Blurb: Steven Taylor left the Doctor and the TARDIS to become king of an alien world. But it's now many years since he gave up the throne and went to live in a cell in the mountains, out of sight of his people. He's not escaping his past – quite the opposite, in fact. As his granddaughter, Sida, is about to discover...
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Sida. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.
Setting: The unnamed planet of the savages in December, 1986. Sida narrates the story to an unnamed audience sometime after these events take place.
Continuity: For Steven, this story takes place after the television story The Savages and after the narration portion of the Big Finish audio The Founding Fathers. For the Doctor it takes place concurrently with the television story The Tenth Planet. The deaths of Katarina, Brett Vyon, and Katarina are mentioned (see The Daleks Masterplan). The Vardan who killed Oliver makes an appearance (see The First Wave). Steven reminds the Doctor that he was willing to let Anne Chaplet die (see The Massacre). Sida refers to Steven's cell (see The War to End all Wars). The copy of the Doctor's mind makes an appearance (see The Founding Fathers).
Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor communicates with Steven and Sida. A day later he is brought to their world for well over 24 hours. In all, over 48 hours passes before the Doctor returns to Earth. Yet, the Tenth Planet doesn't take place over that large of a span of time. The entire conceit that the Doctor's mind was pulled to the planet of the Savages also seems to contradict the reasoning that the Doctor is weak because his "body is wearing a bit thin". The whole notion of the Doctor having a "brain in a jar" leftover from The Savages seems to be a half-remembered factoid. Guerrier says in the interviews on the CD that a friend pointed out to him that the Doctor still has a brain in a jar in the Savages, but this seems to ignore the fact that the Doctor's brain was never cloned or extracted from his head. The Elders took his energy and that energy seems to have been imbued with some element of his personality. Jano took the entire infusion of the Doctor's energy that they'd stolen, but even if he hadn't, it would have all been lost when the Doctor destroyed the energy siphoning machine. 0.35
Discussion: I was really excited for this story. I didn't care much for the ending of The Founding Fathers, but I enjoyed the story over all. It seemed a bit bizarre to set up the faux-Doctor as the big bad for the trilogy only to have it disappear at the end of the second installment in the trilogy. Still, I was really curious to see what Simon Guerrier came up with and was intrigued by a companion chronicle that didn't contain any narration about a time when Steven was with the Doctor. It'd be a good opportunity to flesh out the world of the Savages and give Steven an adventure that showed how far he'd come since his time with the Doctor.
Peter Purves continues to impress in this one. He's freed up a bit to play Steven only as an old man, but he does it well, giving us the same vital, man of action from Doctor Who and showing how he's aged. There's a bit of nuance to his performance showing that as Steven has gotten older he's become more like the Doctor and I really enjoy that element. His Doctor performance hasn't diminished with time either. While I prefer William Russell's Hartnell, it's not difficult to see why Purves is the fan favorite. He's got so many of the Doctor's mannerisms expressed perfectly even if his voice doesn't sound at all like Hartnell's. Sida grew on me throughout this trilogy. She's a tough girl, raised on Steven's stories of his time as an adventurer in time and space. She hates injustice and wants to do right. Alice Haig plays her here with a real fire. She goes from an exasperated bureaucrat to someone fiercely determined to protect her people and clever enough to outwit an invading alien. It might be a difficult job for anyone else, but Haig pulls it off with ease, making her character very likable. Lisa Bowerman reprises her role as the Vardan here. There's not much in the part to challenge her. The Vardan is basically a moustache twirling (if she had one) villain and there isn't much depth there, but she does what she can with it.
The cast is well served by the production. I like that the music goes from a soundtrack that would feel at home in a 60's story in the beginning to a much faster-paced, modern sounding music as the story weaves on. It's like an audio link that bridges the Steven with the Savages with this older version, who'd be someone we'd see on modern TV if Purves were ever able to reprise the role. The soundscape is also rich. We've got the normal Vardan sounds, but also the sounds of jackhammers, gunshots, hovercars, bolts being thrown, and grappling on the floor. With this being more of a "full-cast audio" then a typical Companion Chronicle, there's a lot more room to have action rather than narration and the sound department steps up here.
So much of what works in this story can be laid at the feet of the actors and the director. Unfortunately, the writing is just not up to par. At the best of times, I feel like Guerrier emphasizes characterization at the expense of writing. When he hits with things like The Cold Equations and The Library of Alexandria he hits big, but many times his stories feel contrived to evoke emotional responses rather than following the logical development of a particular premise and the characters as performed on screen. Nowhere does this feel more evident than in The Locked Room.
In the CD interview, Guerrier talks about being stumped at the plot of the overall trilogy, which he hadn't planned ahead for when he wrote The War to End all Wars. It sounds like he had several different ideas and ended up just going with one that came together in a rush and it shows. What should as a Companion Chronicle have been a story about Steven quickly became a story about Sida instead. She's even the narrator for the tail, even though there isn't much narration to be had. Steven remains a passive observer, someone to comment on what's going on, but Sida is the one who does all the action. Even at the end, with the Vardan destroying everything. It isn't Steven who comes up with the plan to save the day. It's Sida. This story could and should have been a showcase of how Steven had grown and matured during his time with the Doctor and shown how he didn't need the Doctor to save the day. Similar themes were developed in The Time Museum and Second Chances. Here was a chance for Steven to have the limelight, but even at the end he wants nothing to do with the world. Sida has to even threaten him with jail just to get him to help out with the rebuilding efforts. He's just a depressing character to follow and it's an unsatisfying conclusion after he seemed to want to get more involved during The Founding Fathers.
Yet, this whole story seems to have been developed around the idea of cheap reference thrills to hide the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. Oliver is trotted out again because having "died" it supposedly gives the character more weight and Guerrier makes sure to try and get some more mileage out of that one. The Doctor is brought in seemingly just so that Purves can do his Doctor impression again, despite the fact that the Doctor isn't really needed or wanted in the story. To make things even worse, there's fanwank explanations for how the Doctor is from The Tenth Planet and that the reason that he was knocked unconscious is that his consciousness was brought to the planet of the Savages...for a day. We'll get back to that later. The Doctor really adds nothing to the story, except as a vessel to bring back the Vardan from The First Wave. I really thought that when Steven talked about a "she" returning and that it was something that touched both his mind and the Doctor's that it would be the proto-Drahvin from The Suffering. I feel like that would have been such a better story as it would have set Steven against Sida and we might have gotten some interesting mileage there. But no, it's cliched villain A played by Lisa Bowerman. At least it was already hinted that the proto-Drahvin may come back. There were never any indications that the Vardan would return and it makes the whole story so incredibly hokey, especially since the faux-Doctor would have been a much more interesting threat. Instead, we get the Vardan taken down by the proto Doctor in a deus ex machina supreme. Even though he was supposed to have destroyed his consciousness, apparently it was all a ruse. Out of nowhere he's back and Sida apparently has extra-sensory perception to tell her that he's still there. It's such a mess that doesn't hang together but expects you to be oohing and awing over the continuity references so much that you won't notice.
What makes this even more frustrating was that Guerrier and others have said that he campaigned to do a Steven story that is set after he left the Doctor in the Savages. It's a great opportunity for world building. The Savages and the Elders were at war the last time that we saw them. How did Steven forge them into one society. What side did he take his wife from? Did that cause any schisms? How did he keep the old tensions from resurfacing? None of that is evident in the story that we're told. There's some lip service to a revolt, which could mean that the old rivalries had sprung up again, but we're never given any details around them. Instead, we're presented with a world that might as well be an Earth colony of some type rather than an alien planet with two civilizations that lived very different lives. I'd expect that even 100 years on that there'd still be some evidence of what had gone before.
One of the things that I've always appreciated about Guerrier's stories is that he's made absolutely sure to make the science correct. He even went back to school, apparently, when he was doing the Cold Equations just so that he could talk reasonably about astronomical observations. That's why it seems so odd that this story makes no sense when it comes to science. Apparently Steven picks up the Doctor's mind from Earth and takes it to the planet of the Savages. Yet, how does this work? It can't be some sort of TARDIS-like technology that can pluck the Doctor's mind from time and space or all the talk about the planet needing to face Earth for this to work wouldn't' make any sense. Also, neither Steven or the Vardan in his mind know anything about time travel, so that doesn't make any sense. So, basically, unless Geurrier is trying to argue that the planet of the Savages is in Earth's solar system, that means that the Doctor's mind has been gone from Earth for years. It would also take years for it to return. Yet, in The Tenth Planet, the Doctor is only unconscious for a few hours. In The Locked Room, Steven makes contact with the Doctor one evening and then makes contact with him on another, which is already more time than the entire story of The Tenth Planet takes When you add to it that the Doctor spends a whole day out of his body, you start to wonder whether Guerrier ever even cared to do anything like fact checking. In fact, how did Steven even know where the Doctor would be? Vardans can only communicate at the speed of light and even if the planet of the Savages is relative close to Earth, it'd take years for Steven to get the message and by then the Doctor would have left.
There's also an odd dating issue going on. Since there's no time travel going on, we almost have to assume that somehow Steven has made some sort of machine for instantaneous transmission. That places The Savages at some point in the 19th century. Yet, Steven is very clear that the doctors on the planet wouldn't be able to help the Doctor because he "isn't human". This statement means that in Steven's view, he and the people of the Savages are all of the same race, but the Doctor isn't. Yet, if this story really takes place in 1986, contemporary with The Tenth Planet, then how are humans populating this planet? It doesn't make any sense and one wonders why Guerrier didn't just use the notion that this was a lost Gallifreyan colony, since that simplifies things immensely while also giving good fodder for future stories.
Final Rating: 5/10
Recommendation: It's a story that had everything going for it - a great production team, good director, wonderful performers, and two stories preceding it which were fantastic. Yet, it was all let down by a story that doesn't seem to know what it wants to do and tries to get by by throwing as many references at the audience to help them ignore the fact that the emperor has no clothes. The performances and direction help to keep this from being a total loss, but it's a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a great trilogy. There are still two great stories in the Companion Chronicles Vol. 1, and I wouldn't call this a deal-breaker to completing that set, especially if you liked the first two installments of this trilogy, but I would advise getting ready for disappointment.