Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Writer: Eddie Robson
RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)
Release Date: September 2017
Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online
"The Doctor's adventures in time and space are over. The Time Lords have recalled him to Gallifrey – but what he faces on his home planet is worse than any trial. Following the disappearance of President Borusa, the High Council condemned him to the highest office - and he can't evade his responsibilities a nanosecond longer...
So all hail the Lord High President! All hail President Doctor!
Rassilon save him. This time, there's really no escape."
Some stories and ideas fit some specific Doctors perfectly. Imagine The Curse of Fenric with the Sixth Doctor for example, or The Rescue with the Tenth: it just doesn't quite gel. Here with Time in Office though, we have the perfect marriage of incarnation and scenario, and full credit to Alan Barnes for suggesting it. You can just about picture the Fourth Doctor doing the job of President and purposely sending it up. The Sixth would be all bluster and indignation, but he would secretly enjoy the comfy seats and pomp more than he cares to admit. The Fifth though? So polite and unable to run away from a job he knows he will hate? It's the best fit.
Eddie Robson knows this, and writes for the Fifth Doctor especially well, and Time in Office is a perfect testimony to that fact. Throw in Leela and Tegan, too, and you've got a recipe for success, and thankfully 'a success' is undoubtedly what the finished product ends up being.
The Doctor's TARDIS is intercepted on the way to Frontios and before long our hero is in front of cameras, unable to escape, and being forced into office very much against his will. Leela is on hand to try and smooth things over, and Tegan is being held prisoner before being offered a position she cannot refuse.
There is something truly wonderful about seeing the Doctor, and more specifically this Doctor, run through diplomatic hoops. The trouble is, the Doctor is not without a past, and this comes to the fore in Part Two especially, which is genuinely funny and smart. The pairing of the Fifth Doctor and Leela (and indeed Peter Davison with Louise Jameson) works really well, and the addition of Tegan (and Janet Fielding) in the mix is the icing on the cake. It's easy to forget sometimes just how good the acting from the regulars is; we're so used to hearing or seeing their performances that it's easy to become blasé about it. Likewise, it's easy to forget at times just how much better served the regulars can be by Big Finish, but this blows those memory lapses out of the water and reminds you time and again just how good they all are.
Fielding especially gets to shine throughout the play with some brilliant comedy that suits both her character and the tone of the story down to a tee, whilst Robson writes to Davison's strengths with practised ease. The only thing which never really works in the play is Tegan’s love of adventure, seeing as we know she leaves soon after this play due to not enjoying things anymore. That’s always the major problem with Big Finish plays though: they only fit to some extent and often you need wriggle room to make to really work.
Ignore that though. Nearly every facet of this play has an air of confidence and polish about it, from the script (with fan jokes about the number of regenerations a Time Lord can have to knowing comments about how male-centric Gallifrey is (a thread which ran through Doom Coalition to good effect, too)) to the performances to the direction. Indeed, the direction and performances feel the tightest we have had for a while now, and full praise must go to Helen Goldwyn for that.
Perhaps that says a lot though? Perhaps it shows that a shake-up in production team and format works wonders and gives the main range a much-needed kick and breath of fresh air?
Compare this play to nearly all the others this year and it stands out for being pleasingly different and pleasantly fresh-feeling. The story of an element coming to a dusty but well-meaning entity and shaking things up by being different feels symbolic of this play's position in the wider Big Finish pantheon right now.
Yes, this is a play which is for fans only really and takes in a lot of continuity points here and there, and yes, this is a play which still runs with the 4x4 format, albeit it with a new glance. But it's also a play which re-invigorates that format, plays with continuity in a fun and cheeky way, and actually uses the past to good purpose.
This isn't a play which says "oh, go on, let's put the Fifth Doctor with Leela" with no thought beyond. This is a story which does that because it fits perfectly and doesn't feel shoe-horned in by committee like nearly all of the Locum Doctors scripts a while ago did.
In some ways, this makes it all the more frustrating as there isn't really any excuse why it isn't this imaginative and fun every month. There are times when it feels as if the monthly/main range just rests on its laurels a little, and a play like this only shows that up. A bit more imagination, a bit more daring do, a shake-up of the format... perhaps the future will see this happen and the now tired trilogy formula will get the injection of energy and verve it so desperately needs.
For now though, let us celebrate this Doctor's time in office and not feel too sad that it wasn't longer still.
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