blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 4.09 - Shadow of the Past

Blurb: There's a secret locked up in UNIT's Vault 75-73/Whitehall. Dr Elizabeth Shaw is the only one left who knows what that secret is.

Returning to UNIT for the first time in decades, she slowly unravels the past. The vault contains the remains of a spaceship that crashed in the Pennines in the seventies.

For the young Liz Shaw, the priority is to ensure the thing's safe. But the Doctor is more concerned about the alien pilot. And the chance this ship offers for escape. Can he resist the temptation, or will the Doctor turn on his friends?

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April of 2010.

Setting: Earth: The Pennines and London and its environs. UNIT dating makes the precise chronological placement of this story iffy but it's clearly during the Doctor's first year at UNIT, which I place in 1970. Liz narrates the story from sometime around 2010. She states that it's been twice as long since this incident as most of the soldiers had been alive. Assuming that they were in their 20's that fits in with this dating and coincides with the date the audio was released.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death. Liz mentions that the Doctor had recently had a falling out with the Brigadier regarding the Silurians. While it isn't stated explicitly in the story it is almost certain that this story takes place a week or two after the end of Old Soldiers. That story definitely takes place immediately after The Silurians while this one could potentially happen weeks afterwards. Liz mentions that she knows some of the men the British Space Program and mentions Mars Probe 7 (see Ambassadors of Death). The Doctor also foiled a Mim incursion in 5th century Alexandria (see The Library of Alexandria). The Doctor encounters the Time Lord in the bowler hat for the first time here (see Terror of the Autons). Benton is promoted to Sargent as a result of this story (see Ambassadors of Death).

Canonicity Quotient: This story doesn't fit in well with The Library of Alexandria, which is surprising since the same person wrote both of them. In the former story the Mim are scared about invading Earth because it could alter its history but the Doctor neither uses that tactic here nor do the Mim seem to care. The Doctor also seems to have forgotten how badly sound effects them. The sonic screwdriver would have been a big help in this story, but it isn't used at all. Also, why would the Mim decide that the cost/benefits of invading the Earth in the 5th century AD weren't worth it but decide to come back in the 20th century after humanity has already mined and polluted it? 0.90

Discussion: Shadow of the Past does it's best to achieve a season 7 feel. We've got Liz. We've got some frisson between the Doctor and the Brigadier. We've got the Doctor desperately wanting to get off the Earth. As a result you'd think that I'd like this one about as much as I like season 7 on television, what I consider to be one of the greatest eras in Doctor Who of all time. Yet, the elements didn't really coalesce. I was left feeling a little let down at the end although the story was ok.

I will say that one thing that really stands out in this one is Caroline John's portrayal of Liz. She does a great job narrating and even though she's obviously older than she was I think that she does a wonderful job portraying her younger self and the Doctor. It's nowhere near as polished as Katy Manning's or Nicholas Courtney's impressions of the man but it's still fair, especially considering that she's the wrong gender and hasn't been trained in doing vocal work. There's a love and admiration of Pertwee that you can feel in her performance and you can feel Liz's respect for the man despite how he infuriated her sometimes and you think that it may mirror John's own feelings about Pertwee. It's really nice and in some ways bittersweet as she fondly recalls the Doctor, knowing that he made her feel obsolete as she just passed him things and knowing in hindsight that it wouldn't be to long before she left him and UNIT behind. I thought all of that aspect was handled really well and I really love the Companion Chronicles for being able to give us those sorts of perspectives on the characters.

The sound design is also really good in this one. The Mim sounds suitably creepy with its tentacles flashing and its almost growling sounds. The pop of the Time Lord's materialization is less of a cork popping this time and more of a cheek pop but it works well enough in maintaining continuity with what we'd see onscreen later. I give Lex Shrapnel (ironic name for a UNIT soldier, eh?) full marks for portraying Sargent Marshall. He has a nice, unassuming manner and his banter with Liz makes him seem like a down-to-earth kind of guy which is what you're supposed to feel. It's nothing to special but it's not supposed to be incredibly flashy and it works to tell the story. In some ways I do like how Guerrier sometimes turns the Companion Chronicles on their head by having the other actor in the present time speaking with the narrator rather than having the second character be someone within the story. I also like that there's some nice visual imagery in this one with the description of the Mim from its initial appearance of being pulverized all over the cabin as well as the descriptions of its natural form. The idea that an imposter of the Doctor's eyes don't smile even when his face is smiling is another nice visual touch. There's also some nice emotional touches here. Robin almost asks Liz out. His earnest and simple manner grows on her and she takes a shine to him. Liz having to shower after watching Robin blow up with the alien. All that stuff was really well done and helped to convey the feelings and emotions of those involved.

Yet, the real issue here is that we have a lot of plot problems. I think that the whole story is supposed to hang around a surprise reveal at the end that Sargent Marshall is really the Mim, but as long as you're paying even partial attention it's obvious that something is odd about him as Liz sounds very wary of him and keeps testing his responses and asking what he'd do in the same situation. Once you learn that the Mim are shape shifters, about the pureed sponge theory, and Marshall starts suggesting what's going to happen next in the story there's no way that he can't be the Mim. Therefore the surprise reveal really lacks its punch and you're left going "and...?"

I'm sorry but having the Time Lords solve the main problem for them and whisking the Mim fleet away is ridiculous. I almost feel the same sucker punch I felt with The Best of Both Worlds Part 2. You set up an impossible threat in part 1 and then you just handwave it away and make it easy in part 2. Yes I realize that there was cost and loss of life in getting rid of the remaining Mim agent on Earth. But that was a smaller and more personal struggle. I am not a fan of deus ex machina and that's the only way that you can describe the Time Lords getting rid of the invasion fleet.

I'm also unclear on what was going on with the Doctor doppelganger. The Mim are said to be shapechangers but are they telepathic too? It gets the Doctor's mannerisms down and seems to know an awful lot about him. The Doctor says something about a surface scan so is it a mind reader as well? If so then it seems pretty good at getting information out of the Doctor. It knows about his dealings with the Time Lords which is something that you'd think that the Doctor would keep hidden in his mind and he's usually better at resisting such telepathic kinds of incursions into his mind unless they're prolonged assaults. The ability just seemed to come out of nowhere as an excuse to have the cliffhanger where they try to convince you that the Doctor is helping the Mim to invade Earth so that they'll let him hitch a ride off the planet. It would have been a nice touch if the story had actually tried to convince you of this since you can almost believe that the Doctor who would have left the Earth to the Auton invasion may have been willing to do such a thing, but instead he turns into a Mim immediately after the cliffhanger so there's no real exploration of how the betrayal makes Liz and the Brigadier feel. It seems like a real missed opportunity because this period between the Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death is just the time to play on any possible trouble between the Doctor and the Brig. I also don't really buy Marshall/Mim's story. Remember that when the Mim was impersonating the Doctor it tried to offer to let the real Doctor take its ship, so it had a plan for staying on Earth. It doesn't seem that farfetched that it would try to become a doppelganger of Robin once it was able to pull itself back together to make good on whatever that plan was. I guess with Caroline John dead we'll never know as I doubt there'd ever be a sequel to this one.

Final Rating: 6/10

Recommendation: It's typical Guerrier, trying to work on emotion rather than substance. There's some good character insight on Liz and some wonderful, evocative imagery. Yet, the story itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense and what does make sense feels like Pertwee-by-numbers. Still it's a mixed bag and Liz actually gets a romantic interest for once which at least raises the interest level for me enough to give it a point past midland. This is definitely skippable.
Tags: ambassadors of death, audio drama, caroline john, companion chronicles, doctor who, library of alexandria, liz shaw, old soldiers, season 7, shadow of the past, silurians, simon guerrier, spearhead from space, terror of the autons, third doctor

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