Rewritten from material that I originally posted 3/24/13 on another forum:
Blurb: Siberia at the end of the 19th Century, and the TARDIS arrives just as a shooting star hurtles to the ground.
With it comes an illness that affects the Doctor and Susan, and knowledge that must not fall into the wrong hands.
With his friends either dying or lost, Ian Chesterton must save the future and win the ultimate prize – a way home to 1963…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April 2012.
Setting: Earth: The village of Zarechny, Siberia, Russia, sometime near winter 1903. Ian narrates this at some point in the future, time unknown but definitely after his travels with the Doctor have finished.
Continuity: This story is set between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There are no indications in this story where it is set in relation to other stories in this gap, so it is safe to assume that it happens after Here There be Monsters. In this story Ian recalls the Doctor asking him if he knew what it's like to be a wanderer in the fourth dimension (An Unearthly Child). He also mentions that the Doctor had said that their "destiny was in the stars" (Reign of Terror). The Doctor's symptoms remind Ian of the radiation sickness they experienced on Skaro (The Daleks). Ian also mentions that the Doctor has explained to them that history can't be changed (The Aztecs). Grigory's future visions allow him to see Ian and Barbara's first meeting with the Doctor, their fight with creatures invading Earth in the far future, and how Ian and Barbara will eventually get home. (An Unearthly Child, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and The Chase, respectively). Grigory also sees beings which live beneath the surface of the Earth (The Silurians), people made of plastic (Spearhead from Space), metal (The Tenth Planet, Invasion, and The Moonbase), and silicon (The Hand of Fear), Egyptian gods (Pyramids of Mars and The Sands of Time), werewolves (Wolfsbane, Loups-Garoux, and Greatest Show in the Galaxy), ghosts (Image of the Fendahl), vampires (State of Decay, Goth Opera, Blood Harvest, and Vampire Science), a tenth planet (The Tenth Planet), men on Mars (Red Dawn and Seeds of Death) and a lunar space station (The Moonbase).
Canonicity Quotient: Despite this story's many failings it is accurate where it references other stories. Additionally, I thought going into it that there might be some problems with the third Doctor novel, Wages of Sin, where he meets and older Rasputin. However, this story explains very well why Rasputin would not remember the name of the Doctor, so that fits as well. The placement of a sci-historical in season one is out of place for the season but I hesitate to say that its not canon as its more of a personal aesthetic on my part to maintain the style of season 1 in a story meant to go there. Therefore, this story gets the highest marks yet. 0.99
Discussion: I'd been pleasantly surprised by my first 3 companion chronicles so I went into The Wanderer with high expectations. I knew from the description that it was going to be a sci-historical. This bothered me a little bit since the sci-historical was not introduced until The Time Meddler, so it didn't seem right thematically to include it in season 1. Still, I realized that this was a colossal nit so I told that side of myself to be quiet and listen to the story.
William Russell's narration was fantastic as always. Its still amazing to hear him read as Ian and I really love his performance as the Doctor. Unfortunately this is the only nice thing that I can say about the story. This story has three interesting plot elements - Rasputin, a device capable of seeing the future, and a race of scorpion-like aliens. These plot elements are interesting but end up having almost nothing to do with each other and have little interaction.
First we have Rasputin. His identity is treated as a revelation but I think pretty much everyone guesses his identity from his first appearance. Second, to move his story along we have to assume that Ian is so stupid that he'd read the Doctor's notes about the device being capable of reading the future to a man of the early 1900's. Does this pass the smell test to anyone else? I can see Ian explaining principles of basic science to men of history. He does this for Marco Polo for instance. I cannot see him telling a man from a primitive era about something that even Ian would find fantastic. Then instead of this explaining Rasputin's rise to power yet clear insanity we're required to mindwipe him of this futuristic knowledge before the end of the story. This makes you wonder why the character was even there.
Then we have a device that is meant to spy on Earth because the Dahensa fear us. It is not meant to have time travel capabilities but can apparently emit chronon particles when damaged. The Dahensa are unaware of this capability as this would work out well in their favor as they would be able to see everything that the human race ever does and therefore do a better job of assessing out threat to them. How you build a device without knowing of such a drastic failure mode is beyond me. The device's only purpose in the story seems to be just to make the Doctor lie still long enough for Ian to do the above stupidity and then get them to take Rasputin to Saint Petersburg. It doesn't really have any other dynamic place in the story.
The Dahensa are very well described and are just the kind of thing that are great for audio because you'd never be able to pull them off on television. They're not there for long and only seem to be around for them to be very easily fooled into killing themselves.
The whole thing ends up as a kind of mess. I'm hoping that this is not indicative of the stories to come down the line.
Final Rating: 4/10
Recommendation: There's no doubting that this one is a disappointment. There are some great performances and some interesting ideas but they're never wrapped up in a successful manner. It's almost as if we're expected to pay so much attention to Tim Chipping's hypnotic performances as Rasputin and be mesmerized into not paying attention to the rest of the story. This one isn't really worth your time unless you're a major Ian fan. Not recommended.