Before I start the reviews of the second series of Doctor Who, I’ll take you on a brief detour.
Obviously for a series like Doctor Who, which has gone on for so long, there are plenty of stories that were planned but never made. Some of these – like Bryan Hayles’ idea for Doctor Who and The Nazis – never got past the ‘rough idea’ stage, but others went a lot further. In some cases, the scripts were fully written up before they were ultimately abandoned.
One such example is Farewell Great Macedon – a 6 part story about the demise of Alexander the Great by Moris Farhi – which was originally commissioned to take place during season 1.
Thankfully, the scripts for this still exist and so Big Finish have converted it into an audio drama starring the two surviving members of the original cast – William Russell & Carole Ann Ford.
How do they get passed the fact that William Hartnell & Jacqueline Hill are no longer with us? Easily. Russell and Ford play their own parts and then narrate the majority of the others. The only other member of cast is John Dorney, who plays the part of Alexander.
So, here’s the review…
Doctor Who – Farewell Great Macedon Review: What’s This One About?
As you might have guessed, this is a historical adventure in which the Doctor and his companions meet Alexander the Great.
As Alexander and his army reach the gates of Babylon, some members of his party plan to usurp him for their own personal gain. Before they can get rid of Alexander though, they must dispatch the three generals of his army who have
already been chosen as his successors.
Naturally, the travellers end up taking the fall for at one point and are made to take various challenges to prove themselves. The Doctor must walk across burning coals, while Ian must wrestle for his life in sporting combat.
All the while, Barbara knows exactly what is going to happen because the events that transpire actually did take place.
There; I don’t think I spoiled much.
As I’ve written above, this story was supposed to take place during the first series back in 1963/4. It was actually written by Farhi while Marco Polo was being shown on TV, and you can see the similarities between them immediately.
- The TARDIS lands somewhere mysterious that turns out to be somewhere on Earth? Check. While in Marco Polo they land atop the Himalayas, in this story they land in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
- The TARDIS has some kind of malfunction that means they are stranded there until the Doctor can fix it? Check. In this case, the TARDIS has run out of fuel and so the Doctor must fix it by using some kind of basic sciencey type stuff to extract fuel from the soil. To be honest, I can’t remember what exactly he did and can’t really be arsed checking.
- The Travellers meet a well known and powerful historical figure in charge of his own group of travellers? Check.
- At some point they get on the bad side of this historical figure but eventually win him over again? Check.
All fairly standard stuff for the era.
Where it differs to other historical stories (most notably the Aztecs) is in regards to the changing of history and how the main characters approach it.
As we saw in the Aztecs, Barbara decides to try and change the way the Aztec civilisation operate in an attempt to save them. The Doctor and Ian meanwhile try their best to assure her that she can’t do such a thing.
In this story however, the roles have been reversed. Barbara knows exactly what is going to happen. She knows that Alexander’s generals will all meet their doom and finally, once they get back to Babylon, Alexander himself will die. The Doctor and Ian believe they can change history and try to save each of the generals before their death.
When the second of the generals – Calamus – is poisoned by a the conspirators, the Doctor attempts a blood transfusion to save him. When Alexander is on his death bed, the Doctor instructs Ian to build an Iron Lung for him. In both cases history sorts itself out and both do die as it was written, but the fact remains that the Doctor tried to save them.
So certainly it would be interesting to have seen the road down which Doctor Who had travelled if this story had been broadcast instead of the Aztecs.
In terms of the acting, there are only three people to comment on. William Russell is still sounding good for a man his age, and does a nice job of performing different parts with different styles of voice. Of course, he sounds older than when he was in Doctor Who – it was 47 years ago and he’s now 86 – but he is still very much up to the task. Actually, it’s amazing to think that Russell now is a whole 30 years older than William Hartnell when he had the part of Doctor Who. Poor old Hartnell really didn’t look all that good for a guy in his 50s.
Carole Ann Ford unsurprisingly spends the least amount of time playing her own character – Susan – and instead focuses more on playing Barbara. That’ll be because Susan would have had practically nothing to do once again. I can’t say that surprises me. But, much like Russell, she does a good job here acting out the different parts.
The star performer though is John Dorney as Alexander. Unlike Ford and Russell, Dorney plays just one part, and he plays it with real conviction and emotion. I imagine if he’s a fan of Doctor Who that he modelled his performance on Mark Eden’s portrayal of Marco Polo. There are certainly similarities.
Without Dorney, I think this story would suffer a lot. At three and a half hours long it certainly isn’t something you would want to listen to in one sitting, and if that length of time was spent listening only to Russell and Ford going back and forth, I think it would struggle. So Dorney must be given a lot of credit.
Credit too must be given to the sound department at Big Finish. You really get the feeling you are listening to a story made in the first series of Doctor Who. Sound defines TV shows in my opinion. It doesn’t determine whether something is good or bad of course (though terrible incidental music can ruin a TV show, like it did for the 7th Doctor story Paradise Towers) but it does define it. Maybe its just me, but when I think of the early JNT era of Doctor Who – especially his first and Tom Baker’s last season – the first thing that comes to mind is the music.
The point of this is that if Big Finish played some incongruous sound effects and incidental music over this it wouldn’t feel right. Instead they compose music and sound effects based upon that heard in Series 1. It works wonderfully and really adds to the experience.
Should You Listen To Farewell Great Macedon?
If you are a fan of this era of Doctor Who, then this is like a new and undiscovered story for you to listen to. It sounds authentic and it is well performed.
Yes, it runs for quite a long time, but if you listen to one episode a day then that would not represent a problem.
Doctor Who – Farewell Great Macedon Review: Should This Story Have Been Made?
This is a completely different type of question to answer then whether or not you should listen to it. Clearly if this was to have been made, it would have replaced one of two stories – The Aztecs or the Reign of Terror.
If it had replaced the Aztecs, it would have changed Doctor Who forever. The story about ‘You can’t change history; not one line’, which is still being felt to this day in Doctor Who, would never have happened. The Doctor himself tried to change history and unlike Barbara in the Aztecs, you didn’t leave with the impression that he’d learnt his lesson.
And if it had replaced the Reign of Terror, it just wouldn’t have worked particularly well. The changing history part wouldn’t have been included and so you’d just be left with the travellers observing history without being in any danger themselves for 6 weeks. That wouldn’t have been particularly exciting. And it would have just seemed like Marco Polo Lite.
So while the story itself is good, it wasn’t a very good fit for the series as it turned out. As such, the commissioners probably made the correct decision by not making it.
But hey, as I say, give it a listen.