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Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 8.09 - Starborn

Blurb: On a visit to early 20th Century Earth, Vicki receives a warning - if she leaves in the TARDIS, then she will die.

Unable to join her friends, Vicki is given an audience by a psychic called Violet, who contacts voices beyond this mortal plain.

And one of those voices is Vicki herself, who reveals what will happen at the ship’s next landing place - and what terrible fate awaits...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Vicki. Published by Big Finish Productions and released March of 2014.

Setting: An unnamed planet circa 1800. The TARDIS crew appears to have arrived near the turn of the 20th century and we eventually discover that their next trip is about 100 years prior to their arrival in London. The framing sequence takes place on Earth in London, England circa 1900.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Romans and The Web Planet. There isn't a gap there but the story ignores that fact and goes out of its way to ensure its placement directly after The Romans. Vicki refers to her home time and how if Ian and Barbara ever get home they'd have been long dead by then (see The Rescue). Vicki also mentions Maximus Pettulian, Nero, and the Doctor mentioning that a force was dragging the TARDIS down (see The Romans). Vicki mention her mother's death when she was eleven (see Byzantium!).

Canonicity Quotient: We're asked to swallow the idea that the TARDIS crew sees that they're in London and don't ever change out of their Roman clothes and that they spend several days on an alien world and don't change either? This is way out of character for the season 2 TARDIS cast and I have a hard time buying this behavior especially when in London no matter how long it takes place before their own time. There's also an attempt to shoehorn this story in between The Romans and The Web Planet where there is no gap. Why even try to do it when there's a perfectly serviceable gap between The Web Planet and The Crusade and which wouldn't have changed any of this story? Even though I don't like it even the gap between The Space Museum and The Chase works better than this. 0.50

Discussion: Ever since I started reading the Companion Chronicles I've looked forward to stories by Jacqueline Rayner. The Transit of Venus was really good and The Suffering was outstanding. I had also noted the lack of early season 2 stories in the Companion Chronicles range with only Return of the Rocket Men being set in that gap. I really liked the fact that both The Sleeping City and Starborn were going to take place with the Ian, Barbara, and Vicki crew as I wanted to hear more stories from this group and I looked forward to Vicki's point of view on that time in the series. Being written by Jacqueline Rayner I expected something really great to come of this.

I have to say that I was really underwhelmed by the whole story. That isn't to say that there weren't any good aspects of it. The story of the events on the alien planet were great. In a more traditional Companion Chronicle where those events would have been expanded on and the framing sequence would have been less intrusive then I think that this could have been a real gem. I especially liked little touches like the Doctor's air conditioning bangles, which felt so much like something that the series would have actually done at the time. The idea of the network of stars and people pouring their life energy into them to become stars themselves was also really neat. Unfortunately this seems to have been one of the barest Companion Chronicles that I've listened to with the framing sequence sharing about equal time with the events of the story.

The framing sequence is a real disaster. It's mostly a lot of filler with the normal conventions of seances and lots of explanations on how they work. There's a lot of back-and-forth here which really doesn't serve the story. Then there's the idea that Vicki may have died in the past, something that's supposed to be made poignant by the fact that we know that she leaves the TARDIS in Troy. Yet, it's part of this story that Vicki is given a different time and place to die so we know right off that there's a problem here and as soon as we know that the story loses a lot of its feelings of immediacy. If this had been a story from a Vicki who died three thousand years ago trying to warn herself away from leaving Rome or trying to influence a future adventure in some other way the story might have had a little more punch. The ultimate resolution also leaves something to be desired. A character who we've never "met" as she was excised from the story is the one actually in danger but then she decides at the end "oh what was I thinking because we're such good friends". Maybe if we'd seen the friendship develop this may have worked but instead it's just kind of a short little coda. "Oh by the way this really happened and I'm glad and goodbye." The story of the friend who betrayed them and then sacrificed her life may have been an interesting one to tell but we don't get that story and again I think that it's a missed opportunity to a story that has some great concepts but just seems to fall apart on the actual scriptwork. I really get the feeling that this is a story that was put in when something else fell through because the whole affair seems rushed. The whole time bubble at the end was especially annoying as it means that this story is completely forgettable in even the literal sense. With none of this experience even effecting Vicki it means that the whole thing was fairly pointless. In a broader sense it also annoyed me that this story kind of misses one of the core mandates of the companion chronicles to give us stories from the points of view of the characters. The story isn't really told by Vicki and the observations aren't very interesting anyway being concerned more with details than thoughts. I really wanted to have a story set in this era with Vicki's thoughts of her fellow crew members. We've had similar treatments with Vicki and Steven and I feel like this was a real missed opportunity.

Another thing in this story's favor was that O'Brien is quite good in it. Her Hartnell Doctor is so bad that it makes one wonder if she remembers the man at all, but she's not in it to be a vocalist so I give that a pass. Her young Vicki is great though and she manages to do give the "dead Vicki" enough subtle differences that it sounds like the same character while being different. She also does a good job with Anette making the girl sound like someone completely different. Jacqueline King is fine as Madame Violet even though her role isn't large. She conveys enough of the idea of an older eccentric who might believe in seances to work.

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: It's a story that seems to be on the cusp of something great but leaves you feeling like there were a lot of missed opportunities. I don't know the details of the production but it feels like this was put together at great speed and it just doesn't work. I recommend skipping it.
Tags: audio drama, byzantium!, companion chronicles, doctor who, first doctor, jacqueline rayner, maureen o'brien, rescue, rocket men, romans, season 2, starborn, suffering, transit of venus, vicki pallister, web planet

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