Doctor Who
I.D. / Urgent Calls

Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 247 0
Available 21 April 2007

In the 32nd century, the Doctor, travelling alone, finds himself on a planet piled high with discarded computer technology. Picking over these remains are an army of Scandroids, directed by a team of researchers from the mysterious Lonway Clinic, and an unsavoury collection of illegal data pirates. This is a world of organic-digital transfer and "personality surgery", which the Doctor finds disturbing enough, but then something far more deadly starts to emerge...

Nicholas Briggs, the new Co-Executive Producer of Big Finish's Doctor Who range, continues to develop the format's potential. The recent Circular Time comprised four, linked, single-episode adventures, and now I.D. is the first of several three-part stories. For decades, the only three-part Who serial was Planet of Giants, and even this oddity was really a hacked-down four-parter. Three-part tales came into their own during the Sylvester McCoy era, in response to the relatively short duration (14 x 25-minute episodes) of each season at that time. Though not always successful, the format does help to avoid the doldrums that many four-parters run into during Part Three.

Accordingly, I.D., written by Eddie Robson, is a lively and focused narrative - though it is unfortunate that it involves sinister robots (the Scandroids), since we had some of those only a couple of months ago in Nocturne, and it looks as though we'll be getting more of the same next month in Exotron (another three-parter).

The moral of the story concerns identity theft, as you might have gathered from the title and synopsis. Just as present-day criminals obtain personal data from discarded paper and electronic records, so the researchers from the Lonway Clinic pick over hi-tech wreckage for the materials they need to develop the creepy science of personality tailoring to order. Though they supposedly work under strict guidelines, the boffins seem only slightly more lawful than the data pirates who operate in the same area. I don't think I'm giving too much away if I reveal that, by the end of story, the identity theft becomes somewhat more literal...

Appropriately enough, Sara Griffiths, who played Ray in Delta and the Bannermen, the first of the McCoy-era three-parters, stars here as one of the scientists, though the cynical Claudia Bridge could scarcely be more different from Ray. Even more surprising is the casting of TV presenter, author and former politician Gyles Brandreth as the ruthless Dr Marriott - and very effective he is too. Also cast against type is Helen Atkinson Wood, best known for her comedy roles in Blackadder the Third and KYTV, as auditor Ms Tevez.

In truth, Big Finish has been producing stories of this duration for years, as its single-disc releases are usually of just the right length to make three 25-minute instalments. However, the experiment is an interesting one, especially since it gives rise to the inclusion of a single-part companion piece...

Earth, 1974. An innocent phone call. OK, it was a wrong number, but there can't be any harm in that - can there? Lauren learns that when the Doctor is involved, anything is possible...

Urgent Calls, also penned by Robson, may be only one episode long, but it is all the more interesting for it. It is conveyed almost entirely in the form of a series of telephone conversations, a narrative contrivance that might have become tedious over three or four instalments, but works perfectly here. The device also makes this a story that could only really have been told (or at least told most effectively) in the audio medium.

The whole affair is carried by the two principal actors, Colin Baker and Kate Brown (as Lauren), who rise to the occasion superbly. Lauren's character is compelling and sensitive without ever seeming whiny or annoying.

I'm putting in an urgent call for more episodes of this calibre.

The double disc's extra features comprise interviews with Gyles Brandreth, Helen Atkinson Wood and Sara Griffiths. The eccentric Brandreth provides the most amusement, telling an elaborate but supposedly true story of muddled Doctors that puts even Tom Baker's tale of being mistaken for Jon Pertwee in the shade.

All in all, a great CD.

Richard McGinlay

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