Freedom

Books This is one of my favourite ever Doctor Who stories. It's not a television story, a Big Finish production or even a radio play. It is a short text story but in an audio adaptation and it's one of the most epic narratives the series has ever produced in any media, featuring nothing less than the destruction of Earth's timeline and the possibile betrayal of the human race by The Doctor. And it's just twenty minutes long.

Freedom was written by Steve Lyons and originated in the BBC Short Trips anthologies which were published by the BBC in the late 90s. Somewhere along the line, as audio books became more popular, BBC Audio decided that a talking version of some of the stories should appear and hired no less that Nicholas Courtney and Sophie Aldred to read them. Around this time, before Big Finish, they were experimenting with the format. Other works included Paul McGann reading other Short Trips and the novelisation of the tv movie and Out of the Darkness, a cd with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as The Doctor and Peri with sections which were dramatised and as close to new recorded Who as anyone could have imagined.

Freedom's different. It's weird.

In Courtney's whispered brogue we're introduced to a construct, a prison in space. I imagine it looks something like the cube in the film Cube. Within The Third Doctor and Jo Grant are prisoners and have seemingly been there for quite some time. Slowly a series of flashbacks reveal a series of miscalculations and a trap set by, oh yes, The Master to lure his foe and Jo into captivity. As the story is meticulously revealed, it sounds entirely mad.

The listener is meant to believe that The Master, just in case he is ever captured whilst he'd noodling on Earth, set up a corporation called 'Freedom' some thirty years before as a front to create a time machine or weapon and develop a cloned body for him to inhabit so that he can lure The Doctor into his trap. It's totally ludicrous and illogical but make sense within the structure of the story and importantly sounds like exactly the kind of mad scheme he would develop, and no less bonkers than most of the things which happened during the Pertwee era.

Being a Steve Lyons adventure, it smells entirely authentic. There are scenes when the pomposity of The Doctor and autocracy of The Brigadier clash perfectly as Jo looks on with a mixture of confusion and boredom. You can almost see the balsa wood paneling of the room in which a press conference takes place. Even the aforementioned moment when The Doctor is placed in the situation of having to choose between Earth and freedom seems plausible -- and the Third Doctor is I think the only incarnation were we aren't quite sure of his motives.

All of which sounds like it could make a really good short story, which begs the question of why I've selected the audio. Because it's atmospheric, soothing and more importantly unique. During the scenes in which The Doctor and Jo are trapped in the prison cell the prose takes a back seat and the story becomes a mini-play with Nick Courtney essaying the role of the Doctor and, good lord, Sophie Aldred playing Jo Grant. And it's uncanny.

There's a certain weirdness because all over the rest of the story Courtney reads in Jo's dialogue with a slightly feminine inflection, but it's the only place in the whole audiobook in which this happens. Worth highlighting because, although I've never been a big fan of Aldred's work, here she actually gives a great little performance with the few lines she's given to read, including the moment late on when we hear an internal dialogue with herself about whether she believes the Doctor can throw out his principals.

I can't wait for the audio releases of the next group of Nu-Who books because it'll allow the experience of David Tennant doing his Rose Tyler (perhaps I should rephrase that) but I don't think that will be as interesting or unusual as Freedom or the other stories on offer here. My second favourite is Stop The Pigeon, in which Sophie gives Sylvester McCoy's accent her best shot or Glass which is a sequel to Shada of all things read in first person mockney.

All of these stories are now available on the Tales from the Tardis cds with Freedom on Volume One.

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