Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/21/13 on another forum:
Blurb: The TARDIS materializes in England in the year 1912, a time of great social change. The Suffragette movement is lobbying for votes for women, and the skull of the so-called ‘missing link’ has been discovered in Piltdown.
While Vicki falls victim to a strange influence, the Doctor and Steven investigate the fossilized remains. The Suffering has been unleashed. Can the travellers survive its rage?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian. Published by Big Finish Productions and released February 2010.
Setting: Earth: Piltdown and London, England, 1912. Vicki and Steven relate the story from inside the TARDIS at some point after this adventure.
Continuity: This story occurs between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four. Steven's indication that he hasn't eaten since 1066 means that this is the very next story to occur after the Time Meddler and all other stories in this gap happen after this one. The Doctor refers to his visit to Peking (see Marco Polo). The Doctor uses jewelry that he picked up from the Aztecs to buy the clothes that Steven needs to blend in (see The Aztecs). Vicki recalls that she and her father were on a trip to Astra before the ship crashed (see The Rescue). Vicki recalls that she has been embroiled in the parts of Emperors and British Kings and lead an uprising on a distant world (see The Romans, The Crusade, and The Space Museum, respectively). Vicki recalls that she stowed away on a Dalek timeship and Steven recalls his two years of being trapped on Mechanus (see The Chase). Vicki recalls her role in defeating the monk and Steven notes that he hasn't eaten since 1066 (see The Time Meddler). The story ends with Vicki going to cut Steven's hair, a habit that she will keep up as shown in Galaxy Four.
Canonicity Quotient: The only problem with the story is that this story introduces us to the Drahvins before Galaxy Four. While the entity inhabiting the alien skull never names its race, the fact that it gives a history lesson on its world and states that they are from Galaxy Four is telling. When the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven encounter other alien misandrists in Galaxy Four it seems odd that they don't mention this adventure. Otherwise this story fits perfectly into the era. 0.95
Discussion: WOW! It seems that the Companion Chronicles never leave me feeling that something is lacking for long. I just listened to The Suffering. I'll reiterate...WOW!
First of all, the conceit that in their spare time Steven Taylor and Vicki like to put on their own Big Finish Productions is amazing. It makes for a nice framing piece and also adds a touch of humor on the way. It makes me wish that all of their stories could now be redone with them making recordings of their adventures together. One of the other great things about this is how easily both of them step back into those old roles. When Peter is doing Steven it sounds like Steven. When Maureen is doing Vicki she sounds like that perky young girl again. It's very different from her current voice. Purves on the other hand seems blessed with a voice that hardly ages as his Steven is still very much his normal speaking voice. The other great thing about this was the chemistry. I almost sensed a romance brewing between them and while that's wrong on so many levels I loved the banter and I loved the camaraderie. I don't know what their relationship is like in real life but the energy around this piece makes me think that they must have enjoyed being reunited to perform together as well and it came off strongly in their performances. Maureen especially deserves high praise. While I am not a fan of her Doctor she did a phenomenal job with the women. I could not tell that the alien voice was hers and she distinguished all of the voices that she did so that they sounded like they came from different people.
I tend to be very picky about humor in drama. To much can turn something into farce. Doctor Who usually tows the line adeptly but has definitely had some misses on that score. I am happy to say that despite some very over the top humor, especially with the car, that it all felt right somehow. Maybe it's the fact that I always saw Steven as more of a comedic character. Maybe it's because this is so close to A Feast for Steven. Maybe it's because his delivery of the event is so dry. Maybe it's because I can rationalize it as Steven being given to hyperbole. In any event that scene left me with tears in my eyes. I could also imagine him goofing up with the skeleton and looking dumb when he had to shove the thing into his bag.
The subject matter is interesting. To personify the suffragette movement with an alien misandrist is a brave choice to say the least and I wonder what kind of message Jacqueline Rayner was trying to send with it. Still, I felt that she was fair in her portrayal of the period and showed that man-hating is self defeating and that both sides were guilty of wrong doing. I will say that the ties to Galaxy Four and the Drahvins seemed a little tacked on. Although we only see the Drahvins once they never showed any signs of psionic powers and it seems odd to me that not one member of the TARDIS crew wouldn't have said..."waitaminute, keeping men as slaves, clones for menial work, the fourth galaxy, this is the same race that Pilty was from". A true historical drama may have been a little harder hitting like some other reviewers have commented but I think that the story as it was told did make sure to give plenty of drama and humor and some interest to help keep our attention throughout the four episodes.
One final thought, the Doctor is in rare form here and shows how effective that the Companion Chronicles can be even if we don't have the Doctor actually telling us his thoughts. I was already aware of the story of Piltdown Man so I knew exactly what the Doctor was thinking once the skull fragments were taken. I love the delight that he takes in the petty theft as well the subterfuge. There's just something so endearing about Hartnell's grumpy grandfather whose happiest when he's getting into petty mischief.
All-in-all, I feel that Jacqueline Rayner ought to be commended. With both this and Transit of Venus she has shown that she really "gets" the Hartnell era. Transit feels like season one and Suffering feels like a season 3 prototype and the show had changed a great deal between those two eras. The majority of her references to previous stories made sense and were used to help us get more insight into the characters like Vicki's pride in her accomplishments on previous adventures. If I have one gripe its that this story feels like it's trying to say that it's the one and only story between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four. Steven mentions last eating in 1066 and it ends with Vicki giving him a haircut. Now, it's easy enough to fix that by saying that Vicki gives him more than one haircut during their time together on the TARDIS. I find that easier to believe then that the same TARDIS crew visits 1066 again. So there's room for Frostfire and The Empire of Glass, but I'm curious as to why it was framed that way. Frostfire had already come out and while BF doesn't care about the books I'm confused as to why room wasn't made for Frostfire. In any event its a minor nit although one wonders why so far we're 2 for 2 on Vicki possession stories in her CC's. :-)
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation:: Wonderful! The history is interesting and very evenly handled. I was very impressed that the not only were the wrongs of the male dominated society shown to their fullest but even the evils that women put on other women and the fact that the Suffragettes themselves could be quite nasty was depicted so well. Into all that was thrown an alien presence and it just worked. Steven and Vicki's personalities came to the fore, they had wonderful chemistry, and you feel like the story taught you something new about them, which is what a companion chronicle should do. I heartily recommend this story to anyone interested in the audios.