TV Older fans of Doctor Who always seem to have war stories about episodes missed, stories for which they’d only know the conclusion after reading the TARGET novelisation or even watching it in some home format sought illicitly. Usually this was due to some family holiday, birthday party at an ITV watching household or power cuts, at a time when the show, at least in its complete form, would be shown once. So if you missed episode four of The Art in Space, you’d have little to no idea of how the Wrrn were defeated.
Death Comes To Time was my version of that. Still is, and moreso since I’ve never seen or heard the conclusion. When it first began streaming online, I was still accessing the internet via a very shaky dial-up connection via a telephone line I only had limited access to due to the vagaries of BT’s surftime package, but I still managed to work my way through the pilot episode, the one originally created for broadcast in Radio 4 by producer Dan Freedman even though it was pretty clear, pretty quickly, the commissioners didn’t want it despite the cast and format.
It’s fair to say, having just heard Storm Warning, my appreciation levels were low. This might have been called Doctor Who and had actual Doctor Who actors in it, most of the time it felt like the work of someone who’d fundamentally misunderstood what the show was about, or worse, was simply rewriting the thing to bend it around some other idea they’d had. Plus, as I noted when I sent a comment to the BBC’s website about the thing, what was the point now that Big Finish were already creating such wonderful things? Why hadn’t they been commissioned? They were later.
That was in July 2001. By 2002, the website had commissioned Freedman to complete his story and that was uploaded between February and May 2002. I didn’t listen. Having been unimpressed with the pilot and now full ensconced in the Eighth Doctor stories from Big Finish, plus working in Manchester so with even less free time due to commuting, somewhere along the line, rather like Neil Cross's attitude to nuWho at the start it seems (see this month's DWM), it fell to the bottom of my list of priorities. It doesn’t seem to have even ranked a mention this blog though oddly, I did post a link to it on Metafilter, more as a service than anything.
All of which is of course different to Terror of the Zygons, which until recently was the only televised story I hadn’t seen. I’d missed that first time around because I was only a one year old and not really interested in anything more than long periods of eerie silence, I hear, designed to frighten the life out of my parents, along with the usual baby stuff. I didn’t know what language was let alone that it could be bent around to create exciting adventures around Scottish lochs. I’d always wanted to see Terror of the Zygons but kept putting it off. Death Comes To Time is entirely dissimilar.
At a certain point, I remember thinking I’d come back to it, but unlike the other subsequent webcasts it was fairly quickly removed from the website and expunged from history, so I missed that window. Subsequent CD and MP3-CD releases (remember them?) passed me by too due to the expense. Part of me was, I think, gripped by that strange fan anger and loyalty that with Big Finish creating such authentic material, I didn’t want to support "whoever these people were with their distorted garbage".
Just as a side note, I wasn’t the only one purposefully not listening to Death Comes to Time. When Real Time, Big Finish’s attempt at a webcast was released later that same year, its writer director, one Gary Russell, gave a very diplomatic interview in which he admits to also only having heard the pilot episode for reasons of then not being able to comment on them either way. But he did hear the pilot episode, so he must have had some opinion of it. He doesn’t give it. Instead he talks about how it simply let him see how the animation was done (with due notation that he's less diplomatic in this month's DWM).
Ten years later, I’ve a cooler head about it, but it still doesn’t mean I’d want to hear it. I quite like the idea that, as with the older fans who for ages only had the Radio Times 10th Anniversary special and their imaginations as a way of accessing some of the older stories, that I only have the fragment I’ve picked up from reviews and Ahistory (which makes a broad attempt at trying to fit it into continuity), with their outlandish talk of Ace becoming some higher being, the Brigadier flying a space shuttle and the Doctor making some supreme sacrifice.
None of which really makes much sense when I’ve sat through all six episodes of The Ghosts of N-Space, another cautionary tale from the spin-off universe that’s even worse than Timelash, which did at least have Paul Darrow. Perhaps I do still have some deep seated, sub-conscious anger that anyone could even think about creating a Doctor Who continuation that disregards the many years of other continuity created in the meantime culminating the crime of apparently trying to write the Eighth Doctor out of existence.
Perhaps at some point I will, perhaps, if I see it randomly on sale in some charity shop or cheaper than the usual thirty pounds on ebay. In theory I should do it as part of my attempt to watch and listen to all of broadcast Doctor Who before the 50th anniversary, which will (time permitting) no doubt take in Real Time, Shada and Scream of the Shalka, especially since the latter is meriting a dvd release. I’ll be “doing” Dimensions in Time and The Curse of the Fatal Death as well, for goodness sake. Death Comes To Time? Death comes to sense, more like…