Blurb: A heatwave in July and a tube train is discovered buried in twenty inches of snow. A Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park and scores of people are instantly frozen to death where they stand while the sun beats down from the sky. Freak weather conditions in London, and the Doctor and UNIT are called in to find the cause.
Meanwhile, a street magician who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy entertains crowds in Covent Garden. As Jo Grant and Mike Yates disobey orders and investigate alone, they discover an enemy with terrifying powers. And they may not live to share his secrets...
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Captain Mike Yates. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April of 2009.
Setting: Earth: London, United Kingdom. UNIT dating makes the precise chronological placement of this story iffy but it's around the fourth year that the Doctor is with UNIT, which I would place in 1973. Mike narrates this story from sometime in 2008 or 2009. Since he references Jo being in London and The Doll of Death is also part of the 3rd season of Companion Chronicles I'd like to assume that this is the same week that Jo narrated the events of that story.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils. I realize that the back of the cover says differently but I don't buy it. To me this has to occur after The Curse of Peladon. Jo expects to go on a date with Mike Yates in that story and I'm sorry but there's no way that you can't at least suspect that someone might have a thing for you if they ask you on a date. Besides, Day of the Daleks also has Mike flirting with Jo in a way that makes me think that she has to realize that something is up. Really this story could happen anywhere after Curse of Peladon and before The Three Doctors but I like to put it between Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils to explain why Jo's dating of Mike is never mentioned again.
Canonicity Quotient: This story fits well into the existing canon. 1.00
Discussion: The Magician's Oath was the first companion chronicle to feature Mike Yates. Mike was one of the more interesting characters, experiencing a lot of character development over the course of his run. I had already enjoyed The Rings of Ikiria, which was written after this but took place beforehand so I was looking forward to delving into another story told from Mike's point of view. This time the story had a clear framing sequence with Mike going to UNIT and making a statement about an adventure that had occurred in the 70's and about which some new details had just recently come to light. It's an intriguing story element and does an excellent job at drawing you into the story.
Along that line, this one has a really good story. In fact if I had a criticism at all about this one it's that there may have been just to many parts to the story. Either the idea of a showman being given access to fantastic powers that he doesn't fully understand or the idea of an alien being sent to Earth to be rehabilitated by a process altered memories are fascinating story ideas in their own right that deserve to be explored. Combining the two is definitely a viable idea but in the truncated format of the Companion Chronicles it means that we don't have a lot of time to fully develop either part of the story. Diamond Jack is presented as a showman with extraordinary powers in part one and then as the alien exile in episode two. I feel like the showman idea never gets very far but at the same time we're never told enough about his prior alien life to really know how great of a threat level he is. We're given generalities that he's done "such crimes" but the crimes are never described. While that allows our imaginations to go wherever they will I think that it may have worked better if we'd been told some of what he'd done or conversely for him to have done something horrible once he's gotten his memories back other than the very personal thing that he does at the end of the story. Yet, I find that this story works for me despite all of this and the only way that I can reconcile that is to say that this is Mike's story and as Mike's story it works very effectively and I love how the atmosphere of loss is told so eloquently. You wonder throughout this whole story of why he's telling it and what the significance of his anecdotes about Jo are until you get to the very end. It's a tragedy but not a great one for anyone involved except for Mike. In saving the day he also loses Jo to such a degree that she doesn't even realize that there was anything between them or even could be. Diamond Jack isn't the story. He's just a detail to explain how that moment came about and at that moment you feel that tragedy. You really feel for Mike losing out on something that really mattered to him and it helps to explain how he hit the low point that he'd eventually hit in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
The sound design on this one is exceptional. Ironically I prefer Richard Franklin's vocal performance as the Doctor and The Brigadier in this one to what he gave in The Rings of Ikiria even though this is the earlier work. Sadly we didn't get his rendition of Benton this time as that is always a treat. One of the things that I notice about Franklin is that even though I don't think that he's as good of a voice artist as some of the other companions he is an exceptional narrator. The two rely on different skills and I really think that he does a wonderful job of lacing his entire story with feeling and really conveying the tragedy and sadness of everything that occurs here. Not to be outdone, Michael Chance gives a nuanced performance as Diamond Jack going from the Jagoesque performance as a showman to the gritty criminal personality. The music and sound effects in this one are also top notch. We have that haunting piano melody to underscore much of the action. We also get the sounds of Hyde Park freezing, the sounds of screaming, birds singing, the crackle of electricity and so on. It's a multi-layered suite of sounds to a degree that surpasses many companion chronicles and I think that they did a fantastic job on it.
If there's one thing that I could say about this story is that Scott Handcock does a fantastic job of evoking feelings and setting mood while also telling a good story. Mike's reaction to seeing the frozen tableau is an interesting character study and tells a lot about Mike from what he notices. I love the idea of the melting statues of humanity looking like they're weeping and the depth of feeling that Mikes gives when he describes the old couple caught in a tender moment is so poignant that my heart really breaks for the man. The Doctor's attempts to revive the people are so very "Doctor" and I can just see the Doctor coming to the conclusion that this is an experiment in cryogenics. Jo is so typically Jo here and all her mannerisms are described so accurately by Mike but then again they would be. Even his Brigadier has that bristling tone that you come to expect from him and his no-nonsense attitude is just wonderfully executed. The whole story just conveys a sense of loss. Jack is never able to make himself whole and in a metaphorical sense Mike is never able to make himself whole either. Jo's healing then reminds Mike of what he's lost leading to his telling the tale.
The story loses me in the circumstances behind Jack's exile. There's a sort of poetic aspect to the idea of breaking someone up into their physical self, their mental self, and their spiritual self and punishing them all separately, but really the whole system doesn't even seem like it would work. Why divide the self in such a manner? If you can separate the mind from the physical body why keep the physical body alive? Why does killing the body cause the mind to die? How can you call anything that the "soul" portion does rehabilitation when you've only given the construct a short term memory? How can it even be called rehabilitation when he's been left with powers that used without proper knowledge could be just as dangerous as any crimes that he's committed. This whole aspect seems fishy to me. Once you ignore that it's ok but the story does lose points for me because that whole aspect doesn't seem to work well.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: A fantastic tale about loss and coming to grips with appreciating what you have when you have it told with an incredibly narration by one of the stalwarts of the UNIT era. The elements aren't totally new and in fact one story strand seems to have lifted wholesale from the Babylon 5 story Passing through Gethhsemane, but its effect on the lives of Mike and Jo is a story that needed to be told and the way that it mixes with their lives is both unique and interesting. It also sports one of the better sound designs of any of the companion chronicles that hooks you into the story in an effortless way and makes you feel like you really are the one that Mike is speaking to as he relates this adventure. I highly recommend it.