Doctor Who: Once And Future: Past Lives
Starring: Tom Baker, Sadie Miller, Jemma Redgrave, Ingrid Oliver, Rufus Hound, and Ewan Bailey
Special Appearances By: Stephen Noonan, Michael Troughton, Tim Treloar, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy
Written By: Robert Valentine
Directed By: Helen Goldwyn
“What was I saying before I interrupted myself? OH, YES! Find The Monk!”
Big Finish Productions and a stacked roster of talent celebrate 60 years of Doctor Who in Doctor Who: Once and Future: Past Lives. The first in a multi-part Special Release, pulling from the grand history of Who, both on television and in audio format. Consequently, that also allows for all manner of performers and characters to be available as well. And if Past Lives is any indication? Like the opening of Stingray said, anything could happen in the next half-hour! Or, more precisely in this case, an hour and eight minutes.
But I am getting way, way ahead of myself. More directly, Once and Future: Past Lives is Doctor Who at its peak. It’s fast-paced and clever, while also taking time for monstrously affective emotional beats. Peppered liberally between the ACTUAL monsters of this opening tale, which are just wonderful. And better still, it’s all brought to life by another tremendously talented assembly of actors. All of whom fans already know and love, both from their time on screen and behind the microphones for Big Finish. All and all, a pretty good starting position for the opening of this anniversary series.
But I am getting ahead of myself again! Let’s talk about what it does well, specifically. First up, the whole conceit of Once and Future is just a massively baited hook for Whovians. We open on The Time War in it’s fever pitch. The Doctor is brought into a field hospital, seemingly within the throes of another regeneration. However, instead of progressing, The Doctor is REgressing. Shifting wildly between past incarnations.
Undoubtedly, this could sustain a story in itself. However, script editor Matt Fitton, writer Robert Valentine, and director Helen Goldwyn have much, much larger plans. Meaning, these are only the first minutes! As The Doctor settles into “a particular favorite” The Fourth Doctor (the incandescently funny and affable Tom Baker), he recalls something from his recent calamity on the battlefield. That The Meddling Monk (a hysterically unhinged Rufus Hound) has something to do with it.
Naturally, The Monk is up to his own old tricks once more. Swept not-so-unwillingly into a heist of UNIT’s Black Archive. One that requires the direct assistance from one Sarah Jane Smith! Played once more with an uncannily sweet energy and vibrancy by Sadie Miller. As if that wasn’t enough, rounding out the opening’s cast are UNIT’s Dr. Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood! Bringing once more the stalwart and immensely charming performances of Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver into the mix and providing fans some long-overdo interactions between the past and present of Doctor Who. In a way that only Doctor Who really could.
The cast assembled, from there Valentine, Goldwyn, and sound designer and composer Howard Carter go for the absolute gusto. Firing the audience from the battlefields of The Time War into the skies above Glastonbury and then down into the depths of The Tower of London. Guided powerfully by Baker and the rest of the cast, all of whom seem to really know how much this means to us, as fans. That energy and care absolutely suffuses the performances and interactions of this opening story. Giving it exactly the feeling you would want going into a Special Release as massive as this one.
I am hesitant to say anything else, like how well the massive tee-up to the next installment, The Artist at the End of Time by James Goss, plays. Especially for fans of the David Tennant years. But I can confidently say that Once and Future: Past Lives is marvelous fun. It’s breezy and funny, but at the same time, takes the time and effort to explore just WHY we love hanging out with these characters. Why we respond to the silliness and the grandeur of it, even years after our initial contact with it.
Tom Baker in the special feature interviews puts it more plainly. He’s stuck with Doctor Who for long simply because it makes him happy. And further, he’s seen, through the years, how happy it makes everyone else too. Once and Future: Past Lives is a crystallization of this and now we get to enjoy it forever. I don’t think I could come up with a better celebration of a “Diamond Anniversary” than that.