Image Credit: Sam Sheppard
Image Description: Cybermen action figures
James Ashworth reviews a couple of Big Finish’s contributions to Liz Shaw
As a companion, Liz Shaw is one of many firsts. She’s the first companion in colour, and the first of the Third Doctor. She was only present for a series, yet has an extensive spinoff collection, including appearances in novels and various BBV Productions. Of course, the spinoff kings are Big Finish, and as such, we’ll be taking a look at two of Liz’s appearances for them – The Blue Tooth and The Sentinels of the New Dawn – both featuring Caroline John.
The Blue Tooth leans towards the technical side of the Pertwee era, where technology is under the microscope. In this story, presumably inspired by the eponymous technology, the name is taken rather literally, and as such a dentist is busy converting people into Cybermen. Pertwee never came up against the Cybermen – his Doctor didn’t even see the Cyberman cameo in Carnival of Monsters – and The Blue Tooth plays them up, putting them in pride of place on the cover. Here, they’re pretty good value for money, and manage to put a new spin on a Cybermen tale, even if the voices used are closer to the new series than those of The Invasion or Revenge of the Cybermen.
As anyone who will have listened to them will testify, Big Finish Cybermen stories account for the lack of visuals with quite visceral body horror, and is no exception, providing squirm-inducing lines for the hardened listener. The style of the Companion Chronicles suits this particularly well, giving more of an insight into the character’s feelings and making the reaction that more powerful. However, it is also something of a drawback for combat scenes, especially with Liz being generally removed from the action, and so the ending of the story is a bit of an expository mess. On the whole, however, especially being from the first batch of the series, it’s a pretty good incentive to listen to more.
The Sentinels of the New Dawn embraces the more Bond-ian aspects of the Pertwee era, with a story comprising boat and helicopter chases, with secret bases to boot. Being from later in the Chronicles and the wider Big Finish world, it also has more continuity to contend with, in this case acting as a prequel to a Lost Stories release, Leviathan. While it’s not necessary to have listened to this story, as was the case with me, I do wonder if you would get more out of it having done so, particularly at the ending. A jump to the twenty-first century provides a broadly successful insight into how the most establishment of Doctors responds to populist politics, though the short length of the story never gives it room to expand like a Main Range release such as The Fearmonger. It also does a nice line in worldbuilding, with one revelation being that Tanganyika still exists in this time, even if the accent is perhaps a step too far for Caroline John. That’s not too say her accents aren’t good otherwise–she does a good brummie, though her Third Doctor is maybe a little quiet. Arguably, this provides a counterpoint to the bombastic nature of the rest of the story, which, while not necessarily inspired, is entertaining enough.
Together, both stories help to capture the Pertwee era, be it the dream of the advanced near-future or conspiracies in a bureaucratic world. While I would advocate The Blue Tooth over The Sentinels of the New Dawn, their short length means neither overstays their welcome, and so are worth a listen if you come across them.