Written by Nigel Robinson
Directed by John Ainsworth
Susan Foreman is finding her place at Coal Hill School. She is growing close to a young man named Cedric. But suspicion falls on Susan and her grandfather as teenagers begin hunting anyone different . . .or alien.
“It’s all in the beat.”
Note: Even though this is a First Doctor story, this review contains spoilers for series seven’s “The Name of the Doctor.” If you don’t want to be spoiled, read until the paragraph with the 50th anniversary logo next to it.
I go in to pre-“An Unearthly Child” stories with a large amount of skepticism. The inherent logic involved in story telling is that the story begins at the most-interesting starting point. Anything prior to this point may be relevant to the plot, but if it were essential to it, the story would have started earlier. Based on the basic premise of Doctor Who, we aren’t supposed to start with his origin. There would be no mystery if we did. As a result, any story taking place prior to the show’s beginning is filtered through 50 years of mythology, and these stories must walk a fine line, holding in tension the mystery of the character at this point without revealing too much later mythology that developed.
And it needs to be good, something special. I am personally in favor of visiting this period as little as possible and reserving such visits for writers who can tell exceptional stories. Many of the stories from this period of the show do not really contribute much to the Doctor Who mythology, nor are they distinctly Hartnell in feel. So far, “Quinnis” is my favorite because Marc Platt is able to capture the feel of the First Doctor while providing some great world-building and character moments.
“Hunters of Earth” is set during the Coal Hill days of Doctor Who—a period of the Doctor’s life that the show only covers in one episode. The problem with setting a story here is that it gives the Doctor too much to do, risks him exposing his presence when he is explicitly trying to remain anonymous. And so, in order to give us a story in which the Doctor keeps a low profile but still has a mystery to solve, Nigel Robinson gives us a story that isn’t terribly compelling. I tend to find Robinson hit or miss, but I admit I haven’t read anything of his work in over ten years. Of recent experience I have this story and “Farewell Great Macedon,” which was an adaptation he did for Big Finish of Moris Farhi’s unfilmed script. That story was excellent, but how much can be attributed to Farhi and how much to Robinson?
“Hunters of Earth” is in the style of The Companion Chronicles line, but it is in the third person rather than the first. It is narrated by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), and deals with her attempts to integrate into Coal Hill. We are given nice moments between her and the Doctor in which she is able to influence him to be more considerate. I especially appreciate that the story is has a couple of science fiction elements, but is largely historical. We don’t have an alien invasion at Coal Hill or anything like that. Everything is kept low key, and even the characters who suspect Susan and the Doctor are not of Earth are few and willing to keep the secret. It is an interesting story which attempts to not overshadow the beginning of Doctor Who. It keeps things quiet. Unfortunately, it is this unassuming nature which is both a blessing and a curse. It doesn’t insist that the Doctor’s story begins here, but neither does it capture you and make you think it was a great experience.
Of course, I suppose the same could be said of any of Doctor Who’s secondary canon. Why bother? If it was so important, we would have got it already. Fair enough. Many Doctor Who fans only want to look forward, not back. They don’t want or need new stories with previous Doctors. They are happy with what the show gave them. For my part, I like the Companion Chronicles, and I am particularly drawn to the First Doctor stories because this era gives me something no other era does—straight historicals. It is a part of the First Doctor era, one that I would love to see brought back just because I love history and love learning about “real history” (i.e. aliens were not behind historical events). But I also like the different approach to science fiction in the 1960s. It was a time of optimism and anything could happen. In the First Doctor’s era you truly didn’t know where you would be transported to from story to story (in some cases, from week to week). And so, while “Hunters of Earth” isn’t a particularly compelling story, I’m happy it was made and I will listen to it again.
Two more points of contention. First, I didn’t particularly enjoy the in-jokes, primarily the “my dear Doctor, you have been naïve” joke. This line is particularly associated with the Master, and having a character utter this completely misleads the plot development. For a moment I was ecstatic as I contemplated a confrontation between the First Doctor and the Master. (And really, how awesome would that be? Harnell’s crotchety, irritable Doctor against a Delgado-style Master would have been wonderful. Think of the insults! The witticisms!) When I discovered this was merely a joke, I was completely taken out of the story.
Second, “Hunters of Earth” is part of the larger Destiny of the Doctor line, which is a series of eleven audiobooks commissioned for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. As such, they attempt to weave an arc through the eleven stories that will pay off with the Eleventh Doctor. I like this idea. I think it is an interesting opportunity. I can’t speak for whether or not it works because I haven’t listened to all of them yet (indeed, I only have the first three), but so far the extent seems to be the Eleventh Doctor contacting his former selves and offering a clue for their current crisis. I’m not sure this is the opportunity I wanted to see. I think what I wanted, but never saw, was what Steven Moffat implied (and failed to deliver in a satisfying way) in “The Name of the Doctor,” namely an Eleventh Doctor villain who is attempting to destroy the Doctor in different time periods. Sure, this would be difficult to accomplish in eleven stories, but I think it could be done by coming up with a compelling villain with a distinct method for operating, then placing symbols or symbolic plots throughout the different stories (which also serve to fill in the back story), culminating with the Eleventh Doctor being victorious. It would be complex; it would need a lot of coordination, but it would be a lot of fun.
Instead, I fear these will turn out to be standalone stories that may be loosely connected rather than essentially connected. Granted, anyone who has kept current with the releases may see if I am completely wrong.
On another note, how cool would it have been if Destiny of the Doctor set up something in The Day of the Doctor? Or of Clara’s splintering through time happened in these stories and the Great Intelligence took different guises in the Doctor’s past as Clara did. Missed opportunities.
Bottom line, “Hunters of Earth” may prove forgettable, but if you are a First Doctor nut (as I am) it is a perfectly average story. Nothing amazing, but nothing horrible. Since there are a lot of 50th anniversary releases to get this year, pick it up through digital download to save yourself some money.