1963: Fanfare for the Common Men (2013)

Big Finish’s build up to the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who starts off with a series of stories that have 1963 as a theme. The first story is written by Eddie Robson who is a writer that I think has had a mixed run. When he’s good he’s on ‘Memory Lane’ form but when he’s bad he’s on ‘Industrial Evolution’ form. It’s not the first time that music and Doctor Who have collided. The most memorable was ‘Doctor Who and the Pirates’ back in 2003 which I enjoyed and then there was ‘Horror of Glam Rock’ in 2007 and then there was ‘The Ultimate Adventure’. It’s not necessarily a guarantee that this was going to work but two words. Open mind.

The story sees the Doctor and Nyssa arrive in a 1963 where the Beatles aren’t the massive band that they should be and it a group called the Common Men are just as popular. It’s a nice mystery as to who has changed things. The story is complicated somewhat when the Doctor and Nyssa become separated by time this allows them to do the one is ahead of the other in the same timeline. I like how a great deal of effort is made to make the Common Men appear just as big as the Beatles and even the  ‘bigger than jesus’ line that John Lennon used in 1966. There is also the theory about Paul McCartney being replaced used here.

The thing about this story is that it starts off in quite light hearted  manner but then after the second episode starts it seems to shift in tone and becomes the sort of story that Eddie Robson is good at writing. The truth about what’s going on is quite a fun explanation. The aliens/baddies are a bunch of hypnotised alien from Bional. The aliens feed of power and fame and the Beatles were the biggest band ever and so that would be an all you can eat buffet. The moment when its revealed that the Common Men are actually alien is something that was revealed earlier than I thought it would be. I’m not saying that I saw it coming because I didn’t but it wasn’t a big surprise really.

One of the big names in this is Mitch Benn who many will know from the BBC Radio 4 comedy ‘The Now Show’ amongst many things. He was having to do a Liverpudlian accent and half the time I was expecting him to say “Thomas had been a very naughty engine”. His role in the story is very good and he’s a strong presence in the story. The other members of the common men were also good additions to the story. Andrew Knott & David Dobson do a good job in complimenting Benn’s performance and I believed that they were three guys from Liverpool that have becoming the biggest group on Earth.

I like how they have decided to go with the 5thDoctor and Nyssa as I think that this is a strong combination and Nyssa is a companion that can always deliver. In fact both Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton deliver sound performances despite being separated for so long. As much as I have enjoyed the Nyssa/Tegan/Turlough adventures over the last few years, I am relieved to have the Doctor work with just one companion as opposed to three. It’s always good to see Nyssa out of her depth as she has to submerse herself with a group of liverpudlians.

The final scene is brilliant as it ties up to the very first story in Doctor Who. The Common Men were the name of a band mentioned in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ and this feels like a lovely bit of continuity which would have seemed obvious to someone else but to me it was a nice surprise and it’s the sort of thing that works quite well. Fanfare for the Common Men is definitely Eddie Robson back on fine form. It was a nice balance of fun and drama and it’s a good start to the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

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