shock, it is easily the best Unbound story so far and considering the quality of the first two releases that is a quite a statement! What is happening this year? With the exciting 'what if' formula the writers of the Unbound series seem to be freeing their creative talents and producing some of their best ever work. Certainly this is seventy million times better than generic 'normal' Doctor offerings like The Dark Flame and Nekromentia.

Doctor Who has an endless format, its storytelling possibilities are endless because you can never really kill off the main character, never defeat ALL the evil in the universe and never visit every single time and place. There are always new stories to tell and the hundreds of TV stories, books, comics and audios have already covered a vast array of genres, styles, storytelling techniques... but still they have only just scratched the surface.

The Unbound formula has given the show a chance to break a few of these rules. The Doctor should never have stayed on Gallifrey. But he did. He should have been exiled to Earth for four years. But he wasn't. He should never be bored, cowardly, unadventurous, cruel... but he IS. Given the delicious possibilities when ANYTHING is possible the writers are truly surpassing themselves in giving us tantilising glimpses into what might have been. In some ways it is very cruel, we may never ever see these wonderful versions of the Doctor ever again and they will lie in the series continuity as forgettable because they're not canon.

The first writer I would call up to write a dramatic story for this series is David Bishop. The man is just my new God. He writes stories with apparent ease that knocks spots off of his contempories. He did it with Who Killed Kennedy, it was one of the best ever Virgin books. Another winner with Amorality Tale, taking an often ignored pairing and writing a charming novel that was one of the highlights of the year. The criminally undervalued Domino Effect that so effectively continued the gripping 8th Doctor saga is still one of my favourite books this year, in terms of drama, powerful incident and story I would most like to see on the telly this is a real keeper. But his real coup de grace was Test of Nerve, the best Sarah Jane audio by a square mile. Not only did the top man demonstrate he fully understood how to capatilise on the audio format but he wrote one of the most vivid and exciting audios ever produced by Big Finish. The triple barrelled ending gave me goosebumps.

So I was pleased to hear he had been offered another spot in the schedule, if his standards maintain this high I expect Big Finish to be banging down his door again very soon.

What was so great about this CD then? After all it was only 70 minutes long... and that is one of the major bonuses of this mini series. Short but economic stories told at a reasonable length. This story never, ever outstayed its welcome, in fact it was possibly too short as I was left wanting much more of this terrific dark drama. David manages to fit in his story well, a well developed story as he sets it wisely in two different time zones. This manages to show the aftermath of the story and the horrific events that have led up to it side by side, an effective device that allows the writer to sneak in some excellent twists later on. Given that the story hops about so much you would expect confusion but every scene hops forward/back after the last so by scene six you know what to expect. Besides both are strongly clarified by strong writing.

May I get down on my hands an knees and apologise. For when I first heard David Collins was going to be the Doctor I was horrified! Not that he is bad actor by any means... oh no quite the reverse, his performances on the TV series were always exceptional but I just didn't think he had the voice or the gravity to hold down the part and make it his own. I was very, very wrong. He is absorbing, a totally compelling character. The writing is essentially the reason for this as we have never seen the Doctor so dangerous and vicious but Collins brought a frightening intenseness to the role that left me begging for more. That crafty bugger Mr Bishop makes sure this story can only be a one off but I would love to find out more about this exiled monster. His gravelly voice suited the story perfectly and some scenes left me speechless, especially near the end at just how far Bishop and Collins dared to go. This is real risks folks and it is outstandingly done.

Again David Bishop writes with real momentum, setting up the story very quickly in the first scene so we can move on to the gritty stuff and once the story hits its pace it is non stop thrills until the conclusion. Speaking of the conclusion, what an ending!!! I turned off the CD with my heart pumping! Some films get their reputation for their shock endings, The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects (gosh i'm always mentioning those two aren't I? I must really like them!) were talked about for ages because of their 'rabbit out of a hat' ending. The last few moments of Full Fathom Five gave me the same giddy thrill, the experience that this was the last thing you would ever have expected to happen, that anybody could be this audacious... it is a WONDERFUL feeling and Doctor Who could do with more moments like it.

I should imagine some continuity obsessed fans will get a right arse ache up about it but I loved it. Not so much the icing on the cake but the very moment the CD goes from memorable to classic.

Performances were good, such a number of US accents shouldn't give anyone too much cause for alarm, they were pulled off very well (plus I suspect but don't know that Ed Bishop is an American) and not the laughing stock that ruined Minuet in Hell. Siri O'Neal did threaten to go over the top occasionally but she was mostly fine, some of her scenes were painfully emotional and she hit the right notes. Bishop and Matthew Benson were excellent, what threatened to be stereotypical General and Scientist became much more thanks to some nifty dialogue and heartfelt performances.

Andy Hardwick is the new Russell Stone while he's not around. By that I mean he has taken the number one spot as composer for the Big Finish stories, his work being both bombastic and attention grabbing. All of the Unbound have been perfectly scored by Mr Hardwick and Full Fathom Five has more of his trademark atmosphere, the scenes in the DEEP in the later time period were wonderfully cold and eerie and during the climatic finish he adds lots of tension. Hope he's doing them all this year.

It was just superb, not only a slap in the face to anybody who has become too complacent about the Doctor's character (oh yeah, that's the guy who goes around in his box saving the universe... hehehehehe... think again!) but also an honest to God gripping tale too! Some of the elements touch on the cliche... the underwater base, the gruff General, scientists who talk about ethics... but when these things aren't explored better than usual they are subverted, the traditional elements balancing the unexpected risks being taken elsewhere.

The two David's have not only provided something unique and cherishable but they have earned the right to come back and keep telling/acting such exciting stories.

A wonderful foray into the unexpected.


An intriguing notion with a chilling end by Michael Hickerson 12/12/03

Of all the Unbound audios, Full Fathom Five was the most nebulous when it came to announcing the details of the "what if" it would examine for Doctor Who. Auld Mortality looked at "What if the Doctor never left Gallifrey?" while He Jests At Scars examines what might have happened had the Valeyard won the day in the end of the Trial. But Full Fathom Five's question is a bit more than just that... and it's one that takes almost a full three-quarters of the audio adventure to come into focus.

Now, I will go ahead and warn you that 'm going to give away huge chunks of what happens in Full Fathom Five and suggest to you that if you've not yet heard it and don't know what the central premise is, you turn back now. There are just some things that it's better to find out on your own.

For a long portion of Full Fathom Five, I found myself curious as to just what the central twist of this one would be. Early on it seems like little more than mixing the Doctor is trapped on one planet aspect of the Pertwee era with the manipulative nature of the Doctor from the McCoy years. And then suddenly, it all becomes crystal clear.

The central idea is... what if the Doctor became a manipulative bastard... even more so than he was in the McCoy years. What if he was pulling string after string and influencing things to create an outcome he wanted not out of any sense of testing Ace or making her a stronger person but simply because he wanted to cover up his own errors in the past and get back to the TARDIS. What if he decided the ends justified the means and damn the consequences and who he stepped on in his efforts to get what he wanted?

It's a staggering idea and one that is so neatly buried in Full Fathom Five that it takes almost three-quarters of the story to come into focus. And when it does, it's quite a doozy and it leads to a conclusion that you may not see coming... but as with all good stories, it's the only ending that makes sense given the arc the characters have experienced.

After flirting with how dark the Doctor could do in seasons 25 and 26 and then the Virgin books, we finally see what could happen if the Doctor fully gave into his manipulative half. In a lot of ways, this one feels like an answer to the question that He Jests At Scars asks - what if the Valeyard had won? - but it's more subtle. It's what if the Doctor allowed his evil half to come out to play a bit more often and maybe averted the creation of the Valeyard?

The basic premise is that 27 years earlier, the Doctor was involved in some experiments at the DEEP, an undersea base. The Doctor escaped, but he had to leave his TARDIS behind. Now he gets a chance to go back, confront the sins of his past and maybe be reunited with his TARDIS so he can leave Earth. Along the way, the Doctor has looked after the former base commander's daughter, Anne... and while at first we assume its an altruistic motive, we learn over the course of the story that maybe it wasn't and he had a far more sinister agenda for Anne than he ever did with Ace.

The story is told in by alternating between 27 years before and the current story time frame. And, for the most part, the story pulls this off well. We really feel as if there are two separate time frames and it's easy to distinguish between the two as the story goes back and forth.

And as the past is revealed, we find out just what the Doctor has become. He's selfish and he will kill if need be. Indeed, one of the shocking moments of this story is when the Doctor guns down someone in cold blood... something we'd never see any of the Doctors (even McCoy) do on our screens. But again, the Doctor has decided the ends justify the means and he follows through with it.

It's also interesting how it catches up with him in the form of Anne. To say the ending caught me off guard is an understatement. And Anne's declaration of seeing how many more regenerations the Doctor has and hoping she has enough bullets is chillingly effective.

For what it's trying to be, Full Fathom Five is quite an entertaining and thought provoking story. One thing the Unbound series seems to be attempting (and succeeded at I might add) is to make us consider Doctor Who in a new light. Certainly this one plays with a very basic assumption... that the Doctor has a very consistent morality no matter what happens to him... and goes full throttle toward examining that central premise. It's always entertaining and diverting and the ending scene is truly one of the more memorable in Who's history.

I've lamented before that without Who on our TV screens, we don't get any canonical Who for the 40th anniversary. And while that's a shame, I've found that Big Finish is really stepping up and into that gap with gusto. Between the Unbound audios and the villain trilogy, I can't imagine a better way to celebrate Who than by examining what it is that fundamentally makes Doctor Who what it is today.


Say it ain't so Joe - or an ending in search of a story by Tim Miner 17/1/04

For years now, Joe Ford has been a Doctor Who compass for me. Nine times out of ten, I agree with his assessments wholeheartedly. I look forward to reading his reviews. Careful with my purchases, I regularly follow his lead when it comes to deciding on which new audios to purchase. He single-handedly caused me to revisit Colin Baker. His undaunted loyalty and enthusiasm for this man convinced me to buy The Marian Conspiracy and started my own love of his interpretation of the Doctor. If Joe were only a bigger fan of William Hartnell and was from North Carolina, I would swear we were family.

That's why Full Fathom Five was such a shock for me. Not for its "unbelievable ending", but the fact that Joe loved it and I LOATHED it. To be fair, many other reviewers I trust lauded this production, but Joe's was the unkindest cut of all for me.

For those not wanting to read spoilers, stop reading now. I'm going to get explicit about this story and its construction and I don't want to ruin anything for you...

As I said above, I usually like to read a number of reviews before committing to buy an audio. So, I dutifully researched FFF and read about its dark portrayal of the Doctor and its shock ending. As I ripped the cellophane off my newly-arrived CD and popped it into my CD player, it was the promise of the shock ending to come that kept me wading through the contrived plot-lines, shallow characters, the mind-numbing "underwater" score that transitions each scene, the flat performances and ridiculous accents that pervade this story.

(A side note - I'm American, and sick to death of the terrible accents and dialogue bathed in stereotypical colloquialisms with which Big Finish seems determined to saddle American characters. It's the equivalent of having every British character in an American production shouting "'Ello, gov'nah!" every time they enter the room. It's insulting and not up to the Big Finish standards I admire.)

As I became increasingly disenchanted with FFF, I kept reminding myself "the ending is coming, the ending is coming". And then it came - and I hated it for the obvious fanwank that it was.

I have to think that every real Doctor Who fan has wondered, "Why doesn't the bad guy just kill the Doctor and then stand over him killing over and over again until he can't regenerate anymore? What would that look like?" It's an amusing thought, but not the basis for a story. And that's what this felt like. "Hey, I have this great idea for an ending! Now all I need is a story. I found it all extremely unsatisfying.

Especially since I don't get Ruth's final motivation. She is enraged to discover that the Doctor murdered her father. Understandable, but she has been horrified by death and mutated babies and other acts of atrocity for 45 minutes. It is abhorrent to her. But the revelation that the Doctor pulled the trigger is enough to team her with General Flint and to commit cold blooded murder again and again? I'm not buying it. I would have been more convince if she simply failed to stop Flint from killing him. To me, this smacks of the male pop culture obsession with "proper" women emerging in extreme situations as gun-toting engines of destruction - Ripley in Aliens, the female protagonist in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the girls in 28 Days, the list goes on. This adds to my belief that the story was conceived as a series of vignettes in need of a story structure to contain them all.

This story was also pitched as one that would ask the question: What if the Doctor were ruthless? What if he believed the ends justified the means? Okay, I grant you that we've never seen the Doctor gun a human being down on screen, but I submit that he routinely demonstrates that the ends justify the means. And, he's frequently ruthless. We see him risking the lives of his friends to achieve various objectives, giving in to villainous mandates and placing his companion's needs over the fate of entire civilizations ("Hand that over or I'll kill Sarah, etc." Luckily, he almost always manages to pull it off without casualty - but not always.

I recently purchased Power of the Daleks and found the Doctor's decision to use Bragan's security guards as bait/targets to draw the Daleks away from his efforts to destroy their power system to be incredibly callous. Effective, but callous. Just as he claims to be killing one man to save millions in FFF, so was he sacrificing those security guards to save the entire colony in POD.

We don't have to wonder what it would be like of the Doctor believed the ends justifies the means. He demonstrates it all the time.

As for the story, we are presented with a litany of Doctor Who chestnuts:

I could go on about other aspects of the production I didn't care for, but it would be redundant. The fact of the matter is, I feel this production suffers from a flawed foundation. It doesn't show us what the Doctor would have been like if he were a fundamentally different person and it doesn't give us a good story along the way. Instead, it shows us what a Doctor that never was would have done in an adventure that never happened. And a boring one at that.

It asks: What if that Doctor were surrounded by one-dimensional people who move the plot along to a sticky and overdone ending that gives substance to a question that's probably been in the backs of all our minds for some time?

If you're really curious to see the Doctor's death in rapid succession played out in "reality", skip ahead to the end and save yourself the trip. Better yet, keep the version you've already concocted in your own head. It probably doesn't involve the Doctor being force-fed the TARDIS key.

And, Joe, no hard feelings. You're still the best. Thanks for the advice on Colin.