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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
1963: Fanfare for the Common Men


Starring: Peter Davison
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 078 7
Release Date: 30 September 2013

If you remember the Sixties, they say, then you can’t have been there. The Doctor remembers the Sixties. That’s why he’s taking Nyssa on a trip back to November 1963. Back to where it all began. Back to the birth of the biggest band in the history of British music. Back to see those cheeky lads from Liverpool… Mark, James and Korky, the Common Men, the boys who made the Sixties swing with songs like “Oh, Won’t You Please Love Me?”, “Just Count to Three” and “Who is That Man”. The Doctor remembers the Sixties, and there’s something very wrong with the Sixties, if the Beatles no longer exist...

This latest trilogy of adventures is centred not around a particular TARDIS crew, but around the year 1963, during which something momentous happened 50 years ago… I’m sure it will come to me… The release of the first Beatles album, perhaps? Yes, that must be it!

Fanfare for the Common Men is a loving pastiche of the influential band, in terms of their musical sound (kudos to sound designer Howard Carter), their lyrics (references to which are liberally Sergeant Peppered throughout Eddie Robson’s script in the form of names like Rita, Judes – Adjudicators, off-world law-enforcement officers – and lines such as “you and I are going on a magical mystery tour” and “all you need is love”), not to mention their charming Liverpudlian accents. I could happily listen all day to the splendidly cast Mitch Benn (The Now Show), Andrew Knott and David Dobson as Not John, Not Paul and Not Ringo, whose personalities are a good match for those in the Beatles’ irreverent cinematic outings. The attention to detail lavished upon this wonderful tribute extends to a parody of the Abbey Road album cover on the front of the CD sleeve, and even a mock-up of a vinyl record printed on the discs themselves.

Coming back to the songs, it would appear that only partial versions of these were recorded, as evidenced by a ten-minute medley of them at the end of Disc 1. This is a shame, as I think a few complete songs might have sold quite well on iTunes, especially on the back of the upcoming repeat, on BBC Four, of An Unearthly Child, in which Susan listens to John Smith and the Common Men on her transistor radio. Just think of how BBC Worldwide has exploited new series minutiae, such as turning in-universe works of fiction into ebooks. As it is, the isolated music track has the distinction of having been played and enjoyed by me more times than the story itself!

For all its fine qualities, this release is not without its faults. Following a superb first episode (which is available for free as a Big Finish podcast, if you want to try it out), subsequent instalments are not quite as engaging. It’s the humour of the story that I liked best, and this somewhat inevitably gives way to dramatic peril during later episodes. The cliffhangers are rather shoehorned in, but then that is a common handicap of the series format. It could also be argued that the plot strays off topic – it starts in 1963, but then takes in 1960, 1966, 1967 and 1970. However, Robson could not be expected to pull off an authentic “cover version” of the Beatles’ career without touching upon these eras – which include the Common Men’s dealings with an Eastern guru, Paravatar (Jonty Stephens).

Despite these flaws, oh, won’t I please love this affectionate and action-packed adventure? Yes, I will. Just count to:


Richard McGinlay

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