blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 9.3 - The Founding Fathers

Blurb: The TARDIS lands in Leicester Square in the summer of 1762. When the Doctor, Steven and Vicki find themselves locked out of the TARDIS, only one man can possibly help them. But the American, Benjamin Franklin, has problems of his own...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven Taylor. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.

Setting: Earth: London, England in the summer of 1762. Steven narrates the story from the unnamed planet of the Savages, roughly 70 years after he decided to stay there.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four and sometime after the audio story The Suffering. There's no evidence for when this story occurs with respect to other stories set within the same gap. Steven mentions that they'd met time travelers bent on changing history before (see The Time Meddler). Steven mentions that he'd been to London in 1912 (see The Suffering). Sida talks to Steven about how he needs to leave the seclusion of his cell from time to time (see The War to End all Wars). Steven still lives on the planet where he left the Doctor (see The Savages).

Canonicity Quotient: Once more, we have an issue with The Perpetual Bond, which states categorically that the last time that Steven was in London was The Suffering. Yet, even if you place Frostfire before The Suffering (see Frostfire's entry for the reason why this doesn't work), we now have Upstairs, An Ordinary Life, and The Founding Fathers with Steven in London after the Suffering and before The Perpetual Bond. It's a bit of a mess. You'd think that someone at BF would notice or would at least make sure to flag any statements about "the last time" someone does something in a series where we jump around within the character's timeline. Thankfully, Guerrier seems to have learned from this mistake and made Steven's reference to the events of the Suffering more specific to allow for more adventures in-between. 0.98

Discussion: The Founding Fathers may be one of my most anticipated Companion Chronicles ever. After The War to End all Wars, I was really excited for the prospect of more stories about Steven after he left the TARDIS in the Savages. I was also happy to hear that for once we were finally going to hear a tale from Steven about his time with Vicki. With the promise of the Doctor meeting some of the founding fathers of America it sounded like this one would be one of the truly great stories.

I'm going to get my gripes out of the way first this time and talk a bit about how The Founding Fathers is a pretty big misnomer. We get one founding father - Benjamin Franklin. While he's an interesting character and he's used well it's a bit of a let down. I would love to see a Doctor Who story set in America and dealing with Franklin's involvement in the founding of the nation. There's still room for that somewhere down the line, but it feels like this title should have been saved for that eventuality.

The other issue is that the framing sequence story completely falls apart, and the ersatz Doctor is completely wasted. Steven tells a tale to explain why the "Doctor in a jar" should never be allowed to run for office. Yet, we aren't given key information to help us understand the reason for the story until after Steven is finished telling it. It keeps the listener in the dark about why the story is being told and thus makes it impossible for us to figure out why Steven is telling it. When Steven does give his reasoning and the basis for it, it seems like a fairly sound conclusion, but seems to be a poor fit for the story that he just told. The evidence Abigail was fairly weak and even a copy of the Doctor's mind would have been likely to get more information before doing anything as ruthless as Steven suggests. Also, while it's true that the ersatz Doctor probably shouldn't be trusted to run things, the real Doctor shouldn't be either. At least in this case, though, I think that this was part of the authorial intent. Steven views the Doctor with rose-tinted glasses that have caused him to forget just how ruthless he could be. If trapped in a jar, I don't doubt that he would have done the same thing to get out of his prison. Surely, though, Steven could have thought of a better example of a time when a moral decision had to be made and which needed a quick decision where the ersatz Doctor might have gone with logic and efficiency rather than compassion and justice.

Ignoring the framing sequence, this is a fun, little historical. The familiar trope of the crew being locked outside of the TARDIS is used. The interplay between the Doctor, Vicki, and Franklin is nice to see develop. There's a bit of intrigue and we have the Doctor struggling to deal with Franklin getting into the TARDIS. That cliffhanger made my jaw drop, and I couldn't wait to see how the Doctor would deal with Franklin wandering around the TARDIS.

Gurrier shows his forte by giving some strong character moments as well. I liked that the Doctor baited Franklin by having Vicki come up with the questions about his methadology. I also thought it was great that the Doctor didn't actually need Franklin to get back into the TARDIS at all. He just wanted to take advantage of the situation to go see him. It's such a first Doctorish thing to do. I also really appreciate it when the characters get things wrong. It's understandable that they'd think about time travelers after their recent experiences with the Monk, and I liked that it turned out to be a red herring. I also laughed out loud when the ersatz Doctor made fun of Steven's American accent for Franklin and commented on his oratory skills. I do love stories like this and the Suffering when the narration is itself part of the story and having someone critiquing it while it was going was a treat and very much in character for the Doctor. I also liked why they explained why the "Doctor in the jar" wasn't taking part more in the story, since theoretically it would know more about some of the events than Steven would. The focus on character really helps to make the story enjoyable while providing a counterbalance to the lackluster framing sequence.

If you're getting sick of me praising the production values on Big Finish audio stories, unfortunately you're out of luck. These guys have been doing this for a while and know what they're doing. Purves once again shines as Steven, playing his world-weary older self in such a way that it's recognizable that it's still the character of Steven, but it's also apparent that a lot has happened to him since then. His Franklin is a little overblown, but no worse than most American-accents that I've heard from British actors. He also plays the Doctor with the same great performance that we're used to from him. The only downside is that his portrayal of Vicki is almost identical to that of Dodo. He even gives her the same crazy Dodo-accent even though he turns it down slightly. The two characters don't sound anything alike, so it is somewhat jarring to hear Dodo's voice come from Vicki in the story.

Alice Haig puts in a very notable performance as Sida. That character is really coming into her own with this storyline and it's nice to see that she's maturing into someone who takes charge a bit more often. Lisa Bowerman also puts in a fair performance as Abigail Holt. She's good at playing working class historical British as she's shown in other places. The only downside is that she does it so much that it's impossible to mistake her for anyone else, which can be a little disconcerting. The Companion Chronicles continue to expand their audio landscape. This story features all kind of sounds from bubbling vats to jingling coins, to lightning to rain to fire, to explosions to banging on a door and more. While many say that it's hard to get into the COmpanion Chronicles because of the narrative format these wonderful elements help to enhance the telling of the story and draw a listener in as if they're listening to a friend tell a story about some event. It can be a real treat and this story is no different.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: Once again, Simon Guerrier proves that character is his forte. It's a tale of the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki trapped outside of the TARDIS and how they use their wits to get back in whilst being involved in some historical intrigue. The framing sequence let's things down a little bit, but the main story is solid enough to prop up the whole. I definitely recommend it, especially if you've seen The War to End all Wars.
Tags: audio drama, companion chronicles, doctor who, first doctor, founding fathers, galaxy four, peter purves, savages, season 2b, simon guerrier, steven taylor, suffering, time meddler, war to end all wars

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