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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
1963: The Space Race


Starring: Colin Baker
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 079 4
Release Date: 31 October 2013

It is November 1963, and the Soviet space programme reigns supreme. Having sent the first animals, then the first men beyond Earth’s atmosphere, now they’re sending a manned capsule into orbit around the Moon. Just as Vostok Seven passes over into the dark side, however, its life support system fails. Only the intervention of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, adopting the identities of scientists from Moscow University, means that contact with the capsule is regained. But something has happened to the cosmonaut on board. She appears to have lost her memory, and developed extreme claustrophobia. Maybe she’s not quite as human as she used to be...

This is the second of three monthly releases themed not around a particular Doctor and companion combo but around the pivotal year of 1963, when Doctor Who began 50 years ago. Of course, the space race between the USA and the USSR was not confined to that specific year – it spanned the whole of the 1960s, and some of the 1950s and 1970s as well. However, 1963: The Space Race manages to tie its events down to Doctor Who’s anniversary year in a most decisive way… though it might spoil Jonathan Morris’s plot for you if I were to say any more than that.

The story begins rather like The Quatermass Experiment but with Russians: it has a pioneering space mission, a curiously changed cosmonaut, and a strangely empty space capsule. By the end, though, things have got a bit 2001, maybe even a bit Planet of the Apes, with several hairpin turns in the narrative along the way. Once again, I cannot say much more than that, but be assured that the cliffhanger ending to Part One and the events that follow contain plenty of “what the…?” moments.

Revelations about what has been going down on the Moon may strike you as far-fetched, but bear in mind that in the Doctor Who universe humans reached Mars and Jupiter during the 20th century. Again, I mustn’t say too much! Talking of The Ambassadors of Death (which I kind of was), if you enjoyed that story, which was similarly inspired by Quatermass, then you will probably enjoy this one, thanks to all its tense mission control room scenes. In common with Ambassadors, the Doctor (Colin Baker) takes a trip in a rocket ship.

Peri (Nicola Bryant) also gets plenty to do. She is the ideal companion for this story. As an American from the Reagan era, she has good reason to fear for her safety when the TARDIS strands her and the Doctor in the Soviet Union.

There are some great voices among the guest cast, too, including the deep booming tones of David Shaw-Parker as General Mikhail Leonov and the impassioned pleas of Samantha Béart as cosmonaut Marinka Talanov.

Rounded off with a Howard Carter soundtrack that sometimes reminds me of recent Bond scores and sometimes puts me in mind of new Who (check it out for yourself by listening to the ten-minute isolated music track at the end of Disc One), 1963: The Space Race is a spectacular flight of fancy.


Richard McGinlay

P.S. An in-joke for those of you who have heard the end of Part One: “It’s not like ’er at all!”

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