Blurb: When the Doctor falls ill, Susan is forced to leave the safety of the TARDIS behind. Exploring a disused research center in search of medical supplies, she becomes embroiled in the deadly plans of a terrorist holding an entire world to ransom – and the soldier sent to stop him.
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Susan. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.
Setting: The Planet Ruah, time unknown. No one contradicts Susan when she says that they're an Earth colony, so these aren't just humanoid looking aliens. The heavy usage of nano-technology would imply the late 3rd millennium or anything beyond, but it's more likely the 4th Millennium - perhaps between the collapse of the original Earth Empire and the emergence of the Galactic Federation. Lance Parkin's AHistory gives the date as 3150, but admits that it's pretty arbitrary. Susan narrates the story at some unknown point in time to an unknown audience.
Continuity: This story takes place after the audio story The Beginning and prior to the audio story The Alchemists. Susan mentions that her people mastered nanotechnology thousands of years ago (see Deceit & Lungbarrow). Susan mentions that the Doctor's reason to leave was that he wanted to make changes on Gallifrey (see The War Games & Carnival of Monsters).
Canonicity Quotient: Susan's discussion with the Doctor about why he left Gallifrey seems odd based on what we learn about him in stories set later in his life. We were always told that he advocated Time Lords interfering in the affairs of other civilizations. Here we're told that he just advocated change on Gallifrey, and Susan is the one asking why if change is good for Gallifrey why isn't it good for everyone else. It's possible that the Doctor simply gives the answer that he gives to discourage Susan from trying to change things on her own and getting into danger, but that seems like a weak explanation given his usual mannerisms. He usually isn't afraid to tell Susan what he thinks and just relies on her to obey him unquestioningly. 0.98
Discussion: The Companion Chronicles are back! I was over the moon when the First Doctor Boxed Set was announced. While I wish that the Companion Chronicles were continuing as a monthly set and while I wish that they were doing more than just single Doctor-themed sets, I'm still excited to get anything new from this line. My only point of disappointment was that an Ian story was not included with this release. It's my fervent hope that we'll get one with the next first Doctor set. This has nothing to do with the the story that I'm reviewing, though, so I had better move on. The Sleeping Blood is the first story in the set. It's a Susan story from before the time that Ian and Barbara traveled in the TARDIS. Stories set in that period always walk a tightrope. It's exciting because it's a period that the television show never visited, so it theoretically allows a very wide range of storytelling both in terms of format and character. Yet, at the same time the writers are hamstrung. They can't allow the Doctor to be to brave or proactive, and Susan can't go to far beyond the scared teenager clinging to her grandfather. So it was both with interest and apprehension that I approached this new story.
The story is based on a pretty sound premise if taken in the context of the 60's series. The Doctor in those days was prone to all sorts of mundane maladies, aches, and pains. In this one he's accidentally poisoned by a plant, and Susan tries to take the Ship from location to location in search of some sort of advanced medical aid. I really liked how the story brought out that the ship doesn't only visit primitive locations while this is going on. They went to a few that probably had the technical know-how to help the Doctor, but they were to suspicious of strangers showing up and asking for medicine, so Susan was forced to move on. There's also a really neat idea about a society that's dependent on nanites being incredibly susceptible to a decent hacker. The Butcher and his threat are horrifically detailed to us by the death scene of one of the soldiers sent to stop him as her nanites kill her from the inside. Setting the story in an abandoned research lab also allows writer, Martin Day, to take advantage of the fear created by trying to look for something in an abandoned, sterile space. This allowed Susan to spend a significant portion of the story exploring and learning about her location. That's not only an element that I think was lost from Doctor who by the time that Patrick Troughton came on the scene, but also allows Day to take advantage of the first-person narration of The Companion Chronicles. We learn about what Susan thinks about the technology around her, and how she feels about being left alone while also having the life of her grandfather in her hands.
On the flip-side, I found a lot of the developments in the later portion of the story to be fairly hard to swallow. This group of soldiers has been sent into this abandoned facility to locate The Butcher and come across a teenage girl who claims to be a space traveler. Rather than being incredibly suspicious they just decide that not only should they trust her completely, but that they should put her to work in helping them fight the Butcher. Then, there's the idea that these robots shoot out hypodermic needs to infect people with nanites but not a single one of the soldiers thinks something of a stabbing pain lancing into some portion of their bodies. Finally, there's the Butcher. Disappointing is something of an understatement. I understand that the story wants you to sympathize with him, once you find out his actual background, but it's hard to do so when even his so-called "motivation" is very minor. It isn't that the system that he lived in made his mother die. He had the ability to help her. She chose to end her life based on a feeling that it was her "time". This really deflates any justification that the Butcher had for his actions and makes it difficult to sympathize with him. Yet, Susan seems to think that the society is to blame and is all set to start a revolution. While Susan is prone to overreacting even in later stories, it does seem like something of a reach. I was surprised that the story ended here. I thought that Susan was going to slip out of the ship and do a little reprogramming, perhaps broadcasting the Butcher's message to his world and leaving us thinking that maybe Susan did make some kind of change there. It seemed to be what the trajectory of the story demanded for a resolution. It feels like the heavy-hand of editorial control was inserted, perhaps because someone felt that Susan starting a revolution would be too great of a departure from her character in the TV series. I don't think that's such a problem to reconcile, but I could see others just not wanting to go there. I also found it completely ludicrous that this soldier who's willing to kill in the name of money is perfectly happy to let Susan run off at the end. He starts off seeming like a nice guy, but by the end he's exposed as one of the "poor masses" that The Butcher is trying to help. Yet, instead of going along with the Butcher, he's trying to achieve his own fortune to pull himself out of poverty. He's also being deliberately deceptive with Susan in order to obtain her help. This doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would just let her go and not take the opportunity to try and obtain her Ship and curry favor with his superiors. I understand that the two episode format of the Companion Chronicles hamstrings it sometimes, but this seemed like another unfinished storyline that just had to be tied up, so that things could end on time. I also had a bit of a hard time with the fact that all the Doctor needed was some antibiotics. Susan could have whipped those up in the TARDIS herself and you don't need a particularly advanced culture for that kind of medicine. It would have made more sense if the nanomachines were the solution to the Doctor's sickness, because then it would tie into the events of the story and would have established the ailment as something more powerful than a typical disease. As it is having the Doctor felled by a normal bacterial infection just seemed to be a let down.
There's some nice work on the production side. Carol Anne Ford doubles as the voice for the research lab's computer. She does a really good job with it, speaking softer and higher, while also speaking in a stiffer cadence. "Ling" the computer sounds adorable. Ford herself still sounds great as Susan. She pitches higher and gets enough of her 20-year-old self's voice in there to give the illusion that we're hearing her younger self speak. She's even able to emote while doing it, which helps sell the performance. I was a little disappointed that she's decided to give up on her William Hartnell impression though. While it was never accurate, I always thought that it had a certain charm, having been informed by her fond memories of her former co-star. Although she isn't required to say much as the Doctor this time, what she does say is very bland, and I would have loved to hear her use that former impression instead. Darren Strange has a similar situation with a dual role. For Kendrick he does a good job of playing a soldier who seems completely out of his depth. Until you're made aware of why he was chosen you wonder why this guy would lead such an important team. Still, the way that he conveys youth and a lack confidence actually serves to help tell the story. Unfortunately, he's something of a joke as The Butcher. For the initial communications you assume that the Butcher is treating his voice, so that it can't be recognized. Instead, even after the characters meet him, he still sounds like someone whose voice is about 3 octaves lower than would be possible for a human to produce. It made the conversations with him during the climax somewhat comical, which isn't the effect that they were supposed to have. It doesn't help that Strange doesn't alter his accent at all, relying on the electronic treatment to do all of the work. As usual, Big Finish does a good job with the soundscape. There are plenty of sounds to enhance the story, and the music is minimal but used to good effect when needed. That's pretty well in-keeping with the 60's era.
Final Rating: 6/10
Recommendation: A bit of a mixed bag. I think that The Sleeping Blood wins some points for having some excellent ideas and telling a somewhat topical story with the Doctor and Susan from a time when the TV series would have us think that their lives weren't all that interesting. It's undercut by some plot points that feel like they're wrapped up too quickly or dropped altogether, and it's a shame that Darren Strange doesn't sell his performance as The Butcher like he needs to. Still, the overall effect is good, and since Martin Day never disappointed in the novels, I'm looking forward to his next outing with Big Finish. I recommend listening to this one if you get the First Doctor boxed set, but I don't believe that it's enough of a draw to buy the set just for this story.