Blurb: Office life is tough, the commute is a grind, nothing works quite as well as you'd like. Vicki seems to remember things being better once, before the little flat. It’s time she put some excitement back in her life. It’s just a shame the Doctor can’t help.
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Vicki. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.
Setting: The time and place for this story are unknown. It's apparently an Earth colony sometime before 2493. Vicki seems familiar with the technology, but states that it's old. This could just be parallel development, but it's the only link given.
Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Space Museum and The Chase. There's no direct evidence to where it fits with respect to other stories in this gap, although the reference to the time/space visualizer at the end of The Doctor's Tale would imply that this happens sometime before that story. However, the fact that both The Sleeping City and The Unwinding World both involve brainwashed populations with the TARDIS crew not suspecting the truth of the situation until they've been on the world for some time would seem to imply that these two stories do not occur close together either. Vicki mentions that Ian and Barbara teach at Coal Hill School (see An Unearthly Child). Vicki mentions the time that they spent in Rome (see The Romans).
Canonicity Quotient: The whole idea of that season two TARDIS crew creating a revolution not because they need to but because they're cosmic do-gooders and that's what they do, just feels wrong when you consider the era. The only reason that they did something similar in The Space Museum was out of self preservation. This story makes it seem like they could have gotten back to the TARDIS some time ago, but chose not to so that they could overturn this oppressive regime. 0.95
Discussion: It's not a secret that I've never had much time for Vicki. Her character never seemed "real" to me. She looked about twenty but acted about fourteen. She would do things like try to poison Nero and it was always just fobbed off as girlish enthusiasm. I also hadn't cared much for her previous Companion Chronicles aside from The Suffering. I felt like her impressions of the rest of the TARDIS crew were poor and the writing tended to be subpar. Yet, in the Early Adventures, Ian Potter showed himself adept at writing her character in ways that made use of her previously established character and skills to make her an integral part of a compelling story. I looked forward to seeing what he could do with her in the Companion Chronicles format.
I actually really liked the format. Having this set up as a conversation between Vicki and Connie made for a tense situation. Although Vicki tells Connie about events that happened in the past, most of the conversation is about what's going on now. That gives an immediacy and tension to the situation that many Companion Chronicles lack. The other thing about it is that it allows Maureen O'Brien to focus on just portraying Vicki. We avoid her poor impressions of her cast mates by having the events that they took part in described to us or just listening to the sounds of what they're doing when the story cuts to a scene with them. The only place where this doesn't work as well is with the Doctor. Some of his early actions are described by Connie but in the second episode, the story tries to give an immediacy to events surrounding the Doctor by having his actions described by a woman that he's with. Unfortunately that leads to a bunch of dialogue where the woman is supposedly repeating things that he's told her or describing events that there's no need for her to describe. That felt a bit forced, but the rest was superbly handled.
The story is actually fairly simple, but made far more interesting by the format. It's a typical tale of the Doctor and crew showing up in a corrupt regime and fixing it. This being an Ian Potter story there's a twist. The neat thing here is that Potter knowing that he's developed a style decided to change things up by adding a second twist in the second episode. That one's a little clunkier and far more predictable, but I did enjoy that first twist, which took the story so far and turned it on its head. There are a few neat ideas at play as well. Apparently symbols of the TARDIS have become a symbol of rebellion in this area of space. It makes one wonder how many times the Doctor will visit that area again for the TARDIS to be so well recognized. It makes me wonder if there's a Potter Masterplan at work? There's also the fact that we can't really rely on anything about the Vicki/Connie discussion. At the end of the day, we know a few things happened because they happened in the "now" of the story. Yet, Vicki was being purposefully deceptive and Connie's memory was being altered, so none of the things that we're told may be correct, which is a clever way of hiding some of the plot concerns, like why would a society use technology to brainwash citizens into getting rid of technology? You'd end up losing your own method of brainwashing in the process and therefore lose control. I have to say that any story that builds in its own fix for plot problems is pretty clever and worthy of attention.
O'Brien as always is wonderful as Vicki. I don't know how a woman of her age does it, but it requires no effort for her to sound like a teenager again. Alix Dunmore does a fantastic job as Connie. She sounds like a snooty "in control" businesswoman even though she's playing a robot. She also plays the old woman that the Doctor is stuck in with episode two and it was hard for me to tell that it was the same actress, which is always a joy when listening to something like this. The music is basically non-existent on this one and there isn't much to comment on there, but the use of sound is nice. The sounds of footfalls, sirens, things falling, and other action sounds are used cleverly to denote the actions of Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor. It's a nice form of storytelling that allows the characters to be there without ever having to utter a line in the story.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: In a short span of time, Ian Potter has shown himself to be one of the better Doctor Who writers working for Big Finish right now. His use of plot twists, while expected now, is being honed so that the twists remain surprising and by mixing things up he keeps the storytelling fresh. With the Companion Chronicles, he uses the format in a nice way to heighten the tension and keep the listener engaged. All-in-all this one is well worth your time. I highly recommend it.