Blurb: After travelling with the Doctor through time and space, Ian Chesterton is back in his own time. But the mystery of how he and Barbara Wright disappeared in the year 1963 has alerted the authorities – and both are suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War.
Ian protests his innocence. He has a story to tell about traveling through time and space.
And one adventure in particular – a visit to the city of Hisk…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian Chesterton. Published by Big Finish Productions and released February of 2014.
Setting: The city of Hisk on an unnamed planet sometime in the last 25th or early 26th century.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Space Museum and The Chase. Although no gap exists between those two stories, this story is being shoehorned into this position. Ian mentions that King Richard had good taste when he knighted him (see The Crusade) and as placing a gap between The Crusade and The Space Museum is even worse it must between these latter stories. Vicki mentions that the system that creates Limbus is similar to the teaching machine that she used (see The Web Planet). Vicki mentions that it was more fun to go to the shops in Ancient Rome (see The Romans). Vicki see Bennet in Limbus (see The Rescue). Ian mentions that Susan left the TARDIS in the future (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Mention is made of the stir caused by two teachers that went missing with their pupil (see An Unearthly Child).
Canonicity Quotient: As has already been mentioned there is no gap between The Space Museum and The Chase as the Daleks track the TARDIS from Xeros to Aridius. Otherwise this story seems to slot in to the established gap.
Discussion: The Sleeping City is the last Companion Chronicle to feature William Russell. That isn't because anything has happened to him, but because the range is ending. The Sleeping City gives us one last story in which we have Russell's beautiful narration. We also have another script by Ian Potter who wrote The Revenants, which I liked, and The Alchemists, which I didn't. When I read the blurb for the story I became very intrigued by the notion that Ian and Barbara were suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War. I was interested to see how they'd get out of that and how the series would handle the fact that the Doctor had been to Earth between 1963 and 1965.
So I'll just get this out of the way instead of waiting until the end of my review like I normally do. The framing sequence is a massive deception and its biggest problem is that the second that you learn of the conceit of Limbus you know exactly what the framing sequence is. The idea of Ian being tortured as an enemy agent just seems odd when you factor in that he's supposedly been captured by someone who knows of the Doctor and therefore would be privy to Group Captain Gilmore's report (see Remembrance of the Daleks). I do admit that they have you going for a while. There's just enough verisimilitude that you think it may just be real but as the story wends on you begin to realize that it's all part of the dream. The other problem is that this is another Companion Chronicles that does a wonderful job of setting up a story and then spends the last 5 minutes getting to a resolution. It seems hard to boil classic Who down to 2 parters and this is another casualty that probably would have made an excellent four-parter but as a two-parter feels incredibly rushed at the end when the resolution is arrived at because the Doctor tells you so and the solution is cobbled together from things that you didn't know could do what they do. I will give the story a little credit because it's possible that the Doctor using the Limbus machines without people laying on them is part of Gerrard's illusory memories that he gave to Ian. Still, it feels like the whole thing just comes together to quickly and feels like the giant deus ex machina was pulled in because we had to fit the runtime. It was a disappointing end to a promising adventure. I also feel like the conceit of Limbus wasn't fully explored. The narrative gives us the potential to have a great idea like the fact that Limbus causes the unconscious mind of the whole city to be merged and it's actually this combined unconscious that expresses it's worst inclinations in murdering those citizens that it doesn't feel fit in. Instead its relegated to the idea that the machine itself has a will and is trying to control everyone. To me they sort of missed the hard-hitting part of the story and it would have been far more interested to have this expressed as more of a combined id. Another strange point is that the story went from saying that the Doctor radiated trust to saying that the people didn't trust him because he wouldn't enter Limbus. Well it was either one or the other and the dichotomy between saying that he was able to get him to trust them only to be told that they didn't seemed odd. So why did they help him if they didn't trust him or why didn't they do what was necessary to help him if they didn't? It didn't make sense and made me wonder if we're seeing two different drafts of a story and section that wasn't fully amended. The other thing that I didn't like were the transitions between the framing sequence and the story. The whooshing sound effect I believe is the same one used in Frostfire and it just gives everything a somewhat whimsical air, which I don't think works for the seriousness of the story. Thankfully the cuts aren't as often or as intrusive as those in Frostfire but I wasn't a big fan of how that was pulled off.
On the other hand this story is basically Hartnell by numbers and if you like Hartnell stories as I do then you'll love this. We have a mystery that the Doctor throws himself into. He blusters his way into getting people to help him. We have Ian and Barbara clearly in love. We've got Vicki being crazy. We've got great references to The Rescue, The Romans, and The Crusade which reminds us of the sense of continuity that the early show used to have. We've even got a reference to the learning machines mentioned in The Web Planet. The whole thing just feels like the kind of adventure that you'd have in a Hartnell story at least until the resolution. I also like the nice touch with the Doctor coming up with a semi-plausible explanation for why he doesn't enter Limbus even though we know that it's because he doesn't want people to be able to peer into the Time Lord secrets in his head. The idea of Limbus is a neat one and the descriptions of the world of dreams are given these surreal descriptions that help you to imagine what it would be like. I also like the idea that the dream world is actually effecting the waking one with notions taken on in that world either causing people to kill others or causing people to block out their perceptions of those being killed, so that they don't notice the killers and they aren't able to let their minds dwell on those killed. I also like that Ian and Barbara get to live out fantasy lives where they return to Earth, reminding them of how much they miss home and helping to set up their exit in The Chase.
Another thing that I really love about this story is the cover. That design that they've given to Hisk looks just like the kinds of models that they were producing for those early 60's stories and I can easily imagine Hisk being shown on camera as a futuristic, alien city. We also have William Russell's always brilliant narration. His Hartnell Doctor is still in fine form and evokes the man far better than any of the other surviving actors' attempts. He also does a great job with his younger self, although I love how he excuses his hoarser sounding voice by saying that he's in need of water. John Banks does the other voice talents here and I don't have as much to say about his performance. Allett is very annoying and Gerrard isn't much better. Still, in general soundwise the story is good and even though the music seems to have come from the Big Finish stock it works well enough and the entire adventure works pretty well.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: What can I say? I'm a sucker for stories that remind me of these great eras. The Sleeping City is plagued by issues but most of them don't show up until near the end. It sets up a great Hartnell romp but then feels like it's over to early in an unsatisfying conclusion. The twist is also to easy to guess. If what you want is a reminder of why you love the era, though, this story has all the elements on display and it's why I can't rate this one to harshly. I definitely recommend it for all Hartnell fans.