The First Man – A Review of Big Finish’s Entanglement

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Image Credit: Big Finish (Fair Use)

Image Description: The cover of Entanglement

By James Ashworth

Entanglement by name, entanglement by nature. Released in November 2018, Entanglement is the penultimate story of the fifth series of The Early Adventures, the Main Range analogue for the First and Second Doctors. Starring Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien, it sees the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki arrive in Cambridge, immediately becoming involved in university politics at a range of scales…

While the last Early Adventure that I listened to, Domain of the Voord, seemed more geared towards portraying what a First Doctor adventure could have been, given sufficient budget, Entanglement succeeds by showing what it would have been, doing well at capturing the spirit of the era. The team are separated from the TARDIS in a somewhat contrived fashion (it gets stuck on top of a wall), while the First Doctor effortlessly bluffs his way into society as a supposed visiting fellow from King’s Lynn. This feeling is only heightened by the performance of Peter Purves, who excels not only as Steven but also as the Doctor. He captures the cadence of Hartnell perfectly, so much so that even though the timbre is slightly off, it really does seem like an off-air recording of a missing episode. Meanwhile, the setting of Sedgwick College is such that it really feels like it could’ve been filmed on those small sets at the back of Lime Grove. As a recreation of the era, it’s hard to fault the audio at all.

However, the story is also aware that over half a century has passed since the end of the Hartnell era, and so there’s a few new touches in play. The story is firmly a celebrity pseudohistorical, where a Cambridge on the eve of war is full of alien technology. Meanwhile, Kim Philby and Guy Burgess appear as major characters, though their surnames aren’t given, with various hints about secret activities and conversations with a Soviet professor. While listeners are unlikely to be overly concerned today, it’s unlikely that Soviet double agents would be featured on the BBC at any point during the era, let alone as the heroes. There’s even some LGBTQ+ representation in the story, something else the era was unlikely to have addressed. These features help make the story perhaps more digestible to anyone with limited experience of the First Doctor, but without sacrificing the core components of the time – it’s a difficult balancing act, but authors Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky manage it with ease. 

While it may be easy to dismiss as a wish-fulfilling Shada prequel, Entanglement sits up there alongside stories like Steve Lyons’s 1998 novel The Witch Hunters as prime examples of how to write the First Doctor properly, without compromising on what defined the era as a whole. It manages to succeed in this in so many ways that Twice Upon A Time did not, and so is, in some ways, the perfect tonic for it. It’s certainly made me more interested in seeking out more of The Early Adventures, which I look forward to listening to.

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