Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Written By: John Dorney
RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)
Release Date: November 2013
Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online
Review Posted: 30th November 2013
“London. The end of November, 1963. A time of change. The old guard are being swept away by the white heat of technology. Political scandals are the talk of the town. Britain tries to maintain its international role; fanatics assassinate charismatic politicians and Group Captain Ian Gilmore is trying to get his fledgling Counter-Measures unit off the ground.
When his life is saved by a familiar umbrella-bearing figure, he knows something terrible is going on. Whilst Rachel investigates an enigmatic millionaire and Allison goes undercover in an extremist organisation, Gilmore discovers a sinister plot with roots a century old.
The Doctor and Ace are back in town. A new dawn is coming. It's time for everyone… to see the Light.”
* * *
This must have been a difficult play to be created, make no mistake. It has to meet six very important criteria, namely:
To satisfy and not isolate anyone who hasn’t listened to Counter-measures.
To satisfy anyone who has listened to Counter-measures and not make them feel that the series or its concepts have been diluted by their inclusion in a Doctor Who release.
To satisfy the fans of Remembrance of the Daleks who are looking forward to the various characters’ reunion after all these years.
To satisfy the fans of John Dorney, one of the most popular writers and performers which Big Finish have to offer.
To satisfy the fans of the 1963 trilogy (though ‘trilogy’ is a strong word when it’s the year and nothing more which link up the stories).
And, finally, to stand up to closer-than-usual scrutiny, being as this is the release for November 2013, Doctor Who’s fiftieth birthday month.
Quite a challenge. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for turning it down; nor would I have blamed it if it had been a release which missed the mark: quite frankly, it’d be nigh-on impossible to write without the pressure of November 2013 on the back, however right or wrong that may be.
Thankfully, none of that happens, and 1963: The Assassination Games is a very strong release indeed, easily ticking all of the above boxes with little fuss. The opening episode is essentially an episode of Counter-measures, with the team going about their business whilst two people they never thought they’d see again (the Doctor and Ace) pop up from time to time to nudge them on their way. It’s a lovely set-up, and in many ways I wish that the rest of the story had followed suit: I rather like the idea of a Doctor-lite story featuring characters from a spin-off range, and the Seventh Doctor feels particularly suited to that sort of behind-the-scenes approach.
That’s not to say that the rest of the story disappoints though– far from it. Over the course of its four episodes, it slowly works its way from Counter-measures territory to Doctor Who terrain, finished up in an episode which feels like it’s jumped fresh out of Season 25, with stunts, bike chases, and a big evil from ancient times. Throw into that brilliant performances from all the leads, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred particularly channeling their old performances well, and you have a very satisfying story which sates the desires of the (not necessarily exclusive, but you never know) fan bases of both series.
The very best thing this story could do is persuade fans to listen to Counter-measures, and help it gain a wider audience: it would be nice to see it run to another couple of series at the very least as there is a lot of potential in there.
The 1963 trilogy has given Big Finish some of its strongest stories for a while, with some very memorable characters, situations and performances. When people look back on November 2013, many will recall sitting in cinemas with 3-D glasses and bathing in the wonder of The Day of the Doctor, but for us lucky few, we’ll also remember listening to The Common Men being The Beatles, Samantha Bérat giving us a heartfelt performances for a frankly bizarre character, and Chunky Gilmore being reunited with his most-trusted Doctor at long last.
Thank you, Big Finish, and Happy Birthday, Doctor Who.