But it obviously went down very well as 2011 sees the subscriber story get even bigger and more rammed full of characters and villains than ever before. The Five Companions is also packed with enough fan wank to drown Ian Levine with.
Hijinks ensue as the Doctor and chums set the Daleks and Sontarans against each other, with the two groups of baddies eventually teaming up to try and use a technobabble device to destroy the whole dimension on the grounds they don't care if they die if the Doctor gets taken with them. The Doctor uses a different sort of technobabble to slow this down long enough for his message to the Time Lords to arrive and ensure everyone gets teleported back to where they belong as he goes off to have the rest of The Five Doctors happen to him. With it being best not to think how the Time Lords are able to send these humans to their respective homes but not the others in the rest of the Death Zone.
As that makes it sound, the plot is fairly basic. Which is a good thing because as said, The Four Doctors really had too much going on for the length of the story. Here, the focus is entirely on the returning companions. And when you've got old hands like William Russell, Peter Pervis, Anneke Wills and Jean Marsh on board you don't really need anything else. Every single scene with them interacting with Davison or each other is played to perfection, being at turns moving (especially when the Doctor reassures Polly that she was always an asset on the Tardis) and funny.
Only Marsh winds up somewhat shortchanged, with her appearance here following on from Sarah Kingdom's “resurrection” in the Companion Chronicles series. I've not heard those plays yet and thus have no idea how well it was done (though it's been very well received by fans), but the problem here is the Doctor and Stephen run into their one time friend, who they saw die horribly in front of them, and don't really have any time whatsoever to react to it. Other than a couple of lines it pretty much has to get brushed aside quickly when it would be a far bigger shock to both of them. In terms of keeping things simple it might have been easier to have Sarah Time-Scooped from before her death, whilst Marsh sounds much older that's a fairly standard conceit the listener has to make with many of the classic series actors anyway.
The numerically minded will have noted that's only four companions, the odd one out is Nyssa. Whilst Sarah Sutton does as good as ever, she can't really hope to compete with the excitement of hearing four 60's companions for the first time in a main range release, and it does wind up feeling like she's only there to be able to confirm to the others that this pleasant open faced young man is indeed the Doctor. Between this and her return as an older woman in the ongoing Fifth Doctor Big Finish stories (which are set before this for him but after for her) and Circular Time her chronology is getting deeply confusing. Considering in-story the character is mainly there to do science stuff it would have been nice to keep to the black and white era and perhaps have Zoe show up instead. Or even Liz Shaw.
The other component to the release is the monsters, and the Daleks and Sontarans are among the few “characters” Big Finish are able to use new series actors for, with Nick Briggs and Dan Starkey doing great stuff with multiple characters. They manage to add a sense of individuality to each role without losing the fact that each member of each species is supposed to be identical to every other member. It's a tricky, and somewhat thankless job, but they both do it very well. In fact, Starkey is so good at recreating the Sontaran style voice of their early appearances (which is slightly different to how the new series has done it) it's actually surprising to remember this is only his second time doing it on audio.
Despite Nyssa being fairly redundant and the plot forgettable, the sheer quality of the other actors makes this a hugely enjoyable romp. Much like the story its set during there's no depth or subtlety here, but it's like getting together with some very old friends for a long overdue catch-up. Whilst it's probably not awesome enough by itself to justify a subscription for it alone, anyone who does get a copy will almost certainly walk away from it with a big smile. The fact the representative of the show's original cast, Ian, gets the last line before the original theme tune kicks in is just the icing on the cake.
The only real negative for me is writer Eddie Robinson doesn't seem to have slipped in one of his usually insanely obscure in-joke references to the British Marvel Transformers comic. He must be slipping.
Four Fan Wanks Out of Five.