”Who wouldn’t want to visit a big old merry-go-round through space and time? It’s bonkers, I love it.”
The Doctor (David Tennant) is aware that his song must end soon, so in order to try and stave off the inevitable and avoid his destiny, he visits the Cathedral of Contemplation, which exists outside of time, hoping he can try and lose himself for a bit. The Cathedral uses dimensional barriers, which means that you can visit it as often as you like, without ever having the social – and temporal – embarrassment of running into yourself.
Today, however, things start to go a little awry. The barriers begin to break down, and the Doctor suddenly finds himself face to face (and scarf) with the Doctor (Tom Baker), who is there doing a touch of restoration work to the Cathedral, in the company of his new friend Jora (Kathryn Drysdale), who is seeking refuge from fighting in a galactic war. As if things were not already bad enough, the war comes to Jora – the Daleks (Nicholas Briggs) want the Cathedral’s facilities, in order to finally win their current conflict, along with every other war against the Daleks across all of history…
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Once upon a Time Lord, the Doctor only ever used to cross his own path in the gravest of cosmic emergencies, such as a big anniversary, or to help out a charity telethon. It was a special treat, because it was sparingly done, and as the years passed, you came to value the crossovers which had happened, as so many of the original Doctors have since passed away, which meant the chances of those particular incarnations meeting up again on screen were gone (except for casting of multiple vague lookalikes in poor wigs, if you just so happen to be the First Doctor, it seems).
Nowadays, it feels like you simply cannot move for Doctors forever bumping into themselves, all thanks to the power of comic books meaning you have no need of actual thespians, just pen and ink; Titan Comics have recently wrapped up a meeting between the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors, and so many other times these kinds of encounters have happened on the printed page, it has started to come over as seeming almost like a monthly occurrence. Apparently, you can have too much of a good thing.
Big Finish have also had different Doctors mingling via the medium of audio, but they seem more deserving of getting a free pass, as their instances feel far more like actual events – you get to hear actors together who would be unable to meet plausibly on screen, as many of the surviving Doctors earlier than Paul McGann would unfortunately no longer be able to realistically pass for how they looked during their own eras. Audio is far more forgiving, and in your mind’s eye, you can visualise each of the Doctors as they appeared in their prime when you hear them interacting.
The last time Big Finish did a multi-Doctor tale was 2019’s ‘The Legacy Of Time’, which was to mark the 20th birthday of their officially-licenced Doctor Who audios; it really was an epic event – and deservedly so – but not the sort of thing you would want all the time, lest the novelty value wears off. With ‘Out Of Time’, Big Finish’s approach to things has been somewhat more low-key, yet no less noteworthy – here, in the opening tale of a three-part series which has the Tenth Doctor bumping into some of his earlier selves, things start big with the meeting of two major icons, alongside the most infamous of baddies.
If you ask Joe Public about Doctor Who, chances are that the older generation will probably mention long scarves, as Tom Baker is so ingrained in their perceptions of the programme. In the case of newer audiences, who followed the show since its revival in 2005, David Tennant will probably be their ‘go-to’ incarnation, having built upon and consolidated the early success of Christopher Eccleston, and popularising the show across the globe. Tennant’s era really was a purple patch for Who, comparable to Baker’s reign, with both spearheading huge domestic and international success.
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The temptation of bringing these two titans together for the very first time is too delicious to resist, and thankfully Matt Fitton’s script makes the most of the opportunity. Tennant’s Doctor comes from a point near to his eventual regeneration, shortly after declaring himself “Time Lord Victorious” (which is the moniker selected for the current multi-media event, featuring the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Doctors); Baker’s has just returned from a visit to Gallifrey, and is at rather a loose end, travelling around by himself for the first time in a good long while.
The interaction between the two works just beautifully, and is so wonderful to hear how the pair play off each other; this may be even more a feat than expected, given that the whole story has been recorded remotely in lockdown, so the actors did not meet face-to-face as would usually be the case, with it posing its own set of challenges. However, with Big Finish being old hands now at still such a comparatively new way of working, the quality of the finished product means that you would have no way of knowing that it was put together with the cast scattered at all points of the compass.
Unlike when the Tenth Doctor met the Fifth briefly on TV in the minisode ‘Time Crash’, here he is actually quite content to conceal his true identity, and let his predecessor do all the ‘Doctoring’ – the build up to Baker’s Doctor finally twigging exactly who this ‘Dr. John Tyler’ really is could not have been handled better, with perfect pacing and little ‘gotcha’ hints being drip-fed until the big reveal takes place. Although the Tenth Doctor is the older of the two, he happily defers to his Fourth self at times – with Baker being the elder statesman out of all the loving Doctors – but he also stands his ground against his younger incarnation when necessary.
Whereas most multi-Doctor stories do tend to have a lot of (mainly) good-natured mockery and ribbing between all of those present, here it gives way to a lot of mutual admiration and respect. With two rather dominant personalities here, it happens to be the best approach to take; rather than having an hour of just ‘comic’ bickering, it feels as if the exchanges between the Doctors have some real gravitas and substance, with each learning something from the other during pivotal moments in each of their lives. As a result, it rises above just cheap gimmickry, and makes it all the more rewarding.
If this standard can be maintained for both remaining ‘Out Of Time’ stories, then the whole endeavour will have been a truly worthwhile one. If you only treat yourself to one multi-Doctor adventure this year (given just how many will be on the market shortly), then you could certainly do worse than putting ‘Out Of Time 1’ at the top of your list.
Doctor Who – Out Of Time 1 is available now from Big Finish.