The 1963 trilogy from Big Finish is a wonderfully unique tribute to Doctor Who in its 50th anniversary years. With this loosely linked series of stories, Doctor Who venerates the year of its birth rather than its fictitious history.
Taking important events and moment from the year that gave us the greatest television show ever created, Big Finish start off with the Fifth Doctor in 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men. The Doctor takes Nyssa to see The Beatles play at the height of their fame but soon discovers that something is very wrong indeed. The adoring crowd waiting to greet the band aren’t waiting for the Fab Four at all, in fact no one has ever heard of them. The name on everybody’s lips is The Common Men, which is completely wrong.
It’s a strong and powerful start to have the Doctor trying to save The Beatles, the band that, during our introduction to the First Doctor on the television screens of Great Britain, were experiencing Beatlemania – a craze for John, Paul, George and Ringo that caused uproar all over the world. In fact, after the Daleks first appeared in The Daleks, the phrase Dalekmania was used to describe how big the Doctor Who phenomenon had got. The parallels between The Greatest Band Of All Time and The Greatest Television Show Of All Time could be talked about all day.
But it’s the story that’s the real gem here; of course the performances by the regular cast are, as ever, wonderful. The Common Men, Mark, James and Corky are all wonderfully realised with echoes of their real life counterparts shining through and the incidental music for the story is too tasty for words.
But it has to be said that Eddie Robson is obviously a man who knows the Beatles well. Or at the very least it has to be said that Eddie Robson is a man who knows how to research the Beatles amazingly well. Because rather than simply dumping a load of exposition into the story regarding how similar The Common Men are to The Beatles, Robson paints vivid alternatives by drawing on The Beatles documented adventures and experiences. Their humble beginnings, their rise to fame and power, their gluttony, their greed, the arguments and their power as a collective rather than as three separate beings. It’s woven into the story of 1963: Fanfare of the Common Men and its all the more powerful for it. The Beatles went from a tenacious group of go getters to some of the most influential men in the world overnight, Robson not only embraces that but uses it to push this adventure forward whilst creating a strange and unnerving glimpse into an alternative timeline where we never got to experience the works of McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr.
But all is made well in the end and Robson even manages to take one of the greatest urban legends of the Beatles and turn it into a reasonable Doctor Who style piece of history.
Written by Eddie Robson and starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton, 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men is available this month on CD or via download from www.bigfinish.com.