Blurb: From time to time, everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has things from their past they'd like to undo, but nobody gets a second chance. What's done is done and we can't change that.
Zoe's mistakes have led her to imprisonment at the hands of the Company. But when news reports trigger memories of the Doctor, Jamie and an appalling threat, she begins to sense a way out. An opportunity for redemption opens up to anyone willing to take it.
Nobody can alter what's been done. Nobody gets a second chance.
Or do they?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Zoe Heriot. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2014.
Setting: Space Station Artemis and a holding cell for The Company around the year 2069 (year roughly established in The Memory Cheats).
Continuity: This story takes place between The Space Pirates and The War Games. There are actually no hard references to place it exactly and there aren't any clues of where to place it with respect to other stories that happen within the same gap. It seems to be a very late story for Jamie and Zoe. References are made to Zoe remembering the Doctor and Jamie in dreams (see Fear of the Daleks). Kym is the real name of the girl, Emily, who tried to get Zoe to remember some events she'd been involved in with the Doctor (see Echoes of Grey). Jen is mentioned several times (see The Memory Cheats and The Uncertainty Principle). It is said that people who are fired from The Company lose their Spectrox allowance (see The Caves of Androzani). Sync-operators are mentioned (see Warriors of the Deep).
Canonicity Quotient: The reference to Spectrox is a nice continuity reference but doesn't make any sense for a story set so early in Earth's future. There hasn't been time to colonize a world, set up an industry, and begin stockpiling supplies. Most fan dates for story that introduces Spectrox, The Caves of Androzani, place it in the late 3rd millennium or later. The rest of the story fits in with the established canon. 0.97
Discussion: Second Chances wraps up a storyline that has been wending through the Companion Chronicles since it's very first season with Fear of the Daleks. Although not consciously thinking of setting up a storyline, writer Patrick Chapman had to come up with a reason for why Zoe, who was last seen with a wiped memory, would be able to relate an adventure with herself and the Doctor. John Dorney, deliberately picked up on this story thread and made the formal start of what has been referred to as The Zoe's Memory Trilogy with Echoes of Grey. Simon Guerrier continued with The Memory Cheats and The Uncertainty Principle and Dorney finally returned to write Second Chances. Yes, this does leave the Zoe's Memory Trilogy as four or five parts, but I'm quite ok with that. There's precedent with Douglas Adams referring to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a five-part trilogy and if you establish the beginning of this story at Echoes of Grey it's more natural to think of this as a trilogy. The two stories written by Simon Messingham are really one middle piece. Nothing happens in the Uncertainty Principle to move the plot any further than it had already been in The Memory Cheats, so those two stories can easily be considered as one.
It's no secret that I adore anything by John Dorney, but for some reason I felt myself very detached while I listened to this one. I think that a large part of the problem is that I didn't care about Kym at all. For a while I thought that the flashback segments with Kym were because we were going to meet her former boyfriend on one of the stations. It wasn't until near the end that I realized that Dorney was trying to create an emotional connection between her and the listener. For whatever reason that failed. I didn't care that she lost everything because of Zoe and once her motivations in the second half were revealed my reasoning seemed to be confirmed. Yes, it's kind of important to know for the last few minutes of the story but I never sympathized with her because she was such a self-centered character. It's not Emily Pithon's fault. She plays Kym with as much emotion and energy as is possible. The story just didn't work to endear the character to me. I also thought that the inclusion of Jen in the story made no sense. Maybe if some sort of deep friendship between the two of them had been established it might have made more sense but Jen apparently risks a lot to help someone whose on the outs with the company with little explanation. It also seems out of character that she'd look after Zoe in the end based on their relationship in the two prior stories. It feels like she was just inserted into the narrative to give Zoe a rescuer at the end and since she was the only other character in the Zoe's Memory Trilogy she was used.
There were a few other things that bothered me about the story and one of those is the repetition. Episode two is just episode one all over again from a different point of view. A few minutes into that second episode it becomes obvious to the listener that this is the way that it's going to unravel, so you spend that entire time waiting to get to end of that story so that you can find out what happens afterwards. It also seemed to me to be a huge coincidence that the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrived in the time of old Zoe in Echoes of Grey and then again in Second Chances. That seems to be an awful lot of appearances in a short span of years in a time when the Doctor couldn't control the TARDIS and the Time Lords couldn't steer it, but there's no reason why it couldn't have happened. It just seems odd. My final issue was with the computer virus. First of all, I couldn't believe that the story had Zoe equating a virus with bacteria. Yes, I realize that our writers aren't scientists but this is the sort of thing that's really general knowledge by now. The story seemed to imply the the computer virus became a biological virus but elsewhere the term bacteria was used. So did the computer virus spawn a bacteria instead of a biological virus? It seems like the latter would have been the more elegant choice if the former was meant. I also had difficulty with figuring out the mechanism by which the virus became an organic being. At first, I thought that Zoe was mentioning the Sync-Ops to state that the virus infected their minds and rewrote their cells to produce that the bug. Yet the story stops short of indicating that. It seems to imply that magically the virus/bacteria magically materializes within the wires and electronics of the machinery on which the computer virus program is executed. A little tighter execution on the exposition probably would have been in order on this one.
Yet, from a plot standpoint, this story ranks up there with any of Dorney's other achievements. I was worried for a moment that he was going to allow history to change, something that wouldn't have happened in the 2nd Doctor's era but everything proceeds inexorably towards the very events that Zoe narrated. I really love that the theme of second chances is wrapped around a story that is really about fatalism. Yet as always in Doctor Who the opportunities exist in the margins. Zoe might be hampered by the events that she observed, but there's opportunity available in everything that she didn't observe. So we have the A and B stories. The story of the station and the virus is so downbeat. The Doctor and his friends arrive after it's already to late for them to do anything about it and for once they fail to save the day. In the B story Zoe can't change what she wants to but is still able to make a difference, which is really nice. I also like that Kym's motivations were kept secret for a while. I genuinely thought that she was interested in saving someone on the station and when it turns out that she's just trying to save the virus to regain her status on the station it was a bit of a surprise. I was also sad to hear that ending scene for Zoe. She's been through so much in these stories and we've learned how much of her life was ruined by what the Time Lords did to her and to have her become an amnesiac at the end - the worst possible thing for someone whose entire life is based on the mental acuity - was really hard to listen to. Yet then there's that last little that's cut off at the end. The door is left open for Zoe to remember something or nothing. Maybe she just remembers more of her own life from after the Time Lords memory implants. At any rate, I'm glad that the door was left open for more with her. I'd hate to think that all that's left is for Zoe to waste away as a vegetable broken in mind and body.
I've already talked about Emily Pithon's performance but a real shout out should go to Wendy Padbury. Perhaps knowing that this is the last time that we'd hear Zoe for a while she does a great job with this one. She creates a real distinction between young and old Zoe and she puts just the right emotion into everything that she says. Her Doctor and Jamie impressions have really improved over the course of the companion chronicles and she gives her best performance of the two men despite their impact being fairly minimal in this one. Sad piano music underscores the events in this story helping to keep the tone downbeat and somber. It's really well put together and it's nice that the last Companion Chronicle was produced so well. The only thing to mar this release was that there were no extras at the end of the CD, something that has been a staple of the Companion Chronicles but were sadly lacking in many of the releases this season. It felt like a real missed opportunity especially with this being the last one. Still, there's hope that Companion Chronicle specials may be made at some point down the road, so hopefully those will help to rectify this mistake.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: Admittedly, the author does say that this story was written over the span of years and it feels like a story that may have been put together from a bunch of parts written at various times. The plot is strong and the temporal continuity works, but you'll admire that with a sort of detached regard because the story itself isn't that engaging on an emotional level. Still, there are some neat ideas and it doesn't disappoint in providing the kind of resolution that the Zoe's Memory Trilogy almost had to build to. I recommend it.