Blurb: Years after he gave up traveling in the TARDIS, Steven Taylor is the deposed king of a distant world.
From the confines of his cell, he shares his story with a young girl called Sida.
And one story in particular – a visit to a whole world at war, which will mark Steven for life…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April of 2014.
Setting: The Planet Comfort, time unknown. It's a penal planet and the residents appear to be human, so it likely sometime after the 20th century. Steven narrates the story from the planet of the Savages from about 50 years after the Doctor left him.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Gunfighters and The Savages and sometime after the audio story Return of the Rocket Men. Steven refers to a time when the Doctor had taken him to a monastery (see The Time Meddler). He talks about the fashion sense in Dodo's era (see The Perpetual Bond). He also refers to how the Monoids took over the Ark because they were in to much of a hurry to get away (see The Ark). Steven mentions that he'd been thinking about staying somewhere ever since they encountered the Rocket Men (see Return of the Rocket Men. Steven mentions the system that existed with the Elders and the Savages before he and the Doctor arrived (see The Savages).
Canonicity Quotient: I was not able to find anything in this story that contradicts established Doctor Who continuity. 1.00
Discussion: Of all the companions on Doctor Who, I think that Steven Taylor has come out with the most development from the Companion Chronicles range. As a series of stories that mostly take place on the premise that a character is narrating the story to the listener there normally isn't a lot of development that goes on. Often the stories give us insight into the companions and as a result they have given us something really unique. Yet Steven has actually been developed mostly through the writing of Simon Guerrier with his stories The Anachronauts, The Perpetual Bond, The Cold Equations, and The First Wave. Marc Platt's Mother Russia develops Steven further and although it was written before the Guerrier stories, it takes place after them but works perfectly with them. Return of the Rocket Men tied Guerrier's work together with Mother Russia and pushed Steven even further, showing how much he had grown as a person during his time with the Doctor. I was very excited to find out that we were getting one final installment with Steven that takes place between Return of the Rocket Men and The Savages because his arc has been so fascinating to watch and Guerrier knows the character better than anyone at this point, so I was happy to hear that he'd be writing it. Even better, I had always lamented that all of the other companion chronicles for the 60's Doctor Who characters gave us an insight into where the character was currently and what they were doing but Steven's stories have always been done in a way where it's either uncertain when and why he's narrating or he's narrating the story from a time very close to when it took place. I knew that this story would give us insight into what happened to Steven after he left in The Savages and I couldn't wait to find out what I would find out.
Typically I find that Simon Guerrier's stories emphasize character over plot. This can be fine as long as they don't highlight character at the expense of plot as is the case with some of his work. As a result I find his writing very hit-or-miss. In this case he really has knocked it out of the park. His story does what companion chronicles are supposed to do. It's an introspective piece that tells us about Steven as he was back when he was traveling with the Doctor but also tells us a lot about what he's doing almost 50 years after he left the Doctor and tell us how the past has informed his present. I've found many of the stories where the companion is directly narrating to someone in their own time to be intrusive to the story, but this time, "Sida" is very much a background presence to explain why Steven is narrating at all and is only really a presence at the beginning and end. We're told just enough to see the big picture of Steven's last 50 years and I really like how the two stories are synchronized so that we come to the resolution of both at the same time. My only real problem with the framing piece is that Steven keeps referring to Sida's mother as "your mother" rather than just saying her name. In some places it makes sense but it definitely makes the conversation a little awkward. I wonder if her name is "Anne". I do really like the subtlety of Guerrier choosing "Dodo" as the name for one of Steven's children as it's fairly likely that the Dodo he traveled with was his descendant from the night that he spent with Anne in The Massacre. I like the subtlety of his conversation with Sida about Dodo. He didn't know her well enough to inform much of an opinion of her yet cared about her enough to name a daughter after her. It implies that Steven suspected the genetic connection between them, which is a nice and subtle touch to add nuance for those who know but won't make it difficult for anyone who isn't a Who fan to know what is going on.
There have been some people who criticize the narrated story for how easy it was to spot what was going on. To me that's not really a problem. I prefer it when the Companion Chronicles tell a story that would have been told at the time. Guerrier did due diligence and actually looked up sources that Gerry Davis may well have referenced and came up with something that I can definitely see onscreen. Besides, even because we knew the cause of the problem it didn't mean that what happened to Steven didn't matter. In many ways I enjoyed it because by separating Steven from the Doctor and then Dodo it gave more tension than if we'd been cutting between their separate stories. The Doctor's solution to the problem was brilliant and yet it's the only way that a war of that nature could ever truly come to a resolution. I also guessed the "twist" of Sida's real identity fairly early on but that didn't make her relationship to Steven and their conversation any less important. What I did like was that we were left with a cliffhanger. I feel like Guerrier was giving us a promise that the Companion Chronicles would return and when they do that he'd pay off on that cliffhanger and that was a great way to satisfy me as we near the end of the range.
From a production standpoint, Peter Purves as always is impressive. Once again it's easy to believe that there are multiple characters involved in the story. His Hartnell is wonderfully nuanced and while it obviously isn't the man himself he always does a great job of imitating so many of the mannerisms. His Dodo is also wonderful as always. I lament the fact that Big Finish has never been able to get Jackie Lane to come back to do a companion chronicle but having Purves narrate her is the next best thing. Alice Haig is good as Sida. She does enough with the part to convey that she's someone who cares about Steven, which is all that we need from the role. The only thing that I really didn't like about the production is the music and it's what held this story back from being a 10/10. The music feels like someone went crazy on an Atari 2600 to produce the strangest and most inappropriate noises for music. Occassionaly we get some standard drumming as this is a war story but for the most part the music is very bad, a strange mix of very primitive electronic warbling, what sounds like someone banging on kitchenware, and the occasional real instrument like an oboe. I don't know if they just ran out of budget or what but I could do without any of this kind of "experimental sound" in the future.
As this was the last Companion Chronicle recorded even though two more are due to come out in the range, I do have to say that I will miss it. My hope is that with the Early Adventures and the Fourth Doctor Adventures now coming out that if the Companion Chronicles ever do come back that they will keep the framing format. We already have venues for non-narrated stories. Keep the companion chronicles as narrated stories as I often feel that these are superior when you have a context for when and why the character is telling the story and it also makes us happy when we get to "check in" on these old friends. I also wouldn't mind if they ever did a range of "companion adventures" that aren't narrated but take place after the companion left the Doctor. They could be like the Sarah Jane adventures (or The Time Museum) except for any living companion. I for one would love to see the adventures of Susan in post Dalek Earth or Ian investigating strange events in London. It's my hope that The War to End All Wars will not be wrapped up in a typical Doctor Who story. If the Doctor shows up it'll be easy for him to defeat a copy of his mind, especially since it would need to be a later incarnation. I want this resolution to come from Steven to show how much he has grown, matured, and evolved as a character. So either as a "Steven Adventure" where its all about him in that future time or as a Companion Chronicle trilogy where his narration mirrors something that's going on in the present as he tries to put the faux Doctor out of action, that's how I'd like to see this story resolved.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: A character study of Steven in two time frames. It's a thought provoking piece on the horrors of war and very fitting as we hit the centennial of the beginning of World War 1. The story is perhaps not the most original thing that you'll ever hear but it's very much the kind of story that you'd find in 60's sci-fi and feels very fitting for that Lloyd/Davis era of Doctor Who production. The whole thing comes together in a neat way as both the story of Steven's current life and the narrated story end and we're left with something of a promise that the Companion Chronicles will be back. Just try not to get to annoyed by the intrusive and inappropriate music and you'll be fine. I highly recommend this one.