While most of my purchases of Doctor-Who-related audio dramas from Big Finish have been about companions whom I’ve wanted more stories about, I remain a sucker for any interactions between Doctors; I’ve been that way since I first saw The Three Doctors as a child. I enjoy the contrast of personalities and the sparks that fly whenever a given Doctor clashes with his previous or future selves.
So when I learned about this one, featuring two of the most popular Doctors from the original and new series, I just had to have it. I was hoping for a lot from the interaction, and was not disappointed.
The Cathedral of Contemplation is a unique example of trans-temporal architecture: a massive structure that rotates carousel-like outside of Time itself, with doors opening to different times and places as it spins. This makes it irresistible to the 10th Doctor (David Tennant — Dr 10, as I’ll be calling him hereafter), who is at this point traveling alone after the loss of Donna Noble and before he faces his next regeneration.
He’s welcomed at the Cathedral by the Abbess in charge; she makes some curious remarks about a “coincidence” and, even though he doesn’t recall ever being there before, tells him that he always visits when he’s in trouble. Well, “someone else, and all of them you.”
The Abbess says that the Doctor can go anywhere he wants within the Cathedral, except for the Panoramic Gallery, which is what he’s come specifically to see in hopes of picking up some new travel ideas. The door to the gallery is locked, but he’s not going to let a little thing like that stop him from getting in. He twiddles the lock with his sonic screwdriver as soon as he’s alone…
Meanwhile, Dr 4 (Tom Baker) is painting in the gallery, working on frescoes with an assistant, a young woman named Jora whom he’s met at the Cathedral. She’s run away from her military after a traumatic battle and is in hiding.
While they’re taking, some sort of strange temporal disturbance occurs at the door, and a man comes in. “Oh, hello.”
“Do I know you?” asks Dr 4.
He doesn’t recognize the visitor, but the visitor certainly recognizes him.
Dr 10, thinking quickly, introduces himself as “John- ah- Tyler” and pretends to be a tourist who’s wandered into the gallery by accident, but there are too many slip-ups: to begin with, he’s brandishing his sonic screwdriver, and he responds to the name “Doctor” along with his predecessor.
Dr 4, no slow-poke, is quick to pick up these clues and is soon dropping hints to let his future self know that he knows, and that he knows Dr 10 knows he knows. They’re very knowledgeable that way.
“Either I’m becoming more responsible in my old age, or more arrogant.”
The banter is just getting started when another visitor, Captain Zenna shows up. He’s looking for a fugitive, a defector from his 26th-century army. She’s also his daughter.
Jora refuses to return to her own time and the war her people were fighting. Who can blame her, once she begins to talk about the enemy she fled from: unstoppable, implacable, relentless monsters.
Unfortunately for her, and for everyone else in the Cathedral, the war is now coming to her.
From Jora’s description of the enemy, the listener can guess exactly who they are even without looking at the CD cover art, and long before the Cathedral is invaded and we hear that very first “Exterminate!“
The Daleks’ plan is to use the Cathedral’s time-and-space-spanning construction to attack everywhere in the universe, at all times at once, and thereby win every battle.
“Instant Dalek invasion — just add slaughter.”
So it’s a good thing there are two Doctors at hand with plenty of experience in fighting Daleks.
However, the Daleks have already made one serious tactical mistake: upon their arrival, they killed the Abbess when she stood up to them to try and protect the multitude of “pilgrims” (visitors currently inside the Cathedral). For the Abbess was not merely the Cathedral’s custodian, but its architect and builder; this time-spanning construct cannot be maintained without her. Even as the Daleks invade it, the Cathedral is collapsing and “will shrink to a singularity within the hour.”
What follows is a great deal of running around to try and get the pilgrims out of danger, not to mention stopping the Daleks. Some sequences are very loud and noisy as battles are fought. Jora learns how to be brave, and the Doctors learn to work together. Along the way, there several amusing exchanges, one or two unexpected twists, and some crawling around in ducts — which Dr 10 calls “Old School”.
Dr. 4: “I prefer to think of myself as Classic.”
Dr 10 keeps saying that he doesn’t remember any of this happening to him before… “Oh, that was weird.” And then he does. These new memories don’t help him to see how things will turn out, but they do enable him to be aware of where Dr 4 is and what’s happening to him once they separate. This comes in especially handy when Dr 4 is taken prisoner by the Daleks; unaware of the Cathedral’s imminent collapse, they want him to manage the time-portals for them. Their second error.
Dr 4, on the other hand, remains confident even in the most dire danger, since Dr 10’s continued existence assures him that he’ll survive. And, let’s face it, there isn’t much reason for us to worry about him during this story either, since it’s established that he’s in the middle of this regeneration’s timeline (he’s just come from Gallifrey following The Deadly Assassin), so it’s not as if he’ll be turning into Peter Davison any time soon.*
In the end, the Doctors part on friendly terms — as they usually do once they settle down and get used to each other’s idiosyncrasies . Dr 10 refuses to give away much about the future to his previous self, but he does let Dr 4 know that he will be seeing the recently dropped-off Sarah Jane again one day, leaves him with this somewhat misleading piece of information:
“You’ll meet a nice Time Lady and settle down for a bit… with a dog.”
*Although the next story in the Out of Time audio series will have Dr 10 meeting Dr 5. I’ve already pre-ordered it!