We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at Short Trips Volume IV with the Fourth Doctor’s entry, The Old Rogue. Written by John Grindrod, and read by Louise Jameson, this story features the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9, with an appearance in flashback by the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
The proprietor of The Old Rogue café in Catford, Sid, muses on his life here in this little empire, when outside he hears a familiar and unwelcome sound. He watches the windows for sight of him—the alien he hates most to see. He is oblivious to the ministrations of his waitress, Katya, as he thinks for a moment about killing her, and how it would cheer him up…but his killing days appear to be over, as something in him has changed.
He is interrupted by the bell at the door, and he knows it is him. This man visits every ten years, but he is never the same; ten years ago he was a cricketer with several young people, and ten years before that he was an older and dignified man with a young woman. Today he’s an odd man with a long scarf, accompanied by a refined young woman…and a robot dog? The woman is Romana, and the dog is called K9. The man—the Doctor—spouts nonsense and places an order as he confronts Sid; and Romana says they intend to stay. The Doctor and Romana take a table and some tea as K9 waits outside. They place an order; as Sid goes to fill it, Romana asks if this is really the former galactic emperor Arkinen. Sid denies it, a bit grumpily.
The Doctor asks after Arkinen’s welfare, trying to elicit a response. Business is going well, Sid—no, Arkinen—meets them at the table, and the Doctor and Romana review his crimes; he once destroyed all life in the Helix Nebula just for kicks. However, his empire is getting along fine without him—as is his original body, now occupied by the real Sid. It seems that, forty years earlier, the Doctor punished Arkinen by transferring his consciousness into the body of a café owner named Sid—and allowing Sid to run Arkinen’s empire. Now, he has regular checkups with the Doctor, to ensure that he’s up to no mischief during his rehabilitation. However, human lifespans are shorter than those of Arkinen’s race, and he must be nearing the end of it. This enrages Arkinen, but the Doctor suddenly turns cold, reminding Arkinen that his crimes merited so much more punishment than he has received.
Arkinen thinks back on his crimes, which involved killing a huge population with a so-called “understanding device”; and he also thinks on his capture by the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon. The Second Doctor witnessed as Arkinen fired the device; but Arkinen quickly found that the Doctor had modified the device to focus on only one person—Sid, the café proprieter—instead of the entire world. Jamie then shoved him into the other end of the device’s beam…and Arkinen awoke in Sid’s body, in Catford, as a side effect of the device. Still, all’s well that ends well; Sid has redeemed Arkinen’s reputation, doing great things in the dictator’s name. Meanwhile, Arkinen sits and stews in his limitations…but he still does not feel any remores for his actions, only for getting caught.
Romana gets up to rescue K9, who in the interim has gotten into a scrap with some teenagers outside (and held his own admirably but chaotically, as well), but the Doctor stops her—they haven’t paid for their tea yet. Arkinen grumbles that it is on the house. The Doctor and Roman say goodbye and leave as Arkinen watches. Katya comes to comfort him, and he for once relishes it; perhaps these humans weren’t so bad after all, and being an emperor was such hard work.
Arkinen is surprised, however, when Katya calls him by his real name. She claims she has searched the galaxy for him, and now the Doctor has given her the confirmation she needed. She claims to be with a band of mercenaries who want his expertise in killing…and they offer to restore him to his empire of blood and fire. Arkinen takes a long moment to think, and then tells Katya that she has the wrong man…he is Sid, and this is his café.
Recently I reviewed the Fifth Doctor Main Range audio Creatures of Beauty. The hook of that story—though found at the end, as the story is non-linear—is that the Doctor never knows the true impact of his presence. That story ends gloomily, as the Doctor’s primary effect is a catastrophe. There’s something similar here, however, in that the Doctor (and Romana and K9) will never know the full effect of their presence here—but this time, the effect is one of goodness.
The story portrays the Doctor making a ten-year visit to a man named Sid, who is secretly Arkinen, a one-time galactic emperor guilty of horrendous crimes. Arkinen was unintentionally transplanted into the body of café owner Sid, who now sits on Arkinen’s throne (and does quite well with it). The Doctor is here just to check in on Arkinen’s rehabilitation; and he leaves convinced that even after four decades, the man has not changed. However, a final test, after the Doctor leaves, proves that he may just be wrong—and happily so.
I’m heavily reminded of a story that I haven’t covered yet, but will eventually: Joshua Wanisko’s Forever Fallen, the winner of the first Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity. That story also features the Doctor (the Seventh, along with Ace, to be precise) making regular visits to a former tyrant in a new life, and conducting the visits in a café. Where this story only gives us one visit, that one gives us several, spread over several years, and so we get to see the growth of the character. In the end, the stakes are different, and the ending is not immediately happy—but the payoff is much greater. I’m not trying to insinuate that one story is better than the other; both are great, and I think that they’re worth your time (a collective 45 minutes will get you through both, and Forever Fallen is available for free from Big Finish’s site). While I’m in no way suggesting that it’s plagiarism or any such thing, I wonder if the author of Forever Fallen was inspired by this story.
I always find it a little strange to hear Louise Jameson voice stories that don’t involve Leela. I understand that it’s a matter of who is available for the recording, but it strikes me as odd to hear Leela’s voice applied to Romana’s lines, and doubly so given that I know that both Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward appear in the Gallifrey series. Still, she’s quite practiced now at these audios, and this one is well done. Really I have nothing to complain about here.
Continuity references: Arkinen remembers previous visits of the Doctor, including the Fifth along with a “group of sulky teenagers”, which could be any combination of Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough (or even possibly Peri and Erimem, though I wouldn’t have used the word “group” with just two of them), placing that visit nearly anytime in the Fifth Doctor’s run. He also mentions “a tall chap in velvet,” with “a dizzy dolly bird”; this must be the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, placing that visit between Terror of the Autons and Planet of the Spiders. In a flashback, we see the Second Doctor and Jamie; if they were traveling alone, as it appears, then this would have taken place either during the comic era between Fury from the Deep and The Wheel in Space, or during the hypothetical “Season 6B” after The War Games. The Doctor also mentions having met Torquemada; this may be a reference to the Missing Adventures novel Managra, though I haven’t read it, and therefore can’t be sure (the description found on the TARDIS wiki page isn’t clear enough to say). However, in that story, the Fourth Doctor mentions having met Torquemada once before, in his first incarnation along with Steven and Vicki, in The Empire of Glass. (This may be the incident to which the Doctor refers here, as well.)
Overall: A pretty good entry. I like these quiet, thoughtful stories, in which it’s less about action and more about the individuals. This story is a good example of that type of adventure—if you want to call it an adventure. I do think there’s potential for the character of Arkinen to appear again, and wouldn’t mind it, though to my knowledge he does not.
Next time: We’ll check in with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa in The Lions of Trafalgar! 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.