Doctor Who
Death Comes to Time

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
BBC Radio Collection
RRP 16.99
ISBN 0 563 52823 0
Available now

The Doctor and his new companion Antimony become embroiled in the struggle against a ruthless military dictator called General Tannis. Meanwhile, Ace finds herself in training for a destiny she never dreamed possible...

As the first broadcast Who since the 1996 TV movie (unless you count the affectionate spoof The Curse of Fatal Death), the importance of Death Comes to Time cannot be overstated. It has certainly caused a stir within fan circles, not least because of its blatant disregard for developments in the TV movie as well as the prose and audio adventures of the Seventh and Eighth Doctors. But more on that later.

As a story in its own right, Death gets off to a great start. Both the Doctor and the cruel and camp Tannis (John Sessions) benefit from spectacular introductions. Sylvester McCoy gives one of his best performances ever as the Doctor, while Kevin Eldon also makes a good impression as Antimony, his eager new companion, who as yet knows very little about the universe at large, including Earth.

In contrast to the sound and fury of Tannis' violent conquest of the planet Santiny, the cryptic teachings of the Time Lord Casmus are given great weight by the sagely tones of Leonard Fenton. And, of course, the presence of Stephen Fry as the Minister of Chance - a Time Lord whose desire to meddle with the affairs of other worlds is considered excessive even by the Doctor - is a fan's dream come true.

Fry has often, justifiably, been touted as a worthy actor to play the Doctor, and it is easy to imagine him in that role as he portrays the flippant but troubled Minister, who gains a companion in the shape of Santine Senator Sala (Britta Gartner). In fact, there are three interpretations of the Doctor/companion relationship in Death Comes to Time. In addition to the Doctor and Antimony and the Minister and Sala, Ace (Sophie Aldred) finds herself under the tutelage of Casmus, who represents the Doctor's role as mentor and guide.

Although rather too reminiscent of Star Wars' Jedi, Ace's training actually realises a character development that Andrew Cartmel had in mind when he was script editor of the TV series. His plan was for her to remain on Gallifrey and enrol at the Academy. The Doctor's ultimate demonstration of his true might, and his comments that he has "died before" also happen to tie in with the "Cartmel Masterplan".

Unfortunately, following the promising first episode, things go downhill. Perhaps because the first instalment was originally intended as a pilot for radio, rather than a webcast split into ten-minute chunks, the remaining episodes meander relatively sluggishly, frequently re-treading what has already been established. Although some of Lee Sullivan's artwork from the webcast has been reproduced inside the accompanying booklet, it cannot punctuate the drama as it did on the web. Certain dramatic revelations have less impact without the pictures, and most of the cliffhangers frankly fall flat.

Happily, things do pick up during the final instalment, which features a couple of witty character cameos and culminates in a moving conclusion - even if it does go against my love of continuity.

At the very least, Death Comes to Time can be regarded as an intriguing piece of apocrypha, an alternative view of how the Seventh Doctor and Ace might have turned out in the decade or so following Survival, their last TV serial together.

However, it is possible to shoehorn this drama into established TV, novel and audio continuity. Stop reading now if you are unfamiliar with the plot of the webcast but, even though producer/director Dan Freedman clearly intended to kill off the Doctor (his sleeve notes describe this story as the character's "last bow"), the Time Lord might have survived. His body is never found following his transfiguration, so perhaps he was re-embodied some time later, and reunited with Ace in time for the comic strip Ground Zero.

Although she has reverted to her old nickname, the Ace depicted here closely resembles the independent adventurer who occasionally crossed paths with the Doctor following her departure as a regular companion in the novel Set Piece. Already a time-traveller in her own right, her training to become a Time Lady seems like the next logical step.

The last of the three CDs in this pack also features out-takes and three interviews from Radio 4's Today programme, in which John Humphries speaks to Sylvester McCoy, John Sessions in character as General Tannis, and a Dalek!

Despite its flaws, Death Comes to Time is a provocative and evocative adventure.

Richard McGinlay

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