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trial-of-the-valeyard-cover

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the folks at Big Finish have really been pulling out all the stops.

Never mind the fact that they have every living Doctor (and at varying points along the way, nigh on each and every surviving companion as well) prior to the Davies revival on hand and appearing across their various lines and subsets of their ever expanding Who franchise.

Never mind the fact that they have pulled in a small but growing subset of modern day companions for (at the minimum) their Destiny of the Doctor AudioGo coproductions (with some, like Noel Clarke, appearing in further expansion series beyond that).

No, they’ve gotten even more direct in their attachment to and expansion of the “official” Who canon.

Pulling in even more original series players than usual, the Big Finish crew has more pointedly gazed back to their televised progenitors, crafting an unusual number of scripts tapping directly into stories with which longtime Whovians should be well familiar.

Sure, they’ve been using the Doctors and any number of companions since the inception of the line back in 1999, with several inferences and bits of dialogue referencing prior adventures thereof.  Certainly, the entire Jago & Litefoot line has borne an immediate lineage to its characters’ sole prior appearance in the much beloved Talons of Weng Chiang back in 1977.

But to my awareness, this past year has provided the first – and numerous – iteration(s) of a new focus on picking up on, and filling in the gaps of, previously aired stories.  In effect, they’ve been finishing, or at least directly building off of, serials which every Whovian worth their salt is already well familiar, grabbing the loose threads and weaving extensions to the narratives thereof.

Forget Tom Baker’s reunion with Jago & Litefoot in the Fourth Doctor serial Justice of Jalxar or two seasons’ worth of Louise Jameson’s Leela reprising and continuing her adventures with them (Jago & Litefoot series 3 and 4 to be precise), or even their most unwelcome repeat encounter with Weng Chiang himself therein, because the Davison full Tardis met him too in the futuristic prequel Butcher of Brisbane.

How about the Davison Tardis crew’s further encounter with the titular nemesis from Baker’s Hand of Fear, in Eldrad Must Die?  Or McCoy and Ace’s revisitation of the Fenric affair in Gods and Monsters?

Most directly related to the offering currently under discussion was the Colin Baker/Bonnie Langford The Wrong Doctors, which took place after…or was it before? the events of the maddening televised full season 23, Trial of a Timelord.  Some major issues with and background concerning said John Nathan Turner/Eric Saward effort were duly noted in the course of that earlier review, so we’ll move on to more salient matters herein.

While the Wrong Doctors played off some potential posthumous events surrounding a certain glaring plothole in the televised proceedings, this time around, we’re taking on the main thrust of the affair and interestingly one of the few areas of the script that in no way demanded further explication or a postscript salvage retcon, namely the trial itself.

An understandably miffed and belligerent Doctor is summoned once again before the Gallifreyan High Council, but this time not to stand trial himself.  No, this time he has been summoned as counsel for the defense…for his nemesis the Valeyard himself!

Without giving the whole thing away, suffice to say the emotional tables and stakes change hands and turn and turn again, with a shifting of apparent allegiances and some serious question as to just who is in the right here (if anyone).  At varying points of the brief, surprisingly quite engaging affair, not only the Valeyard, but the Gallifreyan High Council and even the Doctor himself would appear to be on trial here.  It’s got far more twists and turns than Saward (and the worthy salvage efforts of Pip and Jane Baker) were able to cram into an entire season of serials, in about the same timespan as the average Fourth or Eighth Doctor single disc adventure – you do the math.

For this Trial, Big Finish managed to recruit not only Baker himself, but both his titular nemesis (Michael Jayston) and Chief Inquisitor Darkel (Lynda Bellingham, who previously also appeared in the earlier seasons of Big Finish’s Gallifrey).  Both veterans acquit themselves admirably and lend due gravity and authority to the proceedings.

Barnaby Edwards, who played roles in such early Colin Baker audios as The Marian Conspiracy and Spectre of Lanyon Moor, the Davison/Turlough Loups-Garoux and the highly entertaining McCoy/Langford Eurovision/Deep Space 9 sendup Bang-Bang-A-Boom, has since moved more to the back end of production, scripting the McGann Book of Kells and Beast of Orlok, Davison’s previously reviewed Emerald Tiger and Bride of Peladon, and the Colin Baker/Frazier Hines Wreck of the Titan, which like Kells and September’s 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men he also directed.  Trial proves the most recent feather in his directorial cap, and like most or all of the aforementioned proves among the more notable of the monthly line of late*.

*Trial of a Timelord is a subscriber special offering provided alongside December’s Afterlife.

Strangely gripping for what in effect amounts to a single stage courtroom drama, scripters Alan Barnes and Mike Maddox ramp up the mystery angle, structuring the proceedings in such a manner as to keep the listener (and the players themselves) off balance and on their toes in anticipation of the next twist revelation.

The only disappointment comes in the relatively banal denouement (wherein the myriad possibilities and grey areas seem to go up in a poof of smoke, and a more typical and “safe” good vs. evil scenario reemerge in its place).  But while it’s getting to this somewhat disappointing conclusion, this Trial proves one hell of a ride.

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