Whopix has come late to the Big Finish party, and to be honest, never really felt that he was missing all that much. I’d heard Jon Pertwee in Paradise of Death and Ghosts of N-Space and wondered why the Beeb didn’t do more. Like everyone else I bought The Sirens of Time when it came out, thought Colin Baker was great on audio without the clown costume, something confirmed by Real Time, listened to Paul McGann in Shada and Storm Warning and liked what he heard and then… well, that was it really. Yes I listened as avidly as anyone else to the free CDs that came with various issues of DWM but Dr Who on audio was never something that really interested me, not quite sure why. And then Tom Baker did Hornet’s Nest…
So when a fellow fan gave me the opportunity to have a listen to The Bounty of Ceres, BF’s latest Hartnell Era story, Whopix approached listening to it with a huge amount of trepidation, fearing it would be dreadful. Luckily it wasn’t, though it is seriously flawed in a number of ways that I’ll get to. First of all though, let’s address the major concern I have with BF audios of the various dead Doctors – for the life of me I cannot understand why they don’t use sound-alikes. I’d much rather listen to John Guilor doing an accurate impersonation of Hartnell than, as here, Peter Purves giving us a generic “old man” voice more suited to an audiobook where vocal accuracy isn’t so expected. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of trying to recreate the Hartnell Era then, to my mind at any rate, that’s only worth doing if you can do it as well as it possibly can be done. And that means finding someone who sounds like Hartnell. Yes we all know it’s not Bill, but that aspect of the show really jarred for me. Maybe Maureen O’Brien thinks Purves sounds like Bill, but I don’t, I’d heard Purves do his version of Bill on the Dalek Masterplan audiobook and I didn’t particularly care for it then, even less so here. Not having a sound-alike play the Doctor seems, to me at any rate, to be a fatally flawed idea and I don’t think I’ll be listening to any more given the way this one was played.
On the plus side, if a First Doctor who sounds nothing like the First Doctor doesn’t bother you, then there’s lots to like about this show. Like the music for instance, the suite of which is hugely enjoyable, and it’s exactly the sort of thing you might have expected to hear back in 1965. It reminded me at some points of An Unearthly Child in a lot of ways, all oboe and tinkly percussion, then at others it got a bit Geoffrey Burgon before going full on for the BBC Record Library stock music approach. It’s probably the best part of the entire release, and if the idea of these Early Adventures is to crash together a pseudo-off-air recording with bits of audiobook then the music is the most successful part of the experiment, everything else much less so. The way the story started off, I thought we were heading into Planet of Evil territory but then, in the last episode, it switched gears and ended up reminding me far too much of The Rescue instead.
The small cast, the Purves-As-Hartnell error aside, are good support for the companions and Maureen O’Brien does a good job of pitching her voice up to mimic Vicki’s vocal tones from all those years ago. But I just couldn’t escape the picture painted so vividly in my mind by the singular Scots actor in the show, who’s very Scots btw, that Alex Salmond had been cast in these episodes!
The aforementioned music suite is great but the interview with Purves, O’Brien, David Richardson and Lisa Bowerman is nothing special. All in all, I don’t regret listening to this, my first foray into the pre-Tom world of Big Finish but until they cast John Guilor in the role, I think it’ll be my last.
The Bounty of Ceres is available on CD or download from bigfinish.com