We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #27, The One Doctor. Written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, and starring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush, this story is the first of Big Finish’s rare Christmas releases, though it’s not specifically a Christmas story; and it gives us a more comedic take on the main range. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
“At last! I control everything!” the Doctor gloats…over the Monopoly board. Mel is not fond of the melodrama, especially when the Doctor is winning. It’s just as well; he finds the villainous mindset boring. They are interrupted when the TARDIS drifts off course, following a distress signal into the far future, further than its usual range. The signal calls them to the planet of Generios One, the capital of the Generios system, much to the Doctor’s annoyance. They arrive during a celebration, and are accosted by the drunken Citizen Sokkery, who tells them that they were just saved from the alien Skelloids…by the Doctor. And yet, the Doctor doesn’t feel the presence of any future incarnation—so, who actually saved Generios?
They find the mysterious new Doctor at the Great Council Complex, where he is being congratulated by Councillor Potikol, although his explanation of his feat sounds wrong. This Doctor wants to leave, but his companion, one Sally-Anne Stubbins, reminds him that their “Stardis” is not ready to go—it must be repaired, and that requires pluvon crystals. Unfortunately, there are none in the Generios system, but Potikol offers them cash—a hundred million credits, according to Sally-Anne—to purchase some in another system; the new Doctor finally accepts it as a loan. When Potikol leaves to get the money, the new Doctor and Sally-Anne laugh and admit they truth—the “Doctor’s” name is Banto Zame, and they are con artists who have just scammed an entire system. Outside, the real Doctor and Mel arrive, happening across Sokkery again as well. The “Doctor” on Sokkery’s newspaper isn’t any incarnation the real Doctor recognizes. He gets Mel to pretend to faint, causing the guards to escort them inside to recover. As soon as the guards are out of sight, they slip away to find the imposter. Meanwhile, Potikol returns after a long wait and says there has been a problem; a piece of space junk has drifted through the system, disrupting the computer links, preventing any withdrawals. The “Doctor” and Sally-Anne fear they’ve been found out, but Potikol is sincere; he says he sent a ship to destroy it, but soon learns that the ship was destroyed.
The real Doctor and Mel find the council chamber, and overhear the imposters planning to buy a planet—Abydos—with the spoils of their crimes. He bursts in and accuses them, but Banto turns the tables on him in front of Potikol by accusing him of the same scam! As the guards escort Mel and the Doctor out, Potikol tells the imposter that the “flotsam” is now headed for Generios One. The “Doctor” must save them again! Meanwhile, the real Doctor and Mel are put in an admittedly comfortable cell. The Doctor fumes over Banto’s cannibalizing of his legacy and reputation. He begins to try to get them out, but they are interrupted by a sonic wave that can be heard all over the planet. It is caused by a great UFO, descending toward the council complex. And the Doctor falls victim to the sound wave…
When the sound stops, the UFO—the Cylinder—speaks. It demands the three greatest treasures of Generios as tribute to its masters; if the planet refuses, it will destroy the entire Generios system. It gives them about three hours to cooperate. Banto agrees to gather the treasures, and Potikol has his “Stardis” brought to him so he can go to take care of it. However, Banto secretly believes the Cylinder is a fraud perpetuated by the Doctor; he is only staying around to ensure he receives the hundred million credits.
Having heard the message, the Doctor uses the food dispenser to escape the cell; his decidedly low-tech method—ramming it into the cell door—irks Mel, but it works. He explains that the message is too high-tech and expensive for petty criminals; this threat is real. They make their way back to the council chamber, and see the guards bringing in the “Stardis”. Meanwhile, Potikol gives Banto a list of the treasures, unaware that Banto’s real plan is to track down and eliminate the Doctor and Mel, thinking that that will stop the threat. As Potikol leaves again, the real Doctor and Banto argue, with Banto still believing the Doctor is another fraud, and the Doctor outraged at Banto’s scam—and at the “Stardis”, which is in the shape of not a police box, but a portable toilet. They are interrupted by the Cylinder, which tells them they are losing time; when Banto argues with it, it destroys the eleventh planet of the system, and fires a beam through the chamber, past Sally-Anne’s face. Banto realizes that the threat is real, and decides to flee with Sally-Anne. The “Stardis” is actually a short-range teleport, leading in this case to the spaceport; the Doctor and Mel force their way in with Banto and Sally-Anne, coincidentally causing Potikol to see it disappear in a curiously TARDIS-like manner…plus flushing? It’s smaller on the inside, and very uncomfortable for four, but the Doctor reprograms it to take them directly to the TARDIS console room. Banto and Sally-Anne are stunned by the TARDIS, and finally are convinced that they are facing the real Doctor, not an imposter. He tries to leave, giving the list of treasures to the Doctor; but the Doctor has already taken off. He’ll need help finding the treasures, and Banto and Sally-Anne could use a lesson…
The TARDIS lands on Generios Eight, inside a great echoing chamber. The first treasure, called “Unit ZX419”, is supposed to be here. Banto can’t recall what is significant about this world, but there is something. The Doctor leaves Banto with Mel to find the treasure, and takes Sally-Anne to the fourteenth world, as time is short. Banto sees something in the shadows… Meanwhile, on Generios Fourteen, the Doctor and Sally-Anne search for the second treasure, called “Mentos”. They follow some music to a ruin, while Sally flirts with the Doctor; however, she can’t out-talk the Doctor. At a ruined amphitheatre, they see two figures on stage; a woman asks trivia questions, while an elderly man answers them. It seems to be a game of some sort. Back on Generios Eight, Mel and Banto have found that the chamber is a storage complex, full of furniture, which is all marked with alphanumeric codes. Banto remembers the truth: The planet was long ago occupied by a furniture company, which eventually turned over operations to its robots, the Assemblers. The Assembleers went mad, and subsequently killed the entire population. “UNIT ZX419” is probably one of the items here…but the Assemblers are coming out to kill them…
The Assemblers are unimpressed with the organic creatures and their alleged lies, and furious when they find that the humans have come for Unit ZX419, which the Assemblers consider their greatest achievement. However, their leader, Assembler One, relents unexpectedly and says they can have it…if they can assemble it. They place a pile of boards before the humans. Mel and Banto start assembling it—it appears to be a shelf system—but the first section disappears while they work on the next section. And, are the instructions getting longer?
The Doctor concludes the box on which the old man stands must be Mentos. He is partly right; the man himself is Mentos’s real-world interface, and Mentos is a computer that can answer any question asked. It does this by a system of research devices in a shadow universe, which can time-travel to obtain answers. The questioning woman has been playing this game for 33,000 years, long after the death of the audience; and she won’t stop until Mentos misses a question. So far, it never has. She, too, is an electronic simulacrum, and due to an unfortunate and long-dead war, the people who could shut her down are all dead. When the Doctor intervenes, she blasts him with energy. He and Sally-Anne both sink into despair, but soon he comes up with a plan. Meanwhile, Mel and Banto realize that the parts of the unit exist in multiple dimensions, explaining its constant vanishing and reappearing, and the oddities with the instructions. Giving up for a bit, they swap stories, with Mel telling an inspiring story from her childhood Christmases; Banto is inspired by it and decides to try to delay the Assemblers, while Mel reluctantly admits that the story didn’t work out as well as it seems.
The Doctor gets the Questioner to let him ask a few questions, and she allows him two. Mentos forestalls him by announcing that he cannot be stumped by logical conundrums like a lesser computer, and the Doctor fishes for replacement questions. He asks about the wallpaper at 35 Jefferson Road in Woking in 1975, but Mentos finds that question simple. The Doctor then asks about his own three wishes on his 900th birthday; somehow, Mentos gets that one as well (galactic peace, better control of the TARDIS, and manageable hair). Mentos reveals that the Doctor had revealed the information to a cellmate during a subsequent adventure, and that the cellmate was also a projection of Mentos. It seems the computer really is everywhere. However, the Questioner allows Sally-Anne two questions as well. She asks what she told Banto on the night he asked her to marry him; however, Banto has a big mouth, and told many people that Sally admitted she had had breast-enhancement surgery. Ranting, Sally-Anne retorts “What doesn’t Mentos know?” The Doctor seizes on this and insists it is actually her second question. It is the only question he can’t answer, and with the end of the game, he shuts down. He disconnects the box and returns to the TARDIS.
With two minutes before the Assemblers’ deadline, Mel finds a cheat: since the shelves can’t be assembled, the Assemblers can’t know what it is supposed to look like when completed. The instructions never end; therefore they won’t have a final picture. Therefore, when the Assemblers return, they simply claim the project is complete. The Assemblers realize to their chagrin that they can’t prove Mel wrong. The TARDIS rematerializes then, and while the Assemblers go over the instructions, Mel and Banto get the shelves into the TARDIS, and dematerialize. The Assemblers realize that they’ve been beaten by organics; they conclude that this is impossible, and therefore never happened. Therefore they erase the event from memory, and get back to making furniture.
Only 25 minutes remain on the Cylinder’s deadline. Despite ongoing arguing in the TARDIS, the Doctor gets them to the fifteenth planet. The treasure is a large diamond, just lying on the ground—can it be that simple? The Doctor tries to pick it up, but it won’t budge—and a giant amoeba swallows him.
The Doctor isn’t dead. He manages to punch one of the creature’s organs, causing it to spit him out—hurting its…feelings? He realizes it can speak, and is actually quite intelligent. It’s a Jelloid, an incredibly long-lived creature; it has a contract to guard the diamond for fifty million years, of which it has completed thirty million. Unfortunately it’s quite lonely, even to the point of writing a song about its loneliness. It’s a pleasant creature, and having heard of the Cylinder’s ultimatum, it agrees to give the Doctor the diamond. However, it will need to go switch off the forcefield over the diamond—and it can’t leave its spot. After all, it’s waiting for a delivery of an entertainment center, and everyone knows that deliverymen show up as soon as you’re not ready… Sally-Anne offers to watch for the delivery while the Jelloid goes to shut off the forcefield, and it reluctantly agrees. Back on Generios One, Potikol is panicking; the Doctor only has fifteen minutes to return…
The Doctor and Mel go to the TARDIS for the Doctor to change into a clean coat, and Mel stays to set the ship for a quick departure. All four travellers are bothered by the buzzing of an insect. While they are inside, Banto and Sally-Anne argue, and Banto reveals that while he’s been courting Sally-Anne, he’s already been married. When the Doctor comes back, Sally-Anne runs into his arms.
The forcefield goes down, and Banto takes the diamond to the TARDIS while the Doctor stays to thank the Jelloid. However, the creature finds a plaque on the ground, saying that the deliveryman came and left…and the Doctor realizes the buzzing was no insect, but a fast-moving Vecton, moving too fast to see. Suddenly Banto—having watched the Doctor—manages to dematerialize the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor and Sally-Anne to face an angry Jelloid. Miffed at the thought of twenty million more years without even an entertainment center, it COULD teleport them back to Generios One, but why? They are its first company in millennia. The Doctor promises that if it sends them on their way, he will use his TARDIS and bring an entertainment center himself—within five minutes of his departure. The Jelloid agrees, and it sends them back to Generios One.
Mel furiously orders Banto to go back for the Doctor, but he knocks her off balance by asking her to marry him (causing her to lie and claim to be an android, but he doesn’t buy it). Thus the TARDIS arrives back at the council chamber just as the deadline expires. Its appearance surprises Potikol, but he accepts that Banto is the Doctor. The real Doctor and Sally-Anne arrive at the same time, and the four present the treasures to the Cylinder. The Cylinder accepts the tribute, and asks the Doctor to step forward to be rewarded; Banto claims the title, and the Doctor allows it. The Doctor insists, against Mel and Sally-Anne’s objections, that he is in fact Banto, and Banto is the one true Doctor; he kisses Sally-Anne as evidence, which convinces the Cylinder. It traps Banto—the real Banto—in a tractor beam, and admits that its real purpose was to capture the Doctor all along; the quest was just a means of identifying the Doctor. It will now place the “Doctor” in a time bubble and take him to its homeworld, Chalzon, to face its masters, the Sussyurats, and answer for his crimes. The Cylinder apologizes to the Generians and departs with Banto.
Potikol still believes that Banto was the Doctor, and tells the people that the Doctor gave up his freedom for the sake of Generios. The Doctor explains to Mel and Sally-Anne that he had figured out the truth, and let Banto be caught in his own web. Sally-Anne—saddened that the kiss wasn’t real—is called out to let the crows show its gratitude to her in the absence of the “Doctor”; after all, as the Doctor points out, for a short while she really was his companion, and handled it well. She accepts the crowd’s praise…and the ten million credits for the power crystals, of course. As the Doctor and Mel prepare to leave, he says that he’s never met the Sussyurats before, but will be sure to annoy them when he does—but first they have an entertainment center to deliver, and a game to finish…and oh yes, Banto to rescue—eventually. After all, there’s only room for the one Doctor in this universe.
And now for something completely different! Or perhaps not completely, but certainly different enough. I’m tempted to say that this story delves into what it means to be the Doctor, and talks about his identity, etc., etc., as so many stories have done…but no, it’s not really that at all. What it does give us is identity theft, of the Doctor, that is. (This may be construed as a spoiler if one only has the cover blurb to go by, but it happens early enough that I have to mention it in order to make any progress here at all.) Con artist Banto Zame impersonates the Doctor, with his fiancée Sally-Anne impersonating a companion; the story happens at an indeterminate time far in the future, further than the Doctor customarily goes (because he finds it boring), and therefore he can get by with this ruse. How exactly he does the deed that verifies his credentials before the beginning of the story—defeating the Skelloids—is not exactly described, but it can be assumed to be part of the ruse. The Doctor, of course, isn’t fooled at all.
The real draw here, of course, is the humor. It’s a serious story, in that there’s no indication that it isn’t part of the regular Big Finish universe; but the banter among the characters, and the ridiculous situations, are great fun to hear. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary, but not much; nearly everything that happens is plausible enough in the Doctor Who universe—it’s just silly. From an oddly polite, world-destroying cylinder, to a lonely single-celled monster (who really isn’t so monstrous when you get to know him), to the IKEA furniture from another dimension…this is not your average story!
The tone, as it starts out, is comparable to The Next Doctor (which, coincidentally, comes up this week in my rewatch—stay tuned!). It doesn’t take long to reveal that the “new” Doctor isn’t really; but that’s fine, because he quickly finds himself obligated to carry on the ruse, in hilarious fashion. When you build your sham reputation on solving a crisis, what happens when a real crisis comes? It doesn’t end so well for Zame, but don’t worry—no one dies in this story (well, except for the millions of residents of the planet Generios Eleven; it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without SOME wanton destruction, would it? At least the Cylinder apologizes for the destruction, before beating a hasty retreat.) Banto Zame is no Jackson Lake—he is and remains a scoundrel—but I can’t help wondering if this story helped to inspire that one. I didn’t find anything to indicate that it does, but it seems likely to me.
One surprising gem here is that this story gives us Matt Lucas’s first (and so far only) foray into Big Finish territory. Lucas is better known in recent years for playing sometime-companion Nardole in the two most recent Christmas specials, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. With his appearance here, it’s an interesting coincidence that at the time of this writing, he only appears in Christmas specials, despite multiple media. He plays two roles here: that of the main villain, the Cylinder; and that of the lonely single-celled monster I mentioned earlier, the Jelloid. I recall not caring for Lucas’s character in The Husbands of River Song, but between The Return of Doctor Mysterio and this story, I’m starting to respect his acting skills a bit more, and I look forward to future appearances. Perhaps at some point we’ll see him in Big Finish again as well.
This story is a sort of spoof on the various multi-Doctor stories, as the title may have given away; we’ve previously had The Two/Three/Four/Five/Eight/Infinity Doctors in various media, and here we get The One Doctor, which cleverly hits both beats: A multi-Doctor story, but only one Doctor. (Personally, I keep holding out for a The Thirteen Doctors, but with the recent death of Sir John Hurt and the apparent unwillingness on the part of the various productions teams to revisit the War Doctor now, I suppose it will never happen…) To this end, the two “Doctors” and their companions get shuffled and reshuffled, and there’s some funny chemistry among them. The Sixth Doctor gets a kiss (!) and Mel gets a marriage proposal…all may not be as it seems, but it works out in the end. There are some decent, Douglas Adams-style jokes in the Assemblers, minor villains who turn out to be furniture-building robots with a distaste for organic life; at one point, they realize they were beaten by organics, decide that that is simply impossible, and therefore conclude it never happened. Sorted!
Despite the humor, there are still some continuity references. The Cylinder mentions several aliases of the Doctor: John Smith (The Wheel In Space, et al), Johann Schmidt (Timewyrm: Exodus, et al), Theta Sigma (The Armageddon Factor, et al), Ka Faraq Gatri (“Bringer of Darkness”, Timewyrm: Revelation, et al), Doktor von Wer (The Highlanders), and “Snail” (Lungbarrow). Mel mentions growing up in Pease Pottage (Terror of the Vervoids). Banto mentions the Quarks (The Dominators, et al). The computer Mentos mentions logical conundrums that sometimes are employed to disable computers; this occurred previously in *The Green Death, and with less success in The Space Age. The Doctor mentions carrot juice as the cause of his good eyesight, a nod to Mel’s love for the substance in Terror of the Vervoids and The Ultimate Foe (where, by dint of Baker’s lack of a televised return, it becomes his Doctor’s final televised line). Mel mentions having the memory of an elephant, which is another running joke, appearing in Terror of the Vervoids and Time and the Rani. The Doctor says that his hair stands on end in the presence of another of his incarnations; this is also mentioned in The Light at the End. In an extra scene tacked onto the end of the final track, the Doctor and Mel celebrate Christmas together in the TARDIS, complete with snow in the console room (unfortunately). They decide to have a sherry and watch the Queen’s speech on the long-unused time-space visualizer (The Chase)…but they end up watching Queen Elizabeth the first, not the second. The queen’s speech is mimicked in The Day of the Doctor many years later, when she talks about killing the Zygon duplicate: “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman…but I have the heart of a king” becomes “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman…but at the time, so did the Zygon”. Also, there are a few meta-references: the third part of the story uses the alternate theme featured in the international version of Carnival of Monsters; and, also in the extra scene at the end, the Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish the listeners a merry Christmas, much as the First Doctor did in The Feast of Steven (The Daleks’ Master Plan). As well, there are an unusually high number of real-world references and spoofs, which I won’t get into here; for more information, check the TARDIS wiki and the Discontinuity Guide entries for this story.
Overall: This is a really good, well-constructed, light-hearted episode, and I found it enjoyable. We don’t get these stories often, and they’re usually fun. The next year would bring another, similarly-styled Christmas special with Bang-Bang-a-Boom!; but after that, Christmas specials become subscriber exclusives, and start to deviate from the comedic format. Bottom line: Enjoy it while it lasts!
Next time: We begin the second “season”, if you will, of Eighth Doctor stories in the main range; Paul McGann’s stories, at least at this early date, tend to be grouped together into arcs that were released in rapid order. Therefore, for the next six weeks, we’ll have Eighth Doctor stories on both Monday (Main Range) and Thursday (Eighth Doctor Adventures). I promise I didn’t plan it this way, but there you have it. We’ll join the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller this Thursday in Brave New Town, and the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard on Monday in Invaders from Mars! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other audio dramas may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.