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Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 5.03 - Find and Replace

Blurb: Christmas 2010, and Jo Grant finds herself stuck in a department store elevator with an alien creature called Huxley.

Huxley is a narrator from Verbatim Six, and he is here to let Jo revisit the best time of her life – when she was the plucky companion to that eccentric Space/Time traveler known only as... Iris Wildthyme.

Confronted with memories she knew nothing about, Jo agrees to a meeting with Iris inside her transdimensional bus, and together the three of them take a trip back in time. Back to the 1970s, to UNIT HQ, and a meeting with the only person who knows the whole truth...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Jo Grant. Published by Big Finish Productions and released September of 2010.

Setting: Earth: London, United Kingdom, 2010. The second half of the story occurs in roughly the same geographic location but sometime around the fourth year of the Doctor's exile on Earth, which I place in 1973.

Continuity: The second half of this story takes place between The Sea Devils and The Mutants. Although the back cover of the CD states that it happens between Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death this is clearly wrong as the Doctor and Sergeant Benton both mention that the Doctor is currently exiled to Earth. This clearly places it before The Three Doctors. The Doctor is also looking for the Master, which places it after his escape in The Sea Devils. Other guides have placed this story between The Time Monster and The Three Doctors but it seems odd to me that the Doctor would assume that the Master is still on contemporary Earth after that story. To me it makes more sense if this happens very soon after the events of the Sea Devils. The Master after making his escape out to sea would eventually have to return to England as ostensibly that is where his TARDIS is and would explain why the Doctor has built a tracking device that could be used in the fashion shown in the story.

Iris mentions the Obverse (see The Blue Angel). The Doctor mentions that he's trying to track the Master (see The Sea Devils or possibly The Time Monster). The Axons are mentioned (see The Claws of Axos) as are The Daleks (see Day of the Daleks and Planet of the Daleks). Jo mentions The Devil Goblins from Neptune (see The Devil Goblins from Neptune). Iris asks if Mike Yates has betrayed everyone yet (see Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Jo doesn't seem to recognize Iris, which is strange because they did in fact meet back when Jo was the Doctor's assistant at UNIT (see Verdigris).

Canonicity Quotient: This story ignores that Jo had already met Iris in the story Verdigris, which is a bit strange as that novel was also by the same author. We're also supposed to believe that the Doctor would launch this rather insane plan in the first place and for some reason never thought of doing it for any of his other companions. It doesn't really fit with the Doctor as we know him at all. Iris let's Sargent Benton know that Mike Yates is going to betray them, which he doesn't do anything about (although to be fair he may well have just thought her deranged although you'd think that with her coming proven to come from the future it'd at least give him pause for thought). Jo doesn't mention her husband or any of her own children, which seems odd when talking about Christmas shopping. 0.25

Discussion: I dreaded going into this story. Iris Wildthyme is the most annoying character ever created in the Doctor Who universe and possibly in all of fiction. For those that aren't familiar with the character imagine a female version of Gilbert Gottfried. It's that same annoying tone of voice and that same crass sense of humor. Gottfried can sometimes be funny when put in the right context and taken in small chunks. I firmly believe that the same might be possible with Iris. Unfortunately, Paul Magrs, her creator, insists on making her the focal point of any story in which she appears (ok aside from Mad Dogs and Englishmen). You wouldn't want Gilbert Gottfried to carry an entire story for you and the same is true of Iris. Originally, she was a source of occasional humor as some crazy Time Lady who went around telling stories that she's stolen from the Doctor but changing the details so that they were far less interesting. That sort of thing just gets incredibly old when done ad infinitum over the course of an entire audio drama or novel. Then they revealed that in fact she's actually the Obverses version of the Doctor so all her adventures really did happen and in the way that she tells them which took away the one "joke" that Iris had. To be fair I did enjoy The Wormery but that's because it was a story where instead of Iris subverting a typical Doctor Who tale we had Iris subverted in turn and that was pretty darn funny. With all that being said, I approached Find and Replace with a lot of trepidation.

It turned out to be well founded. The core of this story is one of the most absurd and absolute most stupid plots that have ever been in a Doctor Who story. The Doctor sends an alien to see Jo who at this point is around 58, to try and convince her that her memories are all made up so that the various alien menaces that they deal with will leave her alone. There are almost so many ridiculous elements here that I almost don't know where to start. First, if the Doctor really thought that this was the best thing that he could do for Jo why wait until she's in the latter portion of her life? So if the aliens decide to pay her a visit in her 40's then oh well she's toast but if she makes it to the ripe old age of 60 then we'd better protect her because she's earned it?! Why does the Doctor think that this will even work? So say the Daleks show up to exterminate Jo and they say something about how she's the Doctor's assistant. Then she says "what do you mean, I've never fought you as the Doctor's assistant, I fought you guys when I traveled with Iris Wildthyme?" So then what the Daleks will just excuse themselves and leave? Even if Jo has no memory of a particular race in question you think that they'll just ignore their own records because she tells them "hey guys I don't remember you". Why does the Doctor even think that Jo will be pursued? Certainly at this point in the series that was a fairly rare occurrence. Why doesn't he think to help other old companions of his if this is a real worry for him? Why does the Doctor think that Huxley will even be able to convince Jo and certainly why have him put Iris and Jo together to do so both giving them access to a time machine to prove Huxley wrong and also giving them the ability to confer together and poke holes in Huxley's story? The whole thing was a mess and as I waded through the train wreck of the plot I just felt my mind boggling at each knew and less likely occurrence as the plot holes just kept multiplying.

I know that for many people the highlight of this story is the moment when older Jo meets the Doctor. I realize that it was a heartfelt, impassioned speech that reflected how Katy Manning really felt about Jon Pertwee. It was touching. The problem was that to get there you had to slot through the most ridiculous farce that I ever had to slog through. Three or four really good minutes of story does not justify about 50 minutes of drivel. Yes there were a few funny jokes along the way, mostly with Huxley as the novelizer. That's a joke that got very old very quickly as well but at least there were a few laughs in the interim. Iris certainly contributed nothing to the story and indeed there were probably an infinite number of better ways to get to a story where Jo was able to make that speech to the Doctor without having to utilize Iris.

The production side really does its best to pull things up. Katy Manning as always is an amazing vocal talent. She switches between the Doctor, Jo, and Iris with supreme ease. That's not editing. She really did those switches live and each is a fully realized vocal performance. While listening you have to keep in mind that Iris is not played by another actress because she sounds nothing like Katy. It's not her fault that Iris is so annoying and she at least does a fantastic job of being annoying. As always, Katy's 3rd Doctor is also excellent. Alex Lowe is also good as Huxley. He starts out interesting and as I said he's a joke that gets old very quickly but I at least thought that he did a good job of narrating the parts that he narrated in a whimsical way that added some humor to the story. The music was also very well done just the right beats to add the emotion to the scenes that it needed to.

Final Rating: 3/10

Recommendation: Dreadful and annoying. Taken as just a story it is painfully absurd. The production tries to hold things up but when part of that production is bent on making Katy Manning sound as annoying as they can possibly make her it doesn't really help the case. I feel that I'm being generous with a '3'. Definitely skip this one.
Tags: audio drama, blue angel, claws of axos, companion chronicles, destiny of the daleks, devil goblines from neptune, doctor who, find and replace, green death, invasion of the dinosaurs, iris wildthyme, jo grant, katy manning, mad dogs and englishmen, mutants, paul magrs, planet of the daleks, sea devils, season 9, third doctor, three doctors, time monster, verdigris, wormery

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