Doctor Who: The Second Doctor Adventures: Beyond War Games
Starring: Michael Troughton, Jon Culshaw, Mark Elstob, Katy Manning, and Emma Noakes
Written by: Mark Wright, Nicholas Briggs, and Andrew Smith
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Oh, My Giddy Aunt! There are SPOILERS AHEAD!
“You promised me a certain amount of liberty! In exchange for my help!” “Liberty is a concept that is open to interpretation.”
The Second Doctor receives a thoroughly entertaining and lore-heavy “soft reboot” box-set in Doctor Who: The Second Doctor Adventures: Beyond War Games – a brand new release from Big Finish Productions aimed at providing clean entry points for fans and their favorite Doctors.
While teased in The Third Doctor Adventures: The Annihilators, Beyond War Games serves as Michael Troughton’s proper debut, and truly, what a debut it is! While I think the lack of a steady companion slightly hamstrings these first serials (more on that in a second), this opening pair of stories are immensely engaging. Both act as explorations of a particular era of Second Doctor storytelling AND entry point into the Second Doctor’s whole deal.
Having come after The Outlaws and The Annihilators, with the First and Third Doctors respectfully (themselves having been “recast” recently with other actors stepping into the iconic Time Lord roles.)
But to explain how well it works, first, we have to explore what it’s riffing on – specifically the concept of “Season 6b”, a concept that has flirted with proper canonization a few times now – across both audios and expanded universe tie-in novels.
In essence, “Season 6b” is the narrative space between TV serials The War Games and Spearhead From Space, The Third Doctor’s debut story. Space that suggests The Second Doctor skirted his exile and forced regeneration by acting as an unwilling agent for The Time Lords. During this time, The Doctor would theoretically go on clandestine missions and undertake assignments before eventually undergoing exile and regeneration, kicking off his “UNIT Era.”
NOW, Beyond War Games gives little hint at first that it will be filling this space. But its ambitions quickly become apparent throughout the wonderful opening story, “The Final Beginning, ” co-written by director Briggs, while never sacrificing the single story experience for said ambitions.
Firstly, we open on a Second Doctor on the backfoot. He has seemingly escaped regeneration but awakens on a desolate beach and is greeted by the cooing and enthralling Raven, played to the hilt by Emma Noakes. Raven says they are lost, and the planet is lost too. Beset by strange weather patterns and deteriorating time distortions. And they are littered with the debris of someone else’s TARDIS.
From there, the story only gets more interesting. A married pair of prospectors (played with wonderfully acerbic energy by Anna-Maria Nabirye and Tim Treloar, who also cameos as The Third Doctor) have happened upon the wreck of the TARDIS, and something else is awakening across the planet. Something that only wishes for…EX-TER-MINATION!
Naturally, the Celestial Intervention Agency have things “well in hand.” Especially now that The Second Doctor has been conscripted into their service. Given the remit that he must carry out their assignments, having been plucked from his timestream as a “no-point” or already facing his established timeline.
Just an absolute monster of a hook. One “The Final Beginning” has no problems leaning into. Taking it a step further by making this opening serial not only a follow-up to The War Games but to Evil of The Daleks as well – an episode, as it turns out, this box set’s star remembers VISITING THE SET OF! It’s a tremendously ambitious opening gambit, but one that never feels inaccessible or too hard to crack. Especially for those who might not have the same familiarity with the Second Doctor as other fans.
Even better, it’s appropriately followed up in “Wrath of the Ice Warriors” by Andrew Smith – the box-sets concluding the story – which is just pure Second Doctor fun, pitting the Doctor against another iconic Doctor Who monster.
The Doctor finds himself in Cape Wrath, Scotland, where live-fire military exercises have been interrupted by odd cylinders being seen coming up from the ocean. And an even odder creature that was sighted “attacking” a fishing boat. Naturally, UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, played once more with an uncanny charm by actor Jon Culshaw, are called in to investigate. This plunges him and The Doctor into conflict with a faction of Ice Warriors, one led by the legendary Katy Manning!
For as “lore-heavy” as this box-set ultimately is, both these stories, in conjunction, offer up a tremendous “crash course” on The Second Doctor. One powerfully and energetically led by Michael Troughton’s take on The Second Doctor. A take that adroitly avoids being an outright impression and stands as a wholly new but wonderfully familiar performance all its own, and supported by all manner of other really game and caring performers. On top of rich sound design, cracking scripts, and a genuine ambition rarely seen in “expanded universe” works. I mean, this is taking on a whole “lost season” and making it look easy! You have to admire that.
Although, I do have a slight criticism with this otherwise solid opening. The lack of a solid companion slightly harms these opening stories. Fans who have listened to The Annihilators will already know who ends up being this Second Doctor’s ongoing companion. Both stories have plenty of engaging and fleshed-out side characters to fill that void with. It’s just slightly disappointing that Troughton doesn’t get a regular sounding board. Especially for his incredibly charming and highly energetic Doctor to spar with.
Not yet, at least.
Ultimately, Beyond War Games is a best-case scenario for Big Finish Productions. A showy but accessible box set to cap off a strong set of early adventure releases. If you’ve ever wanted to know what the Second Doctor and his serials were all about, alongside hefty doses of well-deployed “fan service” and Sixties science-fiction flair, then The Second Doctor Adventures: Beyond War Games is the trip for you.