Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Companion Chronices - The First Doctor Volume One

They are back – and its about time!
Since their apparent demise last year the Companion Chronicles have been missed. Yes there were the “Early Adventures” – and very good they were too, but the style of storytelling in those was more akin to the main range, more full cast rather than dramatic narration and as such lost some of the intimacy of the Companion Chronicles. This month they are back, albeit in a slightly different format, whereas the previous Chronicles were a single CD monthly release, these new ones are in the box set format, and looking at the release schedule on the Big Finish website, these are looking like they are going to be an annual release.
The first release is aptly enough a First Doctor box set – a set of four stories told by his companions Susan, Vicki and Steven. The final two stories are linked by being Steven-centric, but thematically the box set seems to deal with the theme of consequences, consequences of action, inaction, and choices made, and over the four stories we experience consequences.
The First story is called The Sleeping Blood by Martin Day – it is told by Susan, and is a rare thing, a story set before An Unearthly Child. Susan (Carole Ann Ford) tells of a time that the Doctor became ill after being infected by an alien plant, and her search for antibiotics to aid his recovery. The TARDIS (which at this point has a functioning Chameleon Circuit!) takes her to a seemingly abandoned medical research facility, unfortunately it is not as abandoned as she would hope. Soldiers are searching for a terrorist known as “The Butcher” who is holding the whole world to ransom with his genetically engineered nanobots. It’s a great morality tale, where is the line between terrorism and idealism? Is killing in the name of the state ever justified? The experiences of this story have a profound effect on Susan and impact the development of her character throughout the TV series.
The Second Story is called The Unwinding World by Ian Potter – it is told by Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) and details the time that she, Ian, Barbara and The Doctor become stranded on a totalitarian world, with the TARDIS taken away, the food drugged to make concentration difficult, inane soulless TV shows to keep the masses entertained, our heroes must expose the lie at the centre of this society in order to retrieve the TARDIS, but is the truth something that the inhabitants want to face? This is an intriguing story, consequences are all over it, the consequences which have lead to the totalitarian society, and the consequences for the citizens once the Doctor and companions bring it down. It’s not a black and white situation, sometimes ignorance may be bliss, sometimes the Doctor may not be actually acting in the best interest of an oppressed population. Intriguing little morality play this one, very much worth a listen.
The Third Story is called The Founding Fathers by Simon Guerrier – it is told by Steven Taylor (Peter Purves). A bit of different take on a historical here, Steven uses a pure historical encounter that he, The Doctor and Vicki had with Benjamin Franklin. Steven is an old man here, he was once King of the planet seen in the TV story The Savages, but abdicated this position, now he recalls his tale to his granddaughter Sida in order to prove to her that the copy of The Doctor’s mind that they have kept since the Doctor visited is actually not the real Doctor and lacks his moral compass. The actual story would have made a great two part historical in the TV series in the 1960’s in which The Doctor uses Franklin’s experiments with electricity to open the TARDIS, which he has inadvertently managed to lock himself out of. Along the way our heroes are involved in intrigue with a woman called Abigail that history has not recorded, is she a Time Agent or something more??? An enjoyable historical, which poses many questions on ethics and morality.
The Final Story is called The Locked Room by Simon Guerrier. Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) is a very old man, it is some years since the events of The Founding Fathers and his granddaughter Sida is now President. Steven has become a recluse and as his obsessive project to build a radio telescope comes to fruition, he summons Sida for its first use, to use it he locks them in a time-locked, lead lined room, for this is no ordinary radio telescope… Steven has managed to track down The Doctor and is planning to bring him to his planet, but Steven has caught up with the Doctor at a crucial point in his timeline – The Doctor is dying. A fabulous ending to the set, it twists and turns all over the place, its a four-hander between Steven, Sida, The Doctor and one other protagonist who to quote River Song: “Spoilers” – you will have to listen to it to find out! A great end to a very good box set, gripping to the last.
So an interesting set, thematically very challenging, it really makes you consider the character’s actions and the consequences they may have, and its great to have the Companion Chronicles back, there is a certain something to their style of story-telling that makes them an integral building block in the diverse tapestry of the Doctor Who canon.
8/10.