Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/8/13 on another forum:
Blurb: The TARDIS materialises in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, in the year 323 BC. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet Alexander the Great – but their excitement is tempered by the realisation that these are the final days of Alexander's life. As the travellers become embroiled in the tragic events, the inevitability of history unfolds around them.
But can they – and should they – change it?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama with narration. Adapted from an unmade television script. Published by Big Finish Productions and released November 2010 in a box with The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.
Setting: Earth: Babylon, Macedonian Empire from May to June 13, 323 BC.
Continuity: The exact placement of this story is hard to discern. Morris Fahri wrote the script while Marco Polo was on the air and therefore was not aware of some of the lore that would eventually be placed into the series. It is a certainty that if this story had been made that it would have been greatly edited to account for these details. As the story stands, it seems to greatly contradict the events of the Aztecs. As an untelevised adventure it could have been relegated to an alternate universe adventure, but The Library of Alexandria refers to the events of this story. We are therefore forced to conclude that Big Finish has accepted this story as part of established canon.
With that established the placement of the story needs to be determined. The original TARDIS crew only has three gaps - between Marco Polo and The Keys of Marinus, between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants, and between Planet of Giants and Invasion of the Daleks. While the Marco Polo/Keys of Marinus gap would seem to be the shortest because Ian is still wearing his clothes from Marco Polo in Keys of Marinus this would make to be the most fitting gap for this story. Ian and Barbara show a startling ignorance of time travel here and Susan even has to explain to them that they can't change history. If they'd already gone through the events of The Aztecs, they would know this already. This also fits with the time when Fahri was writing the story so it makes sense that he imagined the characters proceeding into this story from that gap. I place more importance on these character knowledge details then on what clothes Ian is wearing. For instance, Masters of Luxor indicates that it follows on immediately after this story and Ian is forced to change his clothes there. This might explain why he is back in his Marco Polo clothes again by the time they experience the events of Keys of Marinus as they may have been the only clothes close at hand when the ship landed.
Canonicity Quotient: Several stories refer to the Doctor meeting Alexander the Great, but none refer to specific details of the story (see Robot and The Crystal Bucephalus). The closest reference is in The Library of Alexandria where Ian refers to Alexander and Ptolemy as their friends. Ian references having met Alexander in The Time Museum but his memory is being interfered with in that story, so the exact details seem unlikely. For instance, there is no indication in Farewell Great Macedon that Alexander ever teaches him how to ride a horse. Unfortunately this story directly contradicts so much of the surrounding material that it makes it almost impossible to reconcile with anything around it. Placing the story before the Aztecs helps explain the characters' ignorance but here the Doctor even tries to save the lives of Ptolemy and Alexander, which makes no sense from the first Doctor's standpoint that you can't change history. The time travelers also leave various artefacts behind as gifts for Alexander. Susan here is the one explaining that you can't change history but her explanation as to why that happens does not gel with anything that we have ever been told in Doctor who before. Here Barbara is the one who seems resigned to letting history take its course while Ian is the one who is determined to change it, which is a direct reversal from their points of view in The Aztecs. Susan and Doctor express a belief in a very Earth-like universe with a god and heaven, which seems to be a direct contradiction to everything we know about their culture. As a result, I have to say that while the Doctor likely did meet with Alexander the events are very different from what is described here. 0.35
Discussion: I went into this set with high expectations. I had listened through all the Companion Chronicles for the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan and thought that before moving on I should listen to the Lost Stories with that same team. First up was the First Doctor Box Set containing Farewell Great Macedon and the Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.
My thoughts on Farewell Great Macedon were that the format made it very difficult to get into. This may be because I had just been so immersed in the Companion Chronicles but the way that they jumped between narrating in 3rd person and speaking their lines was confusing. I would prefer either straight narration or doing a full cast audio. This half-and-half approach just seems disjointed and I'm disappointed that the Early Adventures series is going to follow this format.
The other problem was in the manner at which the parts were allocated. One would think with this format that each actor would be assigned certain roles. Instead we find Ford and Russell exchanging roles from time-to-time, something which I am sure was done to help share the load at various points when it might be all of one of them or the other but which also felt kind of disjointed. I recognize that Russell would have had a lot of voices to do but I wonder why John Dorney wasn't pressed into service to do more voices than just Alexander. His performance in the other story on this set shows that he has range and maybe having one of the conspirators voiced by someone else would have given Russell a bit of a break.
As always the regulars are amazing and do a wonderful job of portraying the missing Doctor and Barbara. Russell also does a fantastic job giving a distinct portrayal to Alexander's generals, although Collannis made me cringe not because of poor performance but because of stereotype. With the conspirators perhaps it was to much to expect as many of them sound same-y and in the scenes where they're plotting together I have a hard time following who is speaking to who. John Dorney was pleasantly surprising as Alexander, a character who is not all that easy to bring life to. By all accounts he was a wise man but one with very little self restraint and given to fits of passion. Dorney portrays the complex character admirably really bringing out the nuance of a man with a grand and wonderful vision who is constantly beset by those that either do not understand or stand in his way.
The story is interesting, being a look into a Doctor Who story that might have been that was written while Marco Polo was on the air. It has been suggested in some reviews and commentary that I have seen that this was a contender for the slot that the Aztecs eventually got. This is not true. Keys of Marinus was being recorded while this story was written and the Aztecs already had the next slot. This story was a contender for the 6-part historical slot that the Reign of Terror eventually received. This of course makes the problem evident. With so many direct contradictions with the Aztecs it would have seemed ludicrous to air this story only six weeks later. David Whitaker asked Morris Fahri to make changes to the script, which he eventually thought were going to far and the story was eventually abandoned. I for one would love to have known exactly what Whitaker thought needed to be rewritten. I have a fairly good guess but it would be nice to know for sure.
That being said, one of the flows in this story IMHO is that it sounds as if the script wasn't tampered with at all. I expected that this would be left as an Elseworlds/Unbound/Alternaverse/What If/What Have you story but Library of Alexandria definitively connects this story with the main range. With that being the case why would they leave things in like the Doctor and Susan expressing belief in Heaven and an Almighty. I've since learned that a section dealing with a TARDIS machine that teaches the local language to the crew was cut. Why wasn't this other bit cut as well when it so clearly does not fit with the characters as we've come to know them. Then there's all the stuff with the Doctor and blood transfusions and iron lungs. I don't see any of that being done on the television at the time, especially for a story that was going to air after the Aztecs. While I know that a lot of people don't care about continuity of events and facts, character continuity is far more important and the story as written just doesn't fit in with the characters as they were shown in the first season of the television series, which is very jarring as you listen and constantly brings you out of the experience. I suppose the simplest fix to maintain character continuity (even though I don't believe it would have been done onscreen) is to change things so that Ian is the one using the anachronistic technology. The Doctor's role could have been beefed up (aside from the fire walking he does very little in this story) to involve more with the investigation into the murders. In Episode 2 he notices Clytus being pushed but never really follows up on it until they're accused of Hepaesteon's murder. If this had aired on television it would have been edited to fit in with the series so I don't understand the resistance to do so here, especially since Fahri apparently gave Richard Bignell complete license to do "whatever he wanted" with the script.
The Doctor acting strangely and anachronistic technology aside this story is very typically Hartnell. In fact its amazing how typical it is since many of the stories that it evokes hadn't aired yet! In many ways the story drags. Its like waiting for paint to dry as Alexander's advisors are knocked off one at a time. There's very little incident here as each episode goes through a formula of plotting, trying to accuse the time travellers, succeeding in the death, but the time travelers avoiding suspicion until the last one. I must say that I perked up greatly at Hephaesteon's funeral games. Those segments were great and I can imagine Hartnell and Russell playing the two scenes and doing it superbly. Still, the script has a lot of meaty bits in it. In fact I think another reason why this story may have been problematic for Verity and Whitaker is that two of the "good guys" commit suicide when they could have been saved. This was probably felt to be a tad to dark for Saturday afternoon tea time. All of the stuff with Alexander was great and it was a rare treat to have an early Doctor Who story that developed a real theme rather than just being an adventure story. You can see Fahri's love of the material in the writing and that helps to elevate what would be a very boring and formulaic plot to something that I feel only drags a little.
In the end this was a fair story and an interesting historical curiosity but I think most of the Season 1 Companion Chronicles knock it out of the park.
Final Rating: 6/10
Recomendation: It has to be said but there are a lot of people who love this story A LOT. I'm not one of them. I think it's Hartnell by numbers. The plot is slow and I don't think it really fits in with the way that the characters are depicted in that season. In my mind that's what these stories should aspire to - recreating the era of the show in which they're set. Yet with so many people advocating this one and based on the fact that the performance of the three actors in it is so good I would recommend that everyone at least give it a try and see if it is to their taste.