Big Finish has started doing dramatizations of the Doctor Who
New Adventures novels that were published in the 1990s. Both audios I aquired in Britain feature the Seventh Doctor, but admittedly that was a minor reason for picking these two instead of others; I picked "All Consuming Fire" because it co-stars Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, and I picked "Damaged Goods" because the young Doctor Who
fan turned writer responsible for the original novel was one Russell T. Davies.
told me that RTD hadn't wanted the novel to be republished once New Who hit the screens, which would have been an option, because he considered it too violent and dark for the kids. Having listened to the audio, which, googling a description of the novel tells me, Big Finish did brighten up a bit: no kidding. Even the Big Finish death score is still high, but that's actually the least of it (after all, both Old and New Who have the occasional episode where a lot of people die, if usually off screen - there was that time the Master wiped out a quarter of the galaxy back in Five's day, for example). It's the psychological and emotional darkness in one of the major plot threads.Damaged Goods
foreshadows a lot of later RTD, and not just because there's an estate family, last name Tyler, involved, joining Vince Tyler from Queer as Folk
, Rose Tyler from DW and Johnny Tyler from The Second Coming
. (I swear, if our Rusty ever writes a story set in the Stone Age, you can bet there will be a Neanderthal by the name of Ty-Ler.) The Doctor sends the TARDIS away early in the story because Reasons, and the action takes place entirely in late 80s Britain in a working class council estate. It's ensemble-tastic, and one of the major guest characters, David, is gay and after the male Companion, Chris. (The Companions, Chris and Roz, were from the New Adventures, I take it, not RTD original creations, but this is there debut in Big Finish; they're played by RTD veterans, Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman.) Chris' subplot allows for a very RTD subversion of a certain cliché; at first, when Chris seems to ignore David's various code-spoken hints about "one of us", "a friend of Dorothy" etc., it seems like the conventional joke of a straight character not getting that a gay one is making a pass, but then, when David says "you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?", Chris impatiently retorts "yeah, I get that you're hitting on me, what I don't get is why you don't just ask
instead of all this code talk" (because Chris isn't from the 1980s but from the future, where categories aren't relevant - hello, Jack). This, google tells me, in the novel leads to actual sex; Big Finish toned it down from a blow job to just snogging for the audio version (no blow job in Big Finish?), but either way, leave it to RTD to let the "Companion and guest character flirt" trope result in m/m for once.
(Otherwise, David is luckier than his novel counter part; ( spoilery fate comparisons ensue )
The middle-aged mother figure is divided between the good one (working class Winnie Tyler) and the bad one (upper class Eva Jericho), though just how much Eva's actions are the result from her going bonkers for plot reasons and how much is character is up to debate. Because of a dialogue between Eva and her husband that reminded me a bit of the COBRA scene from Torchwood: Children of Earth
where Denise Riley suggests statistics to deal with a certain selection (it's that type of class cruelty verbalized), I'm going with "character, with worst traits amplified due to plot" myself. Anyway, the Mrs. Jericho subplot is the one I was referring to when saying I get why this one isn't for children. (Otoh Eva in the audio has a moment of redemption she doesn't have in the novel, according to google.)
Other than Eva and the British class system, the antagonist/threat/menace of Damaged Goods
is an ancient Gallifreyan weapon reminding us that the Time Lords had a spectacularly nasty imagination when it comes to creating these things. ( Spoilery plot detail discussed that connects this with New Who and Old Who alike )
There's also the dastardly scientist conducting experiments who shows up not just in RTD written stories, granted, but, this being an RTD story, turns out to be working for - well, that differs from the novel (which tied him to an ongoing New Adventures subplot) and the audio (which instead has him working for another Rusty creation, give you three guesses which one.) And various drug dealers, drugs being one of the plot threats mingling the late 80s estate setting with the sci fi. (The drug in the audio is called "Smile"; in the novel, it's plain old cocaine. The function is the same, plot wise.)
Doctor and Companions characterisation: this is a post-Ace, melancholic Seven, though he does indulge in a magic trick in order to get one of the kids to trust him. Roz is a classic no-nonsense sensible and compassionate RTD female; Chris comes across as a bit more reckless and less sensible, but he also does the emotional bonding with locals (and not just because David hits on him). Neither of them looks like they are in danger of making the Doctor the center of their universe. That Roz is black while Chris is white is mentioned two times, but otherwise doesn't impact the plot.
Pace: after establishing "The Quadrant", the estate in which most of the action takes place, it's pretty rapid, but with enough room for character and comedy scenes (the cultural misunderstanding between David and Jack, the somewhat tense situation between Winnie Tyler and her daughter Bev) and the pitch black dysfunctional marriage scene where Eva Jericho crosses the moral horizon and which RTD later cribbed for his Second Coming
. (I checked; it seems to be identical in the original novel and the audio, not changed via adaption.)
In conclusion: worth listening to, even if it leaves you reeling, because the story does make you care about its characters. All Consuming Fire
: original novel by Andy Lane, also a later veteran, and in fact at least in the audio adaption a bit more heavy on the Sherlock Holmes side than on the Doctor Who side of crossover-dom. The first half is narrated entirely by Watson, Bernice Summerfield (the original space archaelogist with ties to the Doctor long before River Song was a blink in Stephen Moffat's eye) doesn't show up until the second half of the story, and Ace, minus two very brief cameos, not until the last 15 minutes. Before that point, it's Holmes and Watson on the case, occasionally running into a mysterious stranger defying the Sherlock Scan because Holmes can't tell anything about his origins other than the mud on his shoes not being from earth.
Within this premise, the story is, as I said, great fun. The Doctor is suitably enigmatic and twinkly for the occasion, Watson has the good taste of flirting with Bennie even if he's a bit taken aback by her forwardness, and Holmes is somewhat irritated by the Doctor but far too logical and pragmatic not to take help when it comes in useful. In a postmodern twist on Doyle's imperialist tropes, the dastardly Indian cult involved is actually a dastardly British Empire cult (and while Holmes and Watson are faithful subjects, they definitely don't agree with murder, hence aren't deterred from pursuing). And there are cats! What the Doctor does re: the cats at the end is one of my favourite things about the story.
Now I could nitpick that I seem to recall Sherlock Holmes was said to be a fictional character in the Whoverse as early as the Second Doctor's era, but who cares? Not this listener. Highly enjoyable.