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Set the What If machine to 1963

February 27, 2013

Where Doctor Who would have gone if it hadn’t made that left turn after The Unearthly Child

In case you are unfamiliar with Big Finish Productions, they are a UK company that produces licensed audio dramas based upon popular British genre tv, books, and comic books. Actually, they do some US genre stuff as well (Stargate SG-1 and Dark Shadows). What they started with and, what I wanted to talk about here, is their Doctor Who material. One line that specifically ties directly back to the series is their Lost Stories line. Television production is always a rushed process. As a result of this, scripts get abandoned due to a number of reasons like strikes, conflicts/delays with the writing process, or the episode simply being outside of the current budget of the series. And, in the case of Doctor Who, there were the two series suspensions. The first of these occurred at the end of the sixth doctor Colin Baker’s first full season. It was supposed to only be a one year break but, given then BBC director Michael Grade’s attitude towards the show, fans assumed this was a prelude to cancellation. The second suspension came during the seventh doctor’s run when the series was cancelled in 1989. Actually, it wasn’t technically cancelled. Instead, the BBC just didn’t order any episodes for the 27th season but, when the Doctor Who production offices were shut down, that equaled cancelled in my book.

In the case of both suspensions, production had continued before either announcement resulting in a number of finished scripts that would ultimately never go before the cameras. That was until Big Finish Productions started their Lost Stories line of audio dramas. This line is a series of CDs that are audio adaptations of these and other un-produced Doctor Who stories. Whenever they are able, they get the original actors to reprise their roles so, you are getting about as close to the original production as possible albeit in an audio format. The only problem with the Big Finish products is that they are a bit pricey between having to, I assume, pay royalties and having to be shipped across the Atlantic. Fortunately for me, a store in England that has an Ebay account decided to discount some of the CDs they had in stock.

The one title I was most interested in and that resulted in my discovery of the above seller was one titled The Masters of Luxor. It was a first season script that would have been the second story arc but, was ultimately dropped in favor of The Daleks. The script was by Anthony Coburn who also wrote The Unearthly Child story line and, when I first read about the script I had imagined (like Carol Ann Ford mentions in the commentary on the Big Finish CD) that the story would be set in ancient Egypt. It turns out it was actually a science fiction piece. In the early 90s there was a script book for the story put out by Titan that I passed on the opportunity to purchase. This turned out to be a bad idea as the book now goes for a minimum of $40. Fortunately for me, Big Finish had done this story as part of their Lost Stories Doctor Who line. And this ultimately lead me to the Ebay seller in one of my occasional searches for the title. I ended up negotiating a deal where I got six Big Finish CDs with effectively free shipping and, at a considerably lower price than I traditionally see domestically. In addition to The Masters of Luxor, I also acquired Lost Story CDs from both of the suspension periods.

The Masters of Luxor really represented a turning point for Doctor Who on a number of levels. The story line is an interesting one. The doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on a planet when the Tardis picks up a distress signal originating from there. They end up landing inside a strange looking fortress after the Tardis hovers around the outside of it like a helicopter to examine it, which is something we would never really see happen until the new series. Inside the citadel, they find a number of robots with a clear hierarchical organization and with the higher tier robots looking more and more like humans. I won’t go any further to avoid spoilers but, the story focuses on what it is to be human with a bit of Frankenstein thrown in as well. If this script had been chosen over The Daleks, the first major difference would have obviously been the lack of Daleks in the series, although this may not have been completely true as the BBC arguably could have moved The Daleks story arc to later in the first season. Still, it’s funny to imagine an alternate universe where Doctor Who was the little known 60s children’s SF drama series that never seemed to catch a major following due to the lack of the villain that vaulted the series to popularity. The other major difference was the blatant religious overtones of the script. The Doctor actually mentions God by name at one point, which is, again, something that would be largely avoided even in the new series. Overall, I have to say that while The Masters of Luxor is not a bad script, the production team definitely made the right call in dropping it in favor of The Daleks.

One word of warning about The Masters of Luxor is that it is not really a full on audio drama but, is instead a sort of weird cross between that format and a straight up audio book. This would be because only two of the actors, Carol Ann Ford who played Susan and William Russell who played Ian, are still alive. Both of them end up doing voice impersonations of the non-surviving actors as the audio calls for them. This leads me into one of the other things I learned from this story which is that Ms. Ford does a far better impression of Barbara than Mr. Russell does of the first doctor. I have to say that the mixed format doesn’t take long to get used to and is quite effective at presenting the story. If you have an opportunity to get The Masters of Luxor for a reasonable price I would recommend it to anyone who is either interested in the early history of Doctor Who or is a fan of the first doctor era of the series in general.


From → History, Reviews

  1. Oh, how I love Big Finish but the price just keeps me away. I’ve listened to one of these mixed format stories and they do work. I’ve been curious if the Tom Baker stories are any good. His three that he did prior to Big Finish, written by Paul Magrs, generally worked well enough.

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