THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMAS "DEATH IN
BIG FINISH SPECIAL #VIII
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
THIRTY YEARS ON FROM
THE DALEKS' INVASION
OF EARTH, THE SCARS
STILL HAVEN'T HEALED.
THE SURVIVORS INHABIT
A WORLD THROWN BACK
TWO HUNDRED YEARS.
A WORLD PLAGUED BY
CROP SHORTAGES AND
CIVIL UNREST. A WORLD
WHERE THE BRIGHTEST
AND BEST OF ITS YOUNG
PEOPLE ARE DRAWN
INTO THE XENOPHOBIC
EARTH UNITED GROUP.
A WORLD SLIDING INTO
A DARK AGE, BELIEVES
SUSAN CAMPBELL, A
WIDOW OF ONE OF THE
HEROES OF THE DALEK
OCCUPATION. A WORLD
IN NEED OF ALIEN INTER-
VENTION. A WORLD IN
NEED OF HOPE...
BUT AS SUSAN TAKES
DRASTIC ACTION TO
SECURE THE PLANET'S
FUTURE, SHE'S OBLIV-
IOUS TO THE FACT THAT
HER STUDENT SON, ALEX,
ENSNARED BY EARTH
UNITED, IS IN NEED OF
TOO. OR SO ALEX'S
An Earthly Child
“Subscribers get more at Big Finish” is the current buzz phrase, and get more they certainly do. They pay slightly more, and they do so upfront, but there’s no question that they get more bang for their buck.
And this year, Big Finish’s annual December freebie isn’t just an ordinary play; it’s an event. The banner that you see at the bottom of this page has been a permanent fixture on the Big Finish website throughout this year, proudly promoting the long-awaited reunion of Susan and her peripatetic Grandfather, as well as the debut of the newest member of their unique family.
“That’s the beauty of Doctor Who... Stories and characters and things
have their orbits, and some of their orbits take thirty years.”
- Paul McGann
The anticipation surrounding Carole Ann Ford’s return may have been muted to a certain extent by her recent appearance in the Companion Chronicles range, but even so it’s still tremendously exciting to have Susan back on board, particularly when she’s breaking new ground in a story set long after she left the TARDIS at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
To date, the only other story to explore Susan’s future has been John Peel’s novel for BBC Books, Legacy of the Daleks, which showed us a barren but ageless Susan with a balding, fat husband at her side. Conversely, this story’s writer Marc Platt presents us with an older, widowed Susan that has borne a son – an altogether more appealing idea in my view, and certainly one that opens the doors to countless future stories. Of course, given that Peel and Platt’s stories are quite literally poles apart, I don’t think that they can’t be reconciled without resorting to far-fetched and vague, “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” explanations, but given my disillusionment with Legacy of the Daleks I’m not even inclined to try.
“Oh Grandfather! It’s you! On your own, stuck in a cell... You look amazing!
Oh but how many lives is that? Last time I saw you in the Dark Tower it was five.”
In fact, Platt’s script is refreshingly forthright. Although he does go to the trouble of referring to The Five Doctors, An Earthly Child effectively cuts right to the chase – there’s a joyful reunion, a thrilling adventure, and then a startlingly indefinite finale. Throughout the play’s seventy minutes the relationship between the Doctor and Susan is deftly handled by the writer, and both Paul McGann and Carole Ann Ford give such genuine performances that you can quite easily believe that the man Susan is throwing her arms around was once that crotchety old man that she called “Grandfather”.
Nonetheless, An Earthly Child doesn’t just reunite the two original TARDIS travellers; it introduces us to the most recent addition to their family, Alex Campbell. In what is fast becoming a Doctor Who tradition, the Doctor’s latest descendent is played by a Doctor’s offspring: this time Jake McGann (Immortal Beloved, The Girl Who Never Was) plays the Doctor’s wayward great-grandson, and does so with remarkable aplomb. Granted, it could be argued that as the young McGann is indeed a student of Bristol University, then it isn’t
a great leap for him to be playing a student of Bristol University (particularly as the 22nd century that his character inhabits has regressed 200 years thanks to a Dalek invasion!)
Still, I don’t suppose that in his real-life studies McGann junior often finds himself falling
under the influence of xenophobic bigots and/or being tagged as their poster boy. At least, I’d hope not.
“He’s independent. It’s a family trait. He’ll come round.
We can come back for him. Just the two of us, ey? Like old times...”
The two McGanns clearly had a great time recording this play; as one would expect they share a wonderful rapport. The mantle of great-grandfatherly concern that the Doctor is required to adopt feels very natural, as does his tendency to take pride in his wilful great-grandson’s rebelliousness. This latter trait causes a lot of friction with Susan, particularly right at the story’s death, when the Doctor’s emotional negligence is almost painful to listen to.
However, when compared to the arresting character drama, An Earthly Child’s plot feels slight. Platt’s depiction of the post-apocalyptic Earth isn’t as far removed from Peel’s as
his vision of Susan is; indeed, the crop shortages, civil unrest and cultural regression of this story are all redolent of the 22nd century Earth that we read about in Legacy of the Daleks. The difference lies in the details – whereas Peel favoured prosaic knights in shining armour, Platt instead creates embittered individuals desperate to preserve their planet’s freedom - People that have had their eyes flayed out by the crack of a Roboman’s whip; people utterly terrified by the thought of anything alien. And so when Susan calls in a bunch of aliens to render aid, you can imagine the public outcry... and that’s before they’ve even revealed their wicked intentions (which, unavoidably, they do…)
Fortunately though, the future Earth is littered with well-defined and magnificently portrayed characters, most notably Leslie Ash’s (The Haunting of Thomas Brewster) ill-fated Marion Fleming; a loveable old lecturer who serves as the Doctor’s makeshift companion for the
first half of the play.
Ultimately though, the real selling points of An Earthly Child (well, subscribing points) are the promise of that fateful reunion between the Doctor and Susan, and the extension of the series’ mythology though Alex. And both are executed flawlessly, unencumbered by Daleks or past Masters or even grey wigs.
On a final note, I can’t help but wonder, given how tantalisingly this one ends, whether young Alex might be in the running for the companion’s role in the upcoming McGann season? The Company of Friends certainly suggested that this might prove to be the case, and a father / son line-up would be one sure-fire way to avoid giving some poor young lady the uninviting task of climbing out of Sheridan Smith’s shadow…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
An Earthly Child was clearly intended to stand apart from the earlier novel Legacy of the Daleks, and although there are one or two similarities between the two post-occupation worlds painted by Marc Platt and John Peel, these are few and far between. However, as in An Earthly Child Susan is widowed and raising her son alone, then - for her - the later release could feasibly be set after the events of Legacy of the Daleks, but in order to swallow this you still need to make one or two big leaps…
The episode itself seems to be set in the gap between Death in Blackpool and Situation Vacant, as the CD liner notes’ Who’s Who section refers to the Doctor having travelled with Lucie Miller “most recently”.
Thanks to Mark Davis
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