Big Finish Productions
Shadow of the Past

Written by Simon Guerrier Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2010

Starring Caroline John

Synopsis: There's a secret locked up in UNIT's Vault 75-73/Whitehall. Dr Elizabeth Shaw is the only one left who knows what that secret is.


Invasion, Pastiche & Liz Shaw by Matthew Kresal 17/12/16

One of the joys of Big Finish, and their range of Companion Chronicles especially, was that it gave the opportunity for those underrated or underused companions of Old Who the chance to shine. Caroline John's Third Doctor companion Liz Shaw was one of the best examples of that prior to her passing in 2012. Shadow of the Past, released back in April 2010, is a fine example of both range and performer at work.

For starters, Simon Guerrier's script is a wonderful pastiche of the era. Season 7 stands out as something special from both the Third Doctor era and Old Who as a whole, thanks to more grown-up and gritty sensibilities. Nicely tucked into the gap between The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death, Shadow of the Past captures the era perfectly with a Liz in the aftermath of the former story and the strained relations between the Doctor and the Brigadier. There's still a sense of early days for UNIT as an older Liz (as part of the framing device for this tale) says that there's no way an alien spaceship would be brought into the center of London these days while also mentioning how the modern UNIT has had to function in the Doctor's absence. It's moments like these that make the Companion Chronicles, and this one in particular, interesting as Liz returns to a UNIT vault decades after the story's events unfolded. It's something that can be doing both a pastiche of the era while also looking back at it with four decades of hindsight.

Make no mistake though: this is a Third Doctor/UNIT alien invasion story. Echoing stories like the aforementioned Ambassadors or The Claws of Axos, the story starts with an alien spaceship crashing to Earth. With the Doctor and Brigadier still at loggerheads, Liz is the responsible scientist caught in the middle, as she and the Doctor try to ascertain what the craft is and what threat (if any) it might be to humanity. It's a story that builds a long at a nice pace, taking in the sights and sounds of the extraordinary with the ordinary ranging from the alien spacecraft in a UNIT lab to the UNIT canteen down the hall. It builds to a fantastic episode-one cliffhanger that would have made for a classic moment on TV before the story builds to its climax and a nice twisty ending.

One of the great things about Guerrier's script is his treatment of Liz as a character. If you're a fan of Liz and the actress who played her, you're in for a treat, as both are given a chance to shine. Liz is at the forefront of the story throughout but especially in the second half when the fate of the world might very well be in her hands. Caroline John seems to be relishing the script, and her full range is on display, from comedic moments of the Doctor to displays of the woman beneath the scientist exterior that was only hinted at on TV, including a beautiful moment towards the end that brings the human cost of these type of invasion stories front and center. The framing device also allows us those aforementioned moments of retrospection, the sense of opportunities lost in the mists of time. It's a fine performance from Caroline John and one of the best to come out of the handful of stories she did for the range.

There's plenty else to recommend the release for. Lex Shrapnel as Marshall has quite a small role, but he's effective in the portions he's in, helping fill in moments and becoming Liz's companion to some extent. The sound effects and music are also up to Big Finish's usual standards with a soundscape that brings both the extraordinary and the ordinary to life magnificently throughout, often subtly, but always playing to the story's advantage.

While it might not perhaps be a standout story from the Companion Chronicles along the lines of Guerrier's Sara Kingdom trilogy or the later Liz Shaw tale The Last Post, Shadow of the Past is more than worthy of a listen. Guerrier crafts a fine pastiche of the era, which gives Caroline John plenty to work with, and boy does she do fine work with it. For fans of the era and Liz Shaw as a character, it's a pleasure to listen to and well worth the price tag.