Rewritten from material that I originally posted 4/28/13 on another forum:
Blurb: The port of Alexandria, 5th Century AD.
The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara have taken a break from their travels, and are enjoying a few weeks in the sunshine – and the chance to appreciate the magnificent Library of Alexandria.
Ian also takes the chance to enjoy friendship with the philosopher Hypatia - but things here will not last forever.
The time travelers know that the library will soon be lost to history.
What they are about to discover is the terrifying reason why…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April 2013.
Setting: Earth: Alexandria, Egypt, exact time unknown, but between 400 (when Hypatia began teaching in Alexandria) and 415 A.D. (when she died). Ian narrates this story from an unknown time after traveling with the Doctor.
Continuity: This story is set between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There is no direct evidence of where this story falls in relation to other stories in this gap but there is a hint in the fact that here Ian and Barbara find that the Doctor may have been stretching the truth with them when he said that you can't change history. Therefore I think it's best to place this story between The Wanderer and the Flames of Cadiz. In the former Ian tells Grigory that history can't be changed, but in the latter Barbara isn't surprised when the Doctor is worried that history can be changed. Ian mentions that the Doctor said that their destiny lies in the stars and the Doctor mentions their having met Napoleon Bonaparte(see The Reign of Terror). He also remembers seeing the transit of Venus on the Endeavor (see The Transit of Venus). Ian refers to "their good friend, Alexander" when he sees a statue to the monarch who gave Alexandria its name (see Farewell Great Macedon). Barbara questions the Doctor about his previous assertions that you can't change history (see The Aztecs).
Canonicity Quotient: I've already mentioned that I'm not a big fan of the season 1 sci-historical because it isn't something that would have been done at that time. However, that's an aesthetic choice rather than anything else. This story does contradict the short story The Book of Shadows, which also takes place at the library and has Ian and Barbara. It also creates a bit of a problem by directly referencing Farewell Great Macedon, seeing as how that story does not fit into the canon, but that can be explained away as something similar did transpire with Alexander the Great even though we don't know the exact details yet. Ian and Barbara's relationship is developed here, which is a thread that will be picked up again in The Rocket Men. 0.92
Discussion: I have to say that I was looking at this one with a little dread. While I have mostly enjoyed the Companion Chronicles that I've listened to so far and believe that William Russell is phenomenal as a story teller there were two things going against this story from the get go.
1.) I don't think that sci-historicals are appropriate in an Ian and Barbara story. At that time the show was supposed to be educational and I don't think that the original production team would have have done one while Ian and Barbara were on the show. It's rather telling to me that the first sci-historical, The Time Meddler, happens right after Ian and Barbara leave the ship.
2.) I didn't know what to expect from Simon Guerrier. I'd read The Time Travelers but that wasn't his only work that I was familiar with. I felt that story was good but found it a little bogged down by how continuity heavy it was and seemed out of place as a season 1 story. The only other thing that I knew about Mr Guerrier is that he's fond of making fun of the classic series on the odd "Doctor's Strange Love" extras on the DVD's, which always seem out of place on a disc that people ostensibly purchase because they enjoy the show on its own merits, not because they think its akin to a B movie and feel that it needs to be riffed to make it enjoyable.
Needless to say with this background I approached the CD with some trepidation, but I will say that it was completely unfounded. Instead, I found a story that was very respectful of the four main characters and provided an interesting situation for the characters to interact with.
First of all, the performances were great. As always, William Russell did a fantastic job. Every time I listen to him it seems that the intervening years between 1965 and the present just melt away and I'm hearing the same voice that I hear on my DVD's when I play the first Doctor stories. Susan Franklyn also did a great job as Hypatia. She and William did a great job of developing the affection that grows into a slight romance between the two characters and this is one of my favorite parts of the story. Ian meets his Cameca here and it surprises me somewhat that he doesn't use some sort of retort like this when the Doctor is chastising him for his fraternization. It seems to me that he also should have chided Barbara for her own relationship with Leon Colbert which nearly got him killed.
I will post here that as others have mentioned, the fact that Ian comments on "their destiny being written in the stars" and references to "their friend Alexander the Great" does hint at placing this after Reign of Terror but more damning evidence is that the Doctor directly references Napoleon at one point as well as someone that Ian has met meaning that this story has to take place after Reign of Terror. The fact that no reference is made to the Doctor's wanting to throw them off the ship makes me think that either alternate takes were recorded and the BF editors decided to use the take that sets this after Reign of Terror or Mr Gurrier was testing to stir up the fan rage by lobbing in the suggestion that yet another story would be fit in the Sensorites/Reign of Terror gap. This may have been the "fun" that he was referencing.
At any rate, I digress. I know that a lot of people have said that they like Hypatia narrating part of the story but that bit didn't work as well for me. I suppose that this could have been her narrating to someone that she told her story to at another time but since it is interleaved with Ian's own narration it makes it seem as if they are together at some future point relating the story and so its distracting to wonder when that is (Flames of Cadiz creates a similar issue with me wondering when Ian goes back to the future to meet up with Susan to relate that tale). In the end though that wasn't a big deal to me and was easily ignored.
The science fiction aspect which I had been dreading actually turned out to be alright. As Susan stated the appearance of sea monsters to destroy the Library was part of the many different historical accounts of the library's destruction. With that being the case I can swallow down having that element in the story, although the Mim as described don't really sound like sea monsters even though they came out from the sea. I can just about buy their presence as a result and so that nit goes away.
However, I would be remiss if I didn't address the one gaping flaw in the plot. The Mim are apparently a time traveling race who are aware of the Earth's future. They also seem loathe to change history. My own feelings about time travel becoming to common aside, there is a severe problem with this. Why would they study the Earth as a potential location for invasion if they are aware of its future and do not want to change it? Obviously the invasion of such creatures would change things, so it seems odd that they'd have to do a study to prove this.
One thing that I do like is the provision of an explanation for why in other fan books and audios that Ian and Barbara assume that history can be changed even though the Doctor tried to tell them in the Aztecs that it couldn't. I really liked it as a subtle piece of continuity that now makes other stories work. That was very well done.
My remaining final nit is the lack of an interview at the end of the CD. I realize that they can only do this if they have the time but with it missing from both this and the Flames of Cadiz I am really starting to miss this feature and I hope that The Alchemists will have an interview as I have grown accustomed to them and enjoy the insights of the creative crew.
In the end I give the Library of Alexandria a 9/10 and hope to hear more of this quality.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation:: A well-written, subtle piece. The alien invasion is just a backdrop. This story is about Ian and Barbara's relationship. There's some great history thrown in and there's even an alien menace. The First Doctor's as awesome as ever as he faces down the bad guys, but I can't get enough of the Ian and Barbara love. This may not be the best jumping on point for new listeners but I heartily recommend that if you've seen the TV show or have listened to some of the other audios with this case then give this one a listen. You'll be happy that you did.