blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 8.05 - The Beginning

Blurb: When the First Doctor and his grand-daughter Susan escape through the cloisters of Gallifrey to an old Type 40 Time Travel capsule, little do they realize the adventures that lie ahead… And little do they know, as the TARDIS dematerializes and they leave their home world behind, there is someone else aboard the ship. He is Quadrigger Stoyn, and he is very unhappy…

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Susan Foreman. Published by Big Finish Productions and released November of 2013.

Setting: Earth's Moon, Luna, both in 4,500,000 B.C. and at the time of the first moon colony, sometime in the late 21st century or early 22nd century (exact dating is unknown). Lance Parkin's Ahistory gives the date as circa 2090 and there's no reason to dispute it. The details of when or why Susan is narrating this story are not given.

Continuity: This story takes place sometime before the story An Unearthly Child and before any other Doctor Who novels or audio stories. The Archaeons talk about the experiment being interfered with, the implication being the destruction of Scaroth's ship, which triggered life on Earth (see City of Death). The Hand of Omega leaves Gallifrey with the Doctor and Susan (see Remembrance of the Daleks). There are references to Gallifreyan Houses with chairs that act like pets (see Lungbarrow). Stoyn says that no one has grandfathers anymore (see pretty much the entire Doctor Who New Adventures range by Virgin Publishing but especially Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, Transit, and Lungbarrow).

Canonicity Quotient: The whole beginning sequence is completely at odds with what is depicted in Lungbarrow. The Doctor is leaving while actively pursued by guards, because his interventionist ideas were considered some form of heresy against the state; versus the Doctor leaving because of the death of Quences. Then, there's Susan leaving with him rather than her coming from Gallifrey's past. There's also the reference to her having two hearts instead of one. Additionally, it's implied from the Doctor's commentary that he was unfamiliar with the Earth until this adventure and becomes interested in it because of the first contact video that he is shown. Yet, Iris Wildthyme states that she first met the Doctor during the French Revolution at a point in his first incarnation before his hair turned white (see The Scarlet Empress). The number and severity of the contradictions means that this story is very suspect.0.50

Discussion: I didn't really know what to expect from this story before I began listening to it. As a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I can understand why they wanted to go back and do a "very first adventure" kind of story. It was fair for what it was. Carole Ann Ford did her normally good job at recreating Susan. I noticed that she did less of her Doctor dialog than normal. Since I'm not 100% enamored with her performance as the Doctor, this is kind of a mixed bag to me. On the other hand, it does seem awkward for Carole to switch from giving lines of dialog one moment to describing what was said in the next. When she does lines for the Doctor, however, there's the familiar voice that reminds the listener of the twinkle in William Hartnell's eye. When she performs the Doctor's glee at being out in the universe and being able to explore I feel like she captures the heart of Hartnell if not his voice, and that is always a joy to listen to.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Terry Molloy as Quadrigger Stoyn, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to hear Davros, but as Stoyn he didn't sound a thing like him. Instead, he gave us an admirable performance of a cloistered Gallifreyan suddenly being thrust into the universe. Stoyn is a fussy man who's always used to things being the same, but by being taken along for a ride by the Doctor all his comforts are ripped away. That makes for a desperate character, and Molloy does a fantastic job of portraying this man who is just one step away from a breakdown.

The Archaeons are also an interesting concept. The idea of a liquid metal lifeform isn't new; but writer, Marc Platt, enhances them with such wonderful descriptive terms. The idea of them forming into wet beads that roll across the floor until they take shape in a specific spot creates a word picture that anyone can relate to. The description of Stoyn's face rolling up an Archaeon until it settles on its head is wonderfully vivid and Molloy's performance, while understated, seems to have a flowing quality which suits the nature of these creatures. The idea of a race who's purpose is to seed life on worlds, which they tend as gardens is also interesting. It would be nice to see the Archaeons turn up in a future story. There are interesting possibilities where someone could take them.

Yet, this story has a lot of flaws as well. One of the main ones is that the Companion Chronicles usually focus on the character doing the narration. In this story Susan is very young and has nothing interesting to do, nor does the story really tell us anything new about her character. She's just there to say what happened, and that takes out a lot of interest in having a story from a particular character's point of view. Terry Molloy played the Stoyn role that he was given well, but I couldn't have imagined a wetter and less interesting character to create in the first place. When I first heard that this story would have the Doctor and Susan leaving Gallifrey with another person on board, I assumed it would be someone nefarious who had been hiding on the vessel for their own reason. Instead, we just get a petty technician who just wants to punch his time clock and do his job. He's scared of every little thing and is willing to throw the Doctor under the bus any chance he gets. Yet even with that, there isn't much for him to do because Stoyn is hardly in the story. They find him in the TARDIS and have a few lines of dialog. Then they leave. He joins them towards the end of the first episode, and they talk to him again for a few minutes. Then, he's gone for about two-thirds of episode two, and we only have him at the end there. It seemed like a weird way to structure the story, especially when the new character is supposed to be someone very important that we need to know about for the rest of the trilogy.

The plot also suffers from the need to shoehorn in all these references. If we hadn't spent a lot of time with Gallifrey, Stoyn in the TARDIS, and feeling like we needed some reason for the Doctor to be interested in Earth; then maybe we could have had a longer adventure with the Archaeons. Instead, they're barely in it. They only turn up at the end of episode one and once again the end of episode two. Episode two is very strange, because we learn that some archaeological team found the Doctor and Susan, and somehow by interacting with them they broke the stasis that they were in. Yet, why didn't they notice Stoyn and the Archaeons when they found the Doctor and Susan? They were all next to each other when the stasis was achieved. The other issue is whether we really needed another "creation of life on Earth story"? I understand that it doesn't directly contradict City of Death, since the Archaeons only seeded the elements of life on a world, and the explosion of the Jaggoroth ship is what kicked started those elements into becoming life. Yet, it just seems like another reason to link the Doctor to humans. Since we've already had our origins explained in the Doctor Who universe, and since there really isn't a need to explain the Doctor's interest in humans as some huge deal like he feels responsible for us; then I'd rather that we just left sleeping dogs lie.

Then there's also the subject of the Canon Wars, which are back in full strength with this audio. The whole first section of the audio was completely superfluous to the rest of the story. Platt seemingly feels compelled to spend time deconstructing his own Lungbarrow by creating an alternate reason for the Doctor to leave and having Susan be there with him. Why couldn't he have just had us join the Doctor and Susan already in progress, and then have Susan discover the bag? With just a little rewording we could have had some more time for the actual adventure, and not spend 10 minutes trying to disenfranchise certain members of the fan community who prefer a particular version of these events. The 50th anniversary is something that we should all be able to enjoy and shouldn't just be targeted at certain aspects of fandom. Besides, it would have made for a better story if there was actually more plot in the beginning of the story. It makes it even more odd that later, Stoyn says that no one has grandfathers anymore, because that's almost trying to link things back to a sterile Gallifrey. That doesn't work if Susan is actually the Doctor's biological grandchild. I'd rather if Platt was going to be all encompassing that he just left things ambiguous rather than trying to reference multiple mutually contradictory versions as a means of being cute. Even just picking a version would have been better. I also find it incredibly hard to believe that the Doctor is being attacked; and apparently, Susan was abducted from her home just because he argued that they should intervene more in universal affairs. It doesn't really gel with the ossified Gallifrey that we've seen before where nobody really seems to care a whole lot about much. Finally, Platt feels the need to explain how Susan could name the TARDIS, and he comes up with the explanation that she coincidentally made up a name for herself that just happens to be the same name that everyone else uses. Seriously, she lived on Gallifrey for years and never heard anyone else say TARDIS; but she comes up with the exact same acronym? Talk about one of the lamest ways that you can try to explain that line in An Unearthly Child!

So this one was kind of a mixed bag. I liked it more than I didn't, but it did end up being a deeply flawed story that could have been great if they hadn't gotten so stuck in Canon Wars territory. As usual when an author goes out of their way to contradict stuff the plot usually suffers. When I first heard about this story the description only mentioned the Doctor and Susan leaving in the TARDIS and the presence of Quadrigger Stoyn. I was really hoping for a claustrophobic story set entirely within the Ship where the Doctor and Stoyn have to play cat and mouse. To me that would have been a far more interesting adventure and would have given a lot more development to Stoyn. Oh well, here's hoping that Stoyn's next outing ends up being a lot more interesting.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: Every story that's ever referenced the Doctor's origin is mentioned, whether or not they agree with each other. The Beginning is fanwank at its most fanwanky. Sadly, the plot suffers a bit as a result, and we miss out on some important characterization for the new character of the trilogy that starts with this story. This isn't a classic, but I'd say at least give it a try.
Tags: an unearthly child, audio drama, beginning, carole ann ford, cat's cradle, city of death, companion chronicles, doctor who, first doctor, lungbarrow, marc platt, remembrance of the daleks, scarlet empress, season 0, susan foreman, time's crucible, transit

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