THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Sirens of Time

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 1999
Continuity Between The Five Doctors and Warriors of the Deep,
Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani
and prior to The Telemovie.

Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy
Also featuring Andrew Fettes, Anthony Keetch, Michael Wade, Sarah Mowat, Maggie Stahles, Colin McIntyre, John Wadmore, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Briggs and Nicholas Pegg

Synopsis: Something is affecting three Doctors across time and space - from the harsh swamps of a distant alien planet, to the confines of a WWI German U-boat, to the futuristic splendour of the Starcruizer Edifice and finally on Gallifrey.


Reviews

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/7/99

It would be unfair to judge what a new series of Doctor Who in audio format would be like, due to this one multi Doctor adventure. Instead it works as more of a showcase for each of the respective incarnations, by giving them individual episodes, prior to the conclusion. This is where the one major problem lies with The Sirens Of Time, in its structure. Each of the individual episodes could easily be the opening episode of any four part adventure, with the cliffhangers not being resolved until the final episode, where it seems writer Nick Briggs is trying to cram as much as possible into it, whilst trying to tell the story.

On the acting front, each Doctor reprises their role with ease. Sylvester McCoy takes on his TV Movie persona to begin with, before adapting to his season twenty five performance. Peter Davison echos his performance from The Caves Of Androzani, giving us a glimpse at what could have been, while Colin Baker plays the less bombastic side of the Sixth Doctor to great effect. Best of all is Sarah Mowatt in all of her roles; it would be good to hear more of her.

Each episode is different; McCoy`s is more alien in both setting and characters, while Davison`s is more traditional; Baker`s is more nostalgic, being similair in some ways to Terror Of The Vervoids. The fourth provides the usual bickering between Doctors, now part and parcel of multi Doctor tales, complete with revelations new. The best episode is Davison`s however, because of its pace, and simple storytelling. So is The Sirens Of Time a success? I would say a guarded yes, but to take it with a pinch of salt.


A Review by (FloorTen). 29/7/99

Where to begin? After nine years of absence from our screens, it would be fair to say that the time was ripe for the return of the good Doctor. The audio format, to date rather neglected in Doctor Who, has been chosen by the BBC as the means of the programme's regeneration. Possibly then, this story is the most eagerly anticipated release since its return after the 1986 hiatus with Trial of a Timelord. Expectations are naturally running high, so when the FloorTen crew gathered around the CD player to listen to Damian's copy, all breath was held when the play button was pressed....

Would this be the triumphant return to form we were all anticipating? A white knuckle roller-coaster ride, by turns shocking, tragic, amusing, fun... Gripping plot, dynamic pacing, witty dialogue - a story which both the dedicated fan and the casual listener could return to time and time again?

Nah....

...return to the shop, more like.

So what is the problem? It doesn't lie with the acting, which is reasonable and consistent. The Doctors do a superb job of injecting enthusiasm and life into rather pedestrian lines.

Colin Baker, in particular, reprises his role with great relish and is a delight to listen to. Sylvester does an admirable job as well. Peter Davison came across rather lacklustre, on the other hand, missing the friendly sparkle and jollity of his TV performances and instead sounding as bored with his lines as the rest of us.

Neither does the problem lie in the quality of the recording which is superb. On a good stereo system the sounds really leap out at the listener and grab them by the scruff of the neck; the dialogue also crystal clear.

The problem resides at a far more fundamental level. Sirens of Time is simply flat, dull and lifeless. It doesn't reflect the spirit of the original TV series and has none of that magic which hooked us all on Doctor Who in the first place. Allow me to elaborate...

Firstly the production is far too homogenous, to the point of being cluttered. There are no real discernible scenes as such, more one long rambling collection of non-events which leave the listener entirely unsympathetic towards the characters. The problem isn't that the characters are dislikable or badly drawn - it's simply that there is no dramatic pacing at all and no delineation of structure to give the listener chance to reflect on what is happening or to allow the listener to connect with the character on anything other than a superficial level.

The end result? Apathy. Who could care less about what this strange collage of explosions, zaps and robotic voices is actually all about? By the end of the first CD I'd realised I'd found the perfect cure for my insomnia, and the second CD felt like a trial of endurance.

The division of the story into four episodes should have allowed sufficient scope for the gradual building of some sort of dramatic tension. As Who fans, we have come to expect to be able to savour that cliffhanger at the end of episode one. Instead the experience was more a damp squib than fireworks in the sky.

I had a bad feeling about the story, when within the first minute "stasors at the ready", "sectors", "transduction barriers", "artron energy" and "time distortion" were all mentioned. I thought for a moment I was watching an old Star Trek episode...

"Stasors at the ready, Mr Sulu.."

Technobabble nonsense and sci-fi clich? are all good fun if sprinkled liberally as seasoning on a plot with substance. But to build an entire story around such inconsequential drivel is folly. The story comes across like exercise in rifling through the sci-fi back catalogue in order to build a Frankenstein plot.

For those unaware of what the story involves, I should explain that it is in essence four short stories, linked by the common theme of incidents on the Doctor's home planet. It would seem that Gallifrey is being taken over by some malevolent knights or other, but by the time the final part of the plot comes around, you've really given up caring.

Probably the most coherent episode of the four is the one set on a German U-boat during the first World War. This at least has some kind of atmosphere to it, though it is spoilt by the worst performance of the Doctor. Instead of the benevolent, honest character we already know, Davison's Doctor here seems a scheming, unpleasant character, playing the same "dark undercurrents" card that McCoy pulled off to some success in his later seasons. It just leaves you confused, and doubting the authenticity of the whole thing.

The other point is that the best Who has always had a healthy sense of its own absurdity. What Sirens lacks most is humour. Whatever happened to are those irreverent Bob Holmes-style one-liners that offered contrast to the darker moments? Whatever happened to contrast - period?

We are offered no respite from the continual synth-orchestra music, which contributes little to the production. Instead of using incidentals to emphasise, Big Finish have taken the approach that they can wash over the whole product with a continual, unmelodic synth pads, without really paying any attention to the dynamics of the scene. The result is an accompanying soundtrack that adds nothing to an already flat script.

No doubt there will be many fans out there who will cry "Heretic" at what I have just said, just on the grounds that Big Finish have been granted permission to stamp the letters BBC on the front cover, but to any seasoned fan Sirens of Time simply isn't recognisable as Doctor Who

Instead, it far closer resembles the earlier Audio Visuals stories that many of the crew made in the late Eighties, early Nineties. They were spin-off stories that featured a "Doctor" but in a context far different than the proper program. Sirens seems to have only progressed from the AV stories in the sense that they are at last using the authentic actors.

And so there I shall conclude my review as there can be no better summary of Sirens of Time - in essence it's still just an old fanboy "AV" story only with the added bonus of using the original actors. Unfortunately the words Dr Who on the cover do not necessarily Dr Who make... The spirit just wasn't there.

Disappointing. For Who-geeks only. 31/2 out of 10


A Decent Start by Peter Niemeyer 28/5/00

Thanks to a new job and a new raise, I decided to splurge a little, and I ordered the first six audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. I listened to The Sirens of Time one episode per day, to emulate the ways I watched the original televised episodes in syndication. I'd have to say it wasn't a spectacular episode, but it wasn't abysmal.

My highest praise goes to the way in which the audio format was used. The production made good use of sound effects and offhanded comments in dialog to keep us appraised of where we were and what was going on. I listened to the episodes on headphones, which I would strongly recommend, because much of the atmosphere is created by use of balance. (For example, in part one when the Doctor is trying to find the girl in peril, his voice comes only through the left side and her voice is faint and from only the right side.) There were also times where a character's speech would begin as if we were standing next to him or her, and then half way through cut to some other location where their speech was coming through a radio or communicator of some sort. Very nice audio scene shifting!

One added benefit of the audio format is the special effects, scenery and costumes can be as spectacular (or as tattered - for the purests among us) as you imagine them to be. Perhaps some Doctor Who events should have been audio only. (The Zygons' "Loch Ness Monster" and the Silurians' Tyrannosaurus Rex come to mind...)

I found the acting decent. Davison, Baker, and McCoy do decent jobs. I enjoyed the supporting players most of all, especially Colin McIntrye's Sancroff and all of Sarah Mowat's roles.

On the down side, I would have to admit that the story did seem a bit convoluted and mired in technobabble. The story structure has each Doctor on their own in one of the first three parts, and then their convergence in the fourth part where they discover their individual experiences are connected. I think this was a good structure, but given that each episode took place in a different setting with different characters, it was hard to develop any empathy for any of the events. The connection between the events depended so much on the pseudo-science of temporon particles that I wasn't all that satisfied by the final explanation.

I also have to admit that I missed the companions. The dynamic between Doctors is interesting to listen to, but with no familiar companions around, it made this adventure a little less Who-ish to me. Given that most of the following adventures feature companions, I imagine I may not have been the first person to reach this conclusion.

So in summary, I found the CDs worth the money ultimately. Besides, I never expect any series to get things right the first time out. This wasn't the gem that we all might hope it to be, but I'd rather listen to Sirens ten times over before having to sit through some of the less classic episodes of televised Who.

(7/10)


Quick Off The Blocks by Robert Thomas 12/11/00

Before I go on I feel the urge to confess I nearly called this review 'The Boys Are Back I n Town.' This story is a bit of an oddity so I'll review it episode but episode.

Episode 1

A quick bit of mystery that links the episodes is handled quickly and simply. Very atmospheric and nice to see the CIA in action at last. Then into the story, Sylvester recaptures the 7th Doctor perfectly. He appears to be at the stage just before the TV movie. It is very creepy as he is lured outside the TARDIS. As with his TV era the story is very fast paced. Sancroff is a very good character and Ruthley is a nice love to hate her character. The events lead to an excellent cliff-hanger.

Episode 2

The mystery starts to darken in tone. Its nice to see Peter's Doctor actively seeking out the threat. The story is 'nice' and that's all I can say. Its nice to see the tougher 5th Doctor that we saw in his last season. Just like that story but in the space of one episode he is put through hell.

Episode 3

Colin has some very dangerous events happen around him, but somehow the tone is lighter than the first two episodes. The 6th Doctor is on fine form and this episode is more pivotal to the story than the previous.

Episode 4

The plot is firmly gathered up and solved. But the story comes to life when we see the interaction of the Doctors. Again the Doctors all play their pivotal part except maybe the 7th. The last scene is a classic, I only wished some of the other multi Doctor stories could have ended this way.

So all in all a nice story. I'm the sort of person who would give this top marks just because I'm happy that the Doctors are all back. It is just so fantastic not to have to imagine the Doctors saying their lines like we have to for the books.


A Review by Dopuglas B. Killings 30/1/02

It's kind of funny, The Sirens of Time seems to be one of those rare adventures that just gets better on the second or third listening than it does on the first.

I first listened to this audio in the fall of '99, when the BF audios first started coming out. At the time I wasn't impressed, and in fact put off buying any more Big Finish productions for some time. But luckily I gave the series another chance a few months later, and have been a dedicated listener of BF ever since.

So what was it about The Sirens of Time that made me flinch? Well, to be frank, pretty much everything about it. To begin with, the very concept of a multiple Doctor story screamed fanwank at me, and even though I could accept the idea as a logical first step in a new audio-based series, it still struck me as one of those ideas that just begged to go horribly wrong. And my fears seemed justified when, right from the start, yet another threat to Gallifrey materializes and it seems the Doctor(s) is/are the only one(s) who can save the day. Added to this some lackluster acting and some annoying sound mixing (more on these below), and the end result was a production that just didn't seem to bode well for the future of the series.

At least, that's what I thought then. But times change, and so do perceptions. Now that BF has had several years of stories under their belt and an established presence in the DW universe, I think one can now back look at Sirens in a much more charitable light. Yes, there are still problems with the production, and yes everything that various critics have complained about with Big Finish is indeed all present in this one installment. But yet, as one listens to this and then contrasts it with the more recent productions (as of this writing, I have just finished listening to The One Doctor), the difference is inescapable: Big Finish learned from their mistakes and corrected them, and rather than regurgitating everything that came before instead managed to carve out an endearing niche for themselves in the DW multiverse. In short, the series got better after The Sirens of Time, a whole lot better. So much so that this early effort now seems almost quaint in comparison.

That The Sirens of Time was clearly their first, rushed effort is probably the story's biggest liability. I get the impression that the production was hurried somewhat (Big Finish had only secured their license a few months earlier), and this coupled with the principals being somewhat out of practice in their roles as well as a staff uncertain as to where this was all leading (or perhaps, over-awed that they were in fact doing "real" Doctor Who) makes the production somewhat uneven. But beneath all of this, one can detect a certain enthusiasm and devotion for the subject at hand, a feeling that this was only the beginning and that great things were coming once it all got rolling. All they needed was to get first jitters out of the way, and everything would be all right.

The principals are in varying form. McCoy tends to overact, while Davison seems strangely subdued, almost as if he were bored. Only Colin Baker is in fine form, a foreshadowing of the leaps his version of the Doctor would make in subsequent outtings (prior to Big Finish I'd said for years that Colin Baker never got the chance to make the role his own, and I'm very pleased to say that the audios have proven me right). Sarah Mowat, as the female siren through time linking the individual stories of the three Doctors, is not bad, as is the rest of the secondary cast. As for Nicholas Briggs' script, it works for three-quarters of the story, failing only when it reaches the fourth and final episode as it delivers a payoff that seems more superficial and tacked-on than clever. Unfortunately, with this story Gallifrey continues on its downward slide from omnipotent, all powerful force to just another planet that needs saving. I liked it better when Gallifrey was an unknown and slightly mythical mystery; now, constant returns to that particular well have all but run it dry. Sorry, but I guess I'm just griping here.

My biggest problem with The Sirens of Time, however, is in the post production sound mixing. Generally, I listen to these audios in my vehicle, particularly when I'm on long road trips that generally necessitate several hours in which I don't have much else to do but drive and listen to something on the stereo. The sound mixing on The Sirens of Time is dreadful for listening in such an environment. The low parts are almost unintelligible unless one brings up the sound really loud, which can be a real PAIN WHEN THE VOICES SWITCH TO SOMEONE LOUDER OR DEEPER (like, say, Colin). If I listen to Sirens in the car I invariably have to fiddle with the treble and bass in order to make the low pitches more prominent, while muting down the higher ones. Even then, it's not perfect and makes the production sound unusually distorted. It sounds better on an ordinary boom box or home stereo unit, but again not perfect. While this problem eventually disappears with later productions, it is still present (most notably also in Phantasmagoria) in several of the early stories to such an extent that I think Big Finish might want to look hard at doing a sound remix or two on a few of their masters. At the very least, a remixing of Sirens, which is by far the worst offender in this respect, is probably in order.

So, overall, if you haven't listened to The Sirens of Time in some time because you didn't like it the first time around, give it a try again and remember where the Big Finish Productions have gone since then. It doesn't seem as bad now that the onus of expectation is off.

Rating: 7/10


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 13/3/02

This was a great idea! Bring the 3 Doctors who wanted to do Audios together to launch the range. But let's make it a little different to other multiple Doctor stories. How about 1 episode each and then a pooling of resources for the final episode? To be fair, it's a nice little idea on paper. 3 seemingly diverse stories, ultimately connected. From sad experience of the Star Trek novels though, in their ever resourceful ways to get fans to buy not just 1 book, but 4 in a series; it is a flawed idea. The combination of 3 successes does not necessarily make a success of its own.

The Doctors are not the problem, make that one thing crystal clear. Each brings his unique personality to the role. Peter Davison sounds a little different, but the Actor is a tad older - it doesn't affect his portrayal. Colin Baker throws himself into a lackluster episode, that takes its inspiration from his own Terror of the Vervoids - hardly classic sources here. Sylvestor McCoy seems lost without Ace, but does his best in a planetary runaround.

The best episode is the 2nd. The 5th Doctor arrives aboard a U-Boat. It has a claustrophic atmosphere, and it is an episode that really involves the listener. The setting is portrayed very well - a promise of wonders to come from Big Finish. It is also a joy to hear Davison's Doctor alone. The closest we got to this on TV was the majestic Caves of Androzani. The TARDIS was always over-crowded in Davison's Day. The other two Doctors don't have things as good. McCoy benefits only from his being the opening episode - new Doctor Who and all that. But C Baker's dull Episode 3 is tiresome. When the Doctors finally get together, their verbal jousts are great. The three together bounce off each other effectively. The final episode suffers though from a confusing story. A simpler story would have been better to launch the range.

I finished it and wondered what it had been about. I had enjoyed hearing the three Doctors again. It was very exciting that these things were coming out regularly. Sirens of Time had been okay, but I couldn't help feeling it was not the Doctor Who I wanted. Thankfully Big Finish have rarely stooped to this level of averageness again.

As the start of something new, it was great. As a Dr Who story in its own right, it was average - and Dr Who can be so much better than average. 6/10


Impressive beginning by James Anthony 2/9/02

The Sirens of Time was indeed and impressive beginning for big finish. The first episode began with Sylvester McCoy resuming the role the way he finished it, fighting with the Tardis controls. This episode, while it had some good Sci Fi material was certainly not Sylvester McCoy at his best. The second was Peter Davison in a Historical-like episode on a German U-Boat. Peter Davison produces an enjoyable episode and the excitement and tension is heitened by great performances. Colin Baker the master of being a rude Doctor and his brilliant 6th Doctor dialogue make and already great 3rd episode fantastic. The third episode is Doctor Who and Sci Fi in general at its best. The fourth episode starts off badly but rapidly improves and has a great ending.

Overall this story has a strong sense of mystery all the way through and is and excellent example and what Big Finish can produce.


How Can Anyone Not Love This? by Antony Tomlinson 3/7/03

Why do people always seem to look down on The Sirens of Time? It is a bit of a mystery to me, for on listening to this story all I can hear is one of the best managed multi-Doctor adventures ever - as well as an exciting, twisty plot, some fascinating settings and some stunning acting. In fact, there is very little I would change about Sirens of Time, and it's one of the first CDs that I reach for when looking for some Doctor Who that can cheer me up.

The Sirens of Time provides a new approach to the multi-Doctor tale. Instead of stuffing all the Doctors into a single adventure at the beginning of the tale and causing an overload of lead characters - like The Three Doctors - it gives each Doctor their own separate story. However, unlike the crappy "meet-and-greet" approach of The Eight Doctors, we do eventually get what we want - the delight of all these flamboyant characters, working together in a final tour de force.

The tale begins with the Seventh Doctor, landing on a strange jungle world. McCoy clearly has difficulty working alone (despite his sterling performance at the beginning of the TV Movie). Fortunately, however, he soon picks up someone who can ask him questions, thus allowing him to return to his "kindly, but rather stressed uncle" role, as portrayed on television.

Like a mid-1980s effort, this tale is mainly populated by grotesque, over-the-top characters. One is Ruthley (Maggie Stables) who is a manic, screeching crone with a rather dodgy South African accent (it's the maddest performance that I can remember, and is actually quite headache-inducing). The other is the grandfatherly mass-murderer, Sancroff. The tale is a strange old run-around, full of insane cackling and stereo speaker-worrying explosions. However, it keeps one occupied for long enough to get to the next tale.

The second story - the Fifth Doctor's contribution - is terrific. Peter Davison (thankfully separated from Tegan) is allowed to act as the humorous, charismatic and resourceful young adventurer who really only revealed himself in The Caves of Androzani. Trapped on a German submarine in World War I, the Doctor has to battle with an angry Liverpudlian, sardonic Germans and the murderous interference of the Time Lords. In response to these challenges, the Doctor uses all his initiative, whilst retaining his stiff upper lip at all times - "I'm still alive, thank you" he chirps, after a bullet-hole is blasted through his shoulder.

The third adventure is Colin Baker's and is, incredibly, even better. The location - a futuristic tourism conference - is a typically frivolous Sixth Doctor setting (fitting well with his visits to futuristic funeral parlours, futuristic cruise ships and futuristic television studios). Unlike McCoy, Baker clearly has no difficulty acting on his own, and fully convinces the listener of his solitary terror in the apocalyptic opening to his tale. He then manages to gatecrash the tourism conference, disarming all he meets with his charming bluster.

Eventually things go wrong in a big way, and the Doctor ends up fighting for survival, alone but for a stewardess and a robot, who - to our great amusement - he tries to irritate, even at the moments of greatest danger. Nevertheless, he manages to remain firmly in charge, and eventually uses his intellectual genius and inspiring heroism to overcome the paradox that created the disaster in the first place.

In the final episode, the three Doctors come together. In a wonderfully understated scene, the three incarnations (whose strengths we have been able to witness over the course of three episodes) wander into a chamber on Gallifrey, and gasp at each other's presence (and no doubt at each other's clothing).

The chemistry that develops between these three Doctors is fascinating. This is largely thanks to their abandonment of the tradition of establishing immediate animosity between different incarnations (as pioneered by Troughton and Pertwee). Instead, a genuinely interesting relationship develops between these three very distinct characters as they undertake their adventure together.

The first noticeable feature of this relationship is how different Peter Davison's Doctor seems from his later selves. His serious, morally-weighty performance contrasts noticeably with the laid back, largely comic approach of Baker and McCoy. Perhaps fittingly, then, he is quickly separated from the other Doctors, and spends most his of his time battling wills with the villain of the piece, while his later selves run around sorting things out.

Nonetheless, it is Colin Baker - with his larger than life personality - that establishes himself as the leader of the group (with Davison acting as something of a disgruntled second in command). At the same time, McCoy seems to become Baker's loyal sidekick, and this combination of the large, boisterous Sixth Doctor, and the Season 24-like buffoonery of the Seventh creates a rather brilliant and thoroughly entertaining two-man team.

The other main contributor to the drama is Sarah Mowat as the vicious Knight Commander Lyena. She provides a wonderful performance in which she charms, gloats and snarls in equal measure. Lyena is an engaging, and savage sci-fi villain, up there with Mavic Chen and Scaroth.

Unlike some multi-Doctor stories, the ending to The Sirens of Time is actually dependent on the presence of the separate incarnations of the Doctor. The conclusion in fact mimics the excellent finale to Lance Parkin's Cold Fusion, in which the Seventh Doctor schemes to thwart the Fifth Doctor's humane attempts to solve a problem. Similarly, in The Sirens of Time, the Sixth Doctor's pragmatic attitude knocks aside the Fifth Doctor's scruples, and in so doing, saves the day.

Thus, The Sirens of Time is a well produced, well acted and rather clever Doctor Who mini-epic. Why then is it so poorly regarded? Well, I will admit that the story is not a masterpiece in the manner of The Holy Terror or Neverland. However, it is still a delightful slice of science fiction adventure. Why, then, has the story come in for a such disparaging criticism?

Well, unlike many Big Finish productions (perhaps excluding the McGann tales) The Sirens of Time has to be understood in the context of its release date. The Sirens of Time was the first attempt to create new Doctor Who drama since the TV Movie. As a result, there was quite a lot riding on the success of the tale. This meant that fans were particularly critical of any aspect of the story that they thought might compromise the future success of the Big Finish range.

For a start, there was a negative reaction to the multi-Doctor approach of this story. This is understandable, for the 1990s were responsible for Dimensions in Time - a charity effort that relied entirely on its ability to assemble past Doctor Who actors; The Eight Doctors - the awful opening story for the BBC's book range; and the TV Movie - which some suspect alienated new audiences with its insistence on putting Sylvester McCoy up on the screen prior to the introduction of Paul McGann.

Understandably fans were jittery - the last thing they wanted was a repeat of the 1990s mistake of putting fannish joy at the juxtaposition of Doctors before the actual provision of a decent plot. For, by this point, fans were fed up with nostalgia - what they wanted was fresh new Doctor Who that was contemporary, could appeal to new listeners, and was good entirely on its own merits.

This anxiety was heightened by all the talk of Time Lord Presidents, the Panopticon, Artron energy, the Celestial Intervention Agency and so on through The Sirens of Time. For these elements seemed to continue the addiction to the past that had plagued Doctor Who since 1983. It was also particularly worrying, as it called to mind the TV Movie, which allowed itself to baffle casual viewers by insisting on the inclusion of the Eye of Harmony, the Daleks, the Master, gold dust and the effects of the Time Lord regenerative process.

However, ultimately Big Finish have been successful, and have given many fans exactly what they have yearned for since 1989. In this context then, we can look back at The Sirens of Time as a single, multi-Doctor celebratory adventure, rather than something on which the survival of the series depends. As such, then, it is a clear, fun-packed delight, and is well worth multiple listenings. Even better, it is a tasty appetizer for Zagreus - released in late 2003 - when Paul McGann will be thrown into this exhilarating multi-Doctor mix.


An Auspicious Beginning.... by Brian Phelan 27/5/05

I am an enthusiastic fan of the Big Finish line of Doctor Who audio adventures; on some days, especially after listening to a Paul McGann story (the Eighth Doctor and Charlie are my favourite Doctor/companion combination), I may even endorse the contention made by some reviewers that audio Who is the best Who. But I am a relative latecomer to the audio series; when I first purchased Doctor Who audios, on a spring trip to London in 2004, the third "season" of Eighth Doctor releases was in full swing. Although I picked up some older titles, including The Holy Terror and Colditz, I had quite a bit of catching up to do. Luckily, I discovered after returning to the States that the audios were in fact available from stateside retailers, and I quickly began dipping into the back catalog, at first collecting the past McGann adventures and then picking up titles that seemed to be popular with fans. Now, a little over a year after first loading a Who disc into my Discman, I have a complete collection. On a recent vacation trip I packed along the first four stories to listen to on the way. I must admit my expectations were low for these initial offerings, believing that they were probably made before the medium and the creativity really clicked. But now, having had listened to The Sirens of Time, I feel that I was too hasty in dismissing the early stories. Because Sirens is clever, funny, and well-paced, an enjoyable ride through the Doctor Who universe.

Sirens of Time brings together the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. Each Doctor, sans past companions, gets an episode to himself, with the three coming together for the final chapter. Each Doctor finds himself at a different crux in time, and each makes decisions and takes actions that have dire ramifications for Gallifrey. Who is behind these events, and why? The answers to these questions are suitably complex and surprising, and relatively free (although as usual with Doctor Who, not completely free) of plot holes to reward careful attention and repeat listenings. While time travel is used as the ends of the story rather than the means of it, as happens quite often in Big Finish productions, the technobabble is thankfully limited; it would not be too difficult to summarize and explain the story to a friend after one or two listenings, as it would, for example, to do so with Neverland and Zagreus. The story is surely more rewarding for veteran Whovians than neophyte listeners, and I would be hard pressed to recommend it to those who aren't familiar with the Who universe, with Gallifrey, with the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. It is a product for fans by fans.

All three Doctors are fine in their roles, although their individual episodes are of varying quality. The Fifth Doctor segment is the weakest, the Sixth the best, and the Seventh somewhat in the middle. Peter Davison is understated as the Fifth Doctor, the most vulnerable of the three. Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor is less successful than Davison in defining his Doctor. The star of the show is in my mind Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. His solo outing in episode three is largely successful at establishing Baker's Doctor in a way that would continue into future audio adventures: the Sixth Doctor is impatient but thoughtful, sharp but compassionate. In the final episode he comes to the fore as a first among equals, the most vital of the three incarnations. I admit that I am a fan of the Sixth Doctor in the television series, but I think his audio incarnation is even better, and it gets off to a strong start in The Sirens of Time. Supporting the principals is Sarah Mowat, who appears in all four episodes. Mowat does a good job with roles that are essentially plot devices rather than characters. She does not need to be a companion to the Doctor, but rather something of a foil, and she pulls off this minimal requirement adequately. Only in the final episode is Mowat given a meatier role, but not an altogether complicated one. The other supporting actors are up to the task, with the possible exception of Mark Gates as World War I U-Boat Captain Schweiger, who sounds like a caricature more than a character, not that the role was much to begin with.

Far from stumbling out of the blocks in the audio line of Doctor Who adventures, Big Finish successfully pulled off a multiple Doctor story and a solid model for later stories in The Sirens of Time. The story is clear but rewards multiple listenings; the Doctors are lively and engaging. All in all, a strong start to an exemplary product line.


A Review by Ron Mallett 14/11/05

So this is it, the BF audio drama that started it all! There are some reviewers that argue that now it seems a little ordinary but I think that overall it is a solid adventure. It is of course convoluted and at times confusing and disjointed like all multiple Doctor stories but it was written very well by Nicholas Briggs and has stood the test of time. The 80's block of Doctors work well together and it would be so great to see them on TV as a unit one day. The most surprising thing of course is the degree to which Davison's voice has matured since he left the series in 1984! I also think he has the most difficulty recapturing his original interpretation - such as it was. Ironically it is his individual sequence in Part Two that is by far the best episode of the four..

The worst aspect of the production as with all early BF is that the 1970's theme is used. Either the 7th Doctor's or an entirely updated theme would have been more appropriate. The best aspect of the production, apart from Colin and Sylvester, is Nicholas Briggs himself: having written, directed and contributed all the sound work he proved what a massive talent he is. With guest stars such as Mark Gatiss and Maggie Stables, it's little wonder that the audio shines. Furthermore Anthony Keetch makes his debut as the recurring character Coordinator Vansell. This audio in short has a lot to recommend itself.


Unmitigated Garbage by Jason A. Miller 9/6/08

I'm coming to the Big Finish Audio party almost a decade late. Fine. In 1999 my Doctor Who needs were still satisfied by the print novels, and the audios were kind of pricey. Also, the reputation on the earliest releases was poor. Now that I've finally acquired the bulk of the Big Finish series, I'm going back to the beginning.

There are now almost 110 Big Finish Audios. How in the name of all that is evil did they ever make it past Release #1? The Sirens of Time is trash. Woeful, turgid tripe. The only redeeming feature is that three of the voice actors used to play Doctor Who on television. That's it.

The script is the biggest problem. Nicholas Briggs has become a respected member of the Russell T. Davies crew... but not as a writer, and here's why. The plot is full of endless exposition and ridiculous contrivances. Part Four, which is supposed to swiftly untangle the Chinese puzzle box that was the beginning of this story (of which more in a moment), is a padded-out 40-minute mess of characters sneering at each other. Twice, the Doctors tell us that they're "rather bored" with the proceedings and that the chatty villain should "get to the point". I'd say that was the script editor talking to his author, but that can't be true -- there was no script editor here. A real script editor would have cut ten minutes off this mess.

The plot, separate and distinct from the writing quality, is just as bad. Parts One through Three are isolated adventures, each featuring the Doctor and a pseudo-companion. Each Doctor is put in peril at his cliffhanger and doesn't return until Part Four. None of the individual stories have any momentum, other than to make us long for the resolution in Part Four: in each installment, the Doctor is quickly separated from the TARDIS, is united with a young woman who ensnares him into doing un-Doctor-ish things, and then at the cliffhanger he's placed into poorly explained audio peril (the ending of Colin's segment is particularly baffling).

The resolution. Fine, you say. With all three Doctors (Fifth, Sixth and Seventh) together for the extended final part, what's to get wrong? Well, the resolution had me clawing my eyes halfway out until I realized I needed them to aim my spitballs at the Big Finish crew the next time they have the misfortune to cross my path at a convention. See, come to find out that each of the Doctors has somehow caused history to go off-track by saving the lives he did along the way. Well, of course at the end he unites with himself and sets the universe to rights. Right? Umm. No. How do the Doctors put history back on course? By initiating the series of deaths and disasters that were "supposed" to have happened in the first place. Really! The final ten minutes are a montage of death scenes and plaintive cries. Who thought this would be a good idea? At least when the First Doctor inspired Nero's burning of Rome, William Hartnell had the good sense to laugh out loud and we didn't see any roasting Roman flesh.

There's nothing redeeming about this audio at all. "The Doctor's Daughter" thinks this script was over-written and heavy handed.

Turn off the sirens of time and give your ears a break!


A Review by Jameson Lee 5/6/11

"You have accurately identified some of my defining traits; compassion and a capacity for self-sacrifice. But you've made the mistake of bringing together three incarnations of the same personality. Each time I regenerate, the balance of those traits alters. I have always been pragmatic in all my lives, as I am in this regeneration. But... moreso."
Doctor Who started as an educational family-oriented program designed to fill a time-slot between Match of the Day and Jukebox Jury. During its 26 year-long lifespan on the airwaves, it developed into something wholly other, sometimes a national institution and at other times a cult program loved by a select few. When Doctor Who was finally canceled in 1989, its popularity had waned somewhat. A failed comeback in 1996, however, reinforced the notion that the concept had legs. After years of pursuing the license, in 1999, Big Finish Productions began their long association with Doctor Who as a series of audio programs. Their first release would be an ambitious tour de fource, uniting three Doctors in one adventure; no small feat! A multi-Doctor story is always popular with fans, and something that had not been accomplished since 1985's The Two Doctors. Sure, Dimensions in Time starred Doctors 3-7, but it was hardly a success.

Sirens of Time is in essence a proof of concept on behalf of Big Finish, showing off not only the possibilities of revitalizing Doctor Who as an audio program with special effects and music that evoked memories of the classic BBC series but also that the actors that had made Doctor Who so successful had not lost their knack in playing the heroic Time Lord. Starting their series with an anthology-style adventure starring three separate Doctors may seem like the wrong way to begin a new project and to be honest it does have a lot of problems, but by throwing Doctors 5, 6 and 7 together, their distinct personalities immediately become clear. The sullen and intellectual Davison jars uncomfortably with the flamboyant Baker while McCoy plays the all-knowing clown to the trio.

The 1980s was a period of change for Doctor Who. While producer John Nathan-Turner oversaw the entire decade on screen, the 80s saw three actors play the lead role in drastically divergent ways, each with his own personality. Big Finish was able to work with all three actors, granting them a rare opportunity to expand on their legacy as the Doctor, unhindered by budgetary restraints and corporate interference from the BBC.

Despite all of the excitement and praise, The Sirens of Time's failing lies in the story which is a convoluted mess. Told in three parts, it begins on an unknown planet where the 7th Doctor meets a lady in distress named Elenya while the planet itself is under attack. As the Doctor begins to unravel the mystery of the planet's sole inhabitants, a sadistic jailer and an aged war criminal, the High Council of Time Lords desperately attempt to contact him for help. Gallifrey is under attack by a powerful enemy that is overwhelming the planet's defenses. Before this story can find resolution, it meets an explosive cliffhanger and the narrative shifts to 1915 aboard a British Naval vessel.

The 5th incarnation of the Doctor is stuck outside of the TARDIS and again contacted by the Gallifreyan High Council for help. Before the Doctor can gain entry back into his craft, the vessel is struck by a U-Boat and sunk. With only a surly Liverpudlian named Helen for company, the Doctor attempts to outwit his German captors and get back to his ship. A German officer is taken over by the Time Lords whose message remains unclear and distorted. Helen fires on the officer, saving the Doctor's life. Trapped in the crossfire of British and German crafts, the second cliffhanger arrives.

The third part opens with the 6th Doctor on a futuristic pleasure liner orbiting a cosmic anomaly. Befriending a stewardess named Ellie, the Doctor finds himself amongst the few survivors of a time quake emerging from the anomaly. From deep within the anomaly, a voice cries out for help. Again the Time Lords try to reach the Doctor by possessing the form of the ship's android, but Ellie perceives the approach as hostile and kills it in the Doctor's defense. Starting to see a pattern to events, the 6th Doctor perhaps begins to sense the experiences of his other selves. The Doctor realizes that at the heart of the anomaly is a creature called a Temperon, a mythical being from Gallifreyan lore, trapped and in extreme pain. By freeing the Temperon, however, the Doctor and his TARDIS are enveloped in a massive explosion that envelops them both.

After this series of confusingly disjointed events, the Doctor awakens on Gallifrey to find that he is both alone and in good company. Three incarnations have arrived at once in the Panopticon. The Doctor attempts to unravel the many mysteries such as who has attacked the Time Lords and why, how the events that his separate selves are connected and what role he plays in the mad scheme of the Sirens of Time... and it's all a bit muddy from there.

The concept of Sirens of Time is actually quite inspired as the Doctor's very nature is his undoing. In each instance, he misread the situation and came to the aid of a person he believed to be in jeopardy. I enjoyed that element immensely, but unfortunately it is so mired in technobabble and exposition that it nearly missed me entirely. The sound effects and music are outstanding and really put the listener in the middle of the action, as it were. Davison, Baker and McCoy are all in top form and left me wanting more (fortunately there are over 150 additional releases), but in general Sirens of Time is a puzzle to me. It is so wrapped up in its own terminology and mythology that it can only appeal to die-hard fans of the program. As the first in a new line of stories, I cannot imagine why Big Finish chose to start this way.

Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable story and much better material was not far away. The more that I listen to the Big Finish series, the more I adore it. Intelligently written, wonderfully acted and featuring sharp dialogue, it is everything that new Doctor Who should be and acts as an ideal continuation of the classic program.


A Review by Leslie McMurtry 17/8/12

I tried to keep an open mind, listening to The Sirens of Time, but from the very first I was confused, bewildered, and rather appalled by some of the performances (I was shocked to find out the madwoman was played by Maggie Stables!). The Sirens of Time does attempt to be a clever radio play: it uses one actress to play four different companion roles, in a doubling up that works well in radio (though in my opinion Jacqueline Rayner did it better in Doctor Who and the Pirates). Each of the first three parts follows one of the Doctors, starting with the Seventh (who does a lot of talking to himself in the TARDIS!), then the Fifth, then the Sixth. The Seventh is unfortunately stuck on some kind of mad planet where the narrative doesn't string together; the Fifth fares a bit better, ending up on the Lusitania, though unfortunately the actors playing Germans are so bad, I lost all interest in that thread. Colin Baker easily kicked butt as the best performance and, I have to admit, once everything came together in the fourth part, it wasn't a completely desperate story. The three Doctors together were okay but nowhere near the chemistry of The Five Doctors.

So the bottom line is, listen if you have curiosity, patience, and a bit of masochism: it is as eh as they say!