ADAPTED FOR AUDIO BY
BIG FINISH 'THE LOST STORIES #2.1: THE FIRST DOCTOR BOX SET'
(ISBN 1-84435-452-8) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
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?
Farewell, Great Macedon
1. THE HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON 2. O SON, MY SON
3. A MAN MUST DIE 4. THE WORLD LIES DEAD AT YOUR FEET
5. IN THE ARENA 6. FAREWELL, GREAT MACEDON!
With the notable exception of the hiatus-hit mid-1980s, Doctor Who’s first year of production seems to boast more forsaken pitches and aborted scripts than any other era of the show. Terry Nation, for instance, found his adventure about the British Raj in India being shelved in favour an inevitable Dalek sequel, whilst Malcolm Hulke’s plans for a story about Earth’s twin, female-dominated planet would be scrapped only to have its best ideas turn up in Galaxy 4 and The Tenth Planet. Meanwhile, plans for historical tales about the Spanish Armada and ancient Britain were passed over in favour of far-flung, futuristic tales of Voord and Sensorites, and a fully-drafted six-part serial from Turkish actor and writer Moris Farhi about Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, languished unloved in David Whitaker’s bottom drawer.
Farewell, Great Macedon was finally unearthed in 1999 by Doctor Who Magazine’s Richard Bignell, who’d heard that Farhi had retained a Prisoner submission from the late 1960s and wondered if he’d also kept hold of his early Doctor Who submissions. To his great delight, a voluminous photocopied script landed on his doormat soon afterwards, but to fans’ dismay it would take another decade for Farhi’s script to be published.
Written as Marco Polo was being aired, Fahri’s tale of Diadochian treachery has the same expansive feel as John Lucarotti’s revered seven-parter, but it also has more than a whiff of The Aztecs about it too. What sets Farewell, Great Macedon apart though is that it was always intended to be a rousing, inflammatory piece, as opposed as to a chiefly educational offering. Don’t get me wrong, Fahri had certainly done his homework – and consummately so, I understand – but what stands out more than anything about his story is the potency of Alexander’s plans for global unification; an ideal that I understand Fahri has always shared. The resultant adventure is as moving and raw as it is dripping with historical zest, and I dare say that had Farhi penned the ill-fated 2004 Colin Farrell movie, it wouldn’t have flopped as spectacularly as it did.
To look at the nuts and bolts of it, Farewell, Great Macedon is a fairly typical historical caper. The TARDIS crew arrive in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 323BC, a few weeks prior to what they know is Alexander’s death. They are promptly taken in by the King, who seems to value their wisdom, compassion, and candour, but their amity is destined to be short-lived. With the Shahanshah’s dream of marrying the East and the West having turned a number of his former supporters irrevocably against him, Fahri’s tale tells of a conspiracy to murder Alexander’s successors in increasingly sensational ways, before the conspirators finally turn their attentions to the classical hero himself. As the death toll mounts, suspicion naturally falls on the Doctor and his companions, and so in tried and tested Who-historical style Ian must wrestle in a Greco-Roman battle royal and the Doctor must walk over fire in order to prove their innocence, before they can go on to discover and expose the real murderers.
However, Fahri’s characterisation lends these events a lot more clout than one might expect. Alexander himself is presented as a truly inspirational figure; a bold visionary who is without pretence or prejudice, and who genuinely seems to care about our four heroes. As such his predestine fate is made all the more agonising, particularly as we are not just watching the man himself perish, but his dream along with him.
The TARDIS travellers are, in many ways, even more entrancing. Fahri’s Ian is most imposing, the author managing to present him as both a dashing tea-time action man and wise ambassador and humanist to boot. History teacher Babs is similarly well-served, as she finds herself face to face with one of history’s greatest heroes right at the end of his life and desperate to save it – not just because he’s become a dear friend, but because of the difference that he could make to the world. To the future. Even Susan Foreman is presented in an exhilarating new way, as rather than playing the distressed damsel, this time she’s the stout pragmatist – she’s the voice whispering “everything is fixed and you can’t change it” to her surprisingly meddlesome grandfather and his two 20th century charges.
Indeed, a little like the unmade Masters of Luxor, Fahri’s script alludes to a spiritual side to the Doctor, as well as a compassionate – and arguably even reckless – side which sees him apparently try to change history. Whether the Doctor knew that his attempts to save the life of Alexander were fated to fail or not, or even whether his efforts were secretly designed to keep history on its course will of course be the subject of fierce debate, but what can’t be contested is the quality of drama that’s borne of the same. This serial’s final instalment is wrought with terrible tension as, to Susan’s horror, the Doctor appears to break every law of time to try and save Alexander’s life, but in doing so only seems to harden the moribund Monarch’s resolve. The moment when Alexander looks up at the Doctor’s hastily cobbled-together iron lung and declares that “death is more attractive” would no doubt have been one of the seminal scenes of the Hartnell era, had it ever been shot.
The Big Finish production is equal to the script’s scope and grandeur. As well as flawlessly realising their characters, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford make for an enchanting pair of narrators. Russell’s poise and Ford’s passion engender a real sense of pace that, I must say, really took me by surprise. John Dorney is even more extraordinary still as the legendary Hegemon of the Hellenic League, imbuing his classic hero with all the requisite gravitas, but real charisma and heart too. Listening to this story, one could easily believe that Alexander would have re-shaped the world had he survived Babylon.
Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s sound design is beautifully redolent too, capturing the minimalist feel of the show’s first season, yet still making sure that every peak is perfectly punctuated. However, the most praise has to be reserved for Nigel Robinson, who has taken a near fifty year-old television script and turned it into an enthralling and dynamic audio production. His functional prose is clear and concise, always painting the picture and then pressing on, and never treading on the toes of Fahri’s grandiloquent dialogue. Most remarkably of all though, Robinson manages to tell a hundred and fifty minute television story in just over two hundred and twenty, retaining most of the tempo of the telly despite the need for linking narration.
In his notes accompanying this release, Fahri tells of how writing Farewell, Great Macedon was a labour of love, and how he felt “demonically inspired” to write all six episodes despite not having been commissioned to do so. Listening to this adaptation, I was so enthralled by it that I felt demonically inspired to get through it as soon as possible – it was a real struggle to force myself to ration out the last couple of episodes to make the experience last a little longer. For this reason I must echo the sentiments of all those involved with the production, and question why this script was never produced. Had it been, I suspect that it would have been even more revered today than Marco Polo is. The great irony is, of course, that from henceforth Farewell, Great Macedon will be the easier of these two great stories to enjoy as so much thought has been put into specifically adapting it for the medium, as opposed to some linking narration having been shoe-horned into gaps in a missing serial’s surviving soundtrack.
Farewell, Great Macedon is not only the best of all the Bill Hartnell historicals, but the finest Lost Story that David Richardson and his team have produced to date. And coming from a man who champions Colin Baker and much prefers audio drama to audio books, that’s one hell of an avowal.
Here’s tôi kratistôi!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Morris Farhi wrote this script whilst Marco Polo was being aired and The Keys of Marinus being shot. Had it entered production next (i.e. in mid-April 1964) instead of The Aztecs, it would have aired between 23rd May 1964 and 27th June 1964 (i.e. between The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites).
Placing this adaptation is not so straightforward, however. The travellers seem to be reasonably familiar with one another here, suggesting that they have already bonded over the course of a number of adventures, yet Ian and Barbara’s cavalier attitude towards history suggests that, for them, the events of The Aztecs have yet to occur. For these reasons, we have placed this story shortly after The Keys of Marinus.
It would also make sense for The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance to follow this adventure, not only because it has been released together with it in a box set, but to maintain the balance between futuristic and historical adventures within the season.
Finally, the Doctor’s apparent willingness to change history here is at odds with how the character would later be portrayed. One possible explanation for this is that he knew full well that his attempts to save Alexander were doomed to fail, but in going through the motions he at least brought some comfort to Ian and Barbara. Another is that the Doctor was actively trying to keep history on course by offering Alexander a mechanical half-life that he knew would be worse than death.
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