Doctor Who spinoffs are an interesting bunch. An untamed beast, so to speak. They don’t have the mainstream following to keep them in check, yet they’re backed so heavily by a cult fanbase so as to explode into fruition. The prime example of this is Big Finish Productions. The company reached their 150th full-cast and entirely original monthly release only 12 years after they began producing Doctor Who audio plays, as well as a conglomerate of bonus releases, special releases, special series, Short Trips, Lost Stories, Companion Chronicles, and odd spin-offs such as Bernice Summerfield. By Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary – just fourteen years after it began producing Doctor Whos, Big Finish had released well over 350 audio plays directly related to Doctor Who.
One popular series in the Big Finish repertoire is the Lost Stories series. When Doctor Who was put on hiatus in 1985, the original Season Twenty-Three was cancelled, despite the fact that the BBC had commissioned scripts. And so, Big Finish took advantage of this. They would make full-cast audio dramas of these “lost” stories. When they ran out of lost stories to make, they turned to commissioned scripts that were never used, as well as original but unsolicited scripts that were handed to the BBC but never accepted for television production. One of these is The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance, available in a Big Finish box set of The First Doctor’s Lost Stories along with the longer, less interesting, but still solid historical adventure Farewell, Great Macedon.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance was written in 1963, when only a few episodes had aired and it was uncertain how long each story would be: An Unearthly Child had been four episodes, though essentially a one-parter followed by a three-parter, due to an alternative version of the pilot episode being included in the serial. The next serial, The Daleks, would be seven parts. When writer Moris Farhi constructed The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance, then, he chose to make it a single episode in length.
The story revolves around Barbara, who, upon the TARDIS landing on the planet of Fragrance, a utopian resort for the crew, gets caught up in the affairs of its people. When a “yellow arc of love” is created between Barbara and one of Fragrance’s people, Barbara must face the fact that she can either stay on Fragrance for the rest of her life, or bring death to the one who loves her.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is an odd combination of performance and dictation, with Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, who played Susan and Ian respectively, alternately performing their own lines and reading the lines of those who are sadly no longer with us, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill, along with a running narration. Sound effects are included for good measure, and the overall impression of the story is a seamless transition from narrator to narrator, from actor to actress, and from scene to scene.
As for the voices, Russell and Ford are inevitably sounding older than they did when they starred in Doctor Who, especially in the case of Ford. It’s strange how time takes its toll on some vocal chords, but not others. In recent Big Finish productions, Tom Baker’s voice sounds somewhat deeper but more or less the same, while Peter Davison’s, Colin Baker’s, Sylvester McCoy’s, Paul McGann’s and many of the companions’ voices are identical to their original tone, inflection and clarity.
It doesn’t jar, quite surprisingly, that Hartnell and Hill are missing from the dialogue, and their presence lives on through the story’s excellent narration by Ford and Russell, albeit not as convincingly as Frazer Hines’ impression of The Second Doctor in Prison in Space and similar Lost Stories and Companion Chronicles. The story itself is well paced and perhaps better suited to audio than to low-budget television. The conclusion seems a little rushed, but that is to be expected for a single-episode story.
Without a doubt, the best part of purchasing The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is the knowledge that, after 46 years, it reunited William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in a Doctor Who adventure as if it were on the silver screen. It’s a gem.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is available from the Big Finish website as part of the First Doctor Box Set.