Big Finish Productions
Hunters of Earth
Destiny of the Doctor

Written by Nigel Robinson Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2013

Starring Carole Ann Ford

Synopsis: Schoolgirl Susan Foreman just wants an easy life for herself and her grandfather, the mysterious Doctor. She wants to be liked and accepted by Cedric and all the other pupils at Coal Hill School. But there's trouble in the streets and bombsites around Totter's Lane.


Back To The Beginnings by Matthew Kresal 12/7/13

As part of this year's celebrations of Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary, Big Finish Productions (the company which has been producing audio dramas based on the series since 1999) and the BBC's own Audio Go have teamed up for a one of a kind celebration. Called Destiny of the Doctor, this series of hour-or-so-long audiobooks will ultimately span eleven audios CDs (with one for each incarnation of the Doctor) released monthly between January and November 2013. The first release, Hunters of Earth, starts the series off appropriately enough at the very beginnings of the television show and indeed before it.

This first story takes the listener back to October 1963, about a month before An Unearthly Child, territory rarely explored with a few notable exceptions such as Kim Newman's novella Time and Relative. The first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford, who is the audiobooks main reader) are in Shoreditch in London's East End, effectively hiding as the Doctor attempts to acquire components to fix the TARDIS while Susan attempts to blend in at the nearby Coal Hill School, both with mixed results. Though Susan has made a friend of fellow student Cedric (played by Tam Williams), events begin to take an odd turn as teenagers suddenly begin to turn violent and Susan arouses the suspicions of schoolteacher Mr. Rook, who is not quite what he seems, and the Doctor finds he might have to become involved in events after all.

Writer Nigel Robinson crafts a story that evocatively harkens back to 1963. As well as the Coal Hill School setting and the fictional band of John Smith and the Common Men (both from An Unearthly Child), there are references to the real world of 1963 as well with mentions of The Beatles, the Cold War, the space race and the early communications satellite known as Telstar. What Robinson evokes most of all is the feeling of a Britain that was still recovering from a war that had already been over for nearly twenty years but still had scars left that were yet to heal as evidenced by a site still damaged by the Blitz and the anti-Semitism experienced by Rosa, the Jewish woman who runs the cafe that the schoolchildren frequent with both of those playing a large part in the story itself as it heads towards its climax. The story also references other Who stories as well with references both to the New Series (with both the Doctor's visit to Magpie Electronics and what seems to be a message from a future Doctor) and possibly the Big Finish audios as well.

Part of Robinson's evoking means that he harkens back not just to Doctor Who but to one of its spiritual forbearers: Quatermass. What is ultimately behind the events taking place owes more than a passing debt to the final BBC Quatermass serial of the 1950s Quatermass And The Pit both in its source, what its effect upon people is and ultimately how Hunters of Earth touches on the themes of xenophobia. Whether it's all a nice homage to Quatermass and the Pit or a bad rip-off of it is of course entirely down to the listener.

The story though has a couple of problems. The first is with Carole Ann Ford's reading, which varies from very good (such as when she's reading Susan, which it should be) to passable (her first Doctor is hard to distinguish from Susan at times) to laughable (such as Rosa) which does dampen the effectiveness of the story at times. The other is that unfortunately the ending is nowhere near as plausible or as effective as it needs to be, meaning that the story ends on a rather lackluster note after an otherwise strong buildup. It's almost a shame because they do hurt an otherwise effective story.

Despite some of its flaws, Hunters of Earth succeeds overall. It rides the fine line between being both a first Doctor story that takes place before An Unearthly Child that nevertheless doesn't contradict it and also as the start of the Destiny of the Doctor series. For those seeking a fresh story that harkens back to the early series of Doctor Who or wanting to try out the audiobook series, this is a good story for you.