Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/26/13 on another forum.
Blurb: An experimental timeship smashes into the TARDIS, and the crews of both ships wake up on a desert island. Has the TARDIS been destroyed? And why doesn’t the Doctor want to escape?
Then, Steven and Sara find themselves on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in 1966. And their only way back to the TARDIS is to betray the Doctor.
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the points-of-view of both Steven and Sara Kingdom. Published by Big Finish Productions and released January of 2012.
Setting: A desert island, planet unknown, time unknown. Also, Earth: Berlin, German, 1966.* No context is given for when Steven and Sara are narrating this.
Continuity: This story takes place between two episodes of The Daleks Masterplan, The Feast of Steven and Volcano. The audio reprises the closing piece of dialog from The Feast of Steven meaning that this story is the first to take place in that gap. Steven mentions that his job before the war was to ship prefabricated buildings to colony worlds (see The First Wave).
Canonicity Quotient: While it probably would have made more sense to have the human time travelers from the 50th century there's no reason why they can't be from the 60th. This story plays fast and loose with some details and characterization - The Doctor plays matchmaker for instance but overall it could fit into the era. 0.99
Discussion: I just listened to the Anachronauts this past week. I must say that I was a little hesitant, since I was not a big fan of the Sara Kingdom trilogy. Combined with that was the fact that as soon as I heard the premise I was immediately reminded of Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible. I was a little worried about a retread of a story that I was already familiar with. Later I learned that this story was written at the last minute as a replacement for a story that didn't go through so it would be wrong of me to review this story without taking that fact into consideration and realizing that there were likely some serious constraints at work here. I also think that some consideration really ought to be given here for BF giving Sara a new lease on life. She's a character that I always felt deserved some missing adventures but neither book line ever touched that gap between episodes 7 and 8 of the Daleks Masterplan, so I am happy for them giving her a proper extension here. (Incidentally I still have 2 story ideas for Sara Kingdom adventures so my work is cut out for me to get BF to comission me) :-)
Firstly I just want to say what a pleasure it was to listen to Jean Marsh and Peter Purves. Jean's performance in her first three stories had left me thinking that she couldn't do anything other than her normal voice. Here though we not only get her sounding like a much younger version of herself but we see a huge range of emotions. There's one scene towards the end where she conveys fear and horror in a way that is just magnificent. This is the same woman who played Joanna in The Crusade, and Morgaine in Battlefield and it is great to have her back in full style. Purves as always is brilliant. He seems to be able to walk back into the role of Steven Taylor at any given time and pick up where he left off. It is truly amazing. The production values remained high and the Time Sprite was realized in a very creepy and scary way.
I greatly prefer the framing of this story to the Sara Kingdom trilogy. Having Purves and Marsh both narrate this allows us to have a story that is about Sara and Steven and their relationship, which is something that the nine episodes of TV stories didn't really give us much of. They do seem to have a camaraderie and friendship by the episodes in Egypt though as they face off against the Monk, so the evidence seems to be that they drew closer during their time together on the Ship. While there's no evidence that Steven was in love with Sara there's really no evidence to say that he didn't either. In fact it makes a kind of sense that after watching one person that he loved die that when the Doctor told him to leave another lover, Anne Chaplet, behind that he went off the handle and left the ship until he discovered his many-great-granddaughter Dodo and decided that maybe things worked out anyway and he should continue traveling with the Doctor. This was a good, meaty field to examine and I'm really hoping that this will continue to be developed either in a further Companion Chronicle or in the Early Years series.
I'm also quite happy to see that Simon Guerrier is putting real science into his stories. Although the production in the 60's wouldn't have known about the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud it's just that sort of real science that helps to evoke the feeling of the 60's stories and makes this feel like proper Doctor Who.
I also really like the resolution with the Doctor and the human time travelers. Sometimes I think that people make the first Doctor a little to kindly in a lot of the novels and audios that have come out in the last couple of decades. He certainly could be like that but the steel and anger was there too. The idea of using time travel to wage war appalls him and he is not afraid to do what is necessary to keep that technology from developing even if it means exiling some people so that they never see their homes and families again. I also like the fact that he needs Sara and Steven to agree with him because he doesn't have the strength to drag the people outside of the story. It was a nice moment of humor to undercut the darkness of the decision that he'd just made.
I was less thrilled about the plot. As I already stated, the idea of a prototype time ship crashing into the TARDIS and creating a new world from the multilayered dimensions within dimensions is not a new one. I'm not sure if Simon Guerrier had read or was aware of Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, but if he hadn't then this is an amazing coincidence. Having read that story it was easy for me to figure out what was going on and unfortunately we barely get to learn really about the time travelers other than that they're fighting a Wall of Noise, something that sounds like it's completely contrived for audio and not what anyone would really call any kind of enemy that they're really fighting. The idea that the human time travelers would try and take control of the TARDIS is an interesting one but instead we don't see that idea developed and instead go into a completely different tangent. The tangent is about Sara and Steven stuck in the Berlin of 1966. That story starts dealing with the idea of giving away future knowledge to keep oneself alive but then what that would do to two characters who came from the future and whose lives might be unraveled by such information. This was a really fascinating idea. Unfortunately it went nowhere when we find out that yet this was just another illusion and in fact Sara wasn't even real within the illusion. While the events mattered because Steven experienced them the fact that we just had two stories that were essentially illusions with interesting ideas that weren't developed was kind of a downer. It seems like we had two separate story ideas - Guerrier's desert island idea combined with the Berlin Anachronism idea but with neither really being developed. This story was made as a replacement though and I'm not sure how much time it needed to be written in so I shouldn't be to harsh about how things came together. At least having to many ideas keep the story pacy even if it means sacrificing the plot for the moment. I'd rather have that then a story with to little going on and feeling like it was dragged out to fit its run time.
There are quite a few things that don't make sense to me. What happened to the human timeship? We're told that basically it and the TARDIS materialized within each other but doesn't that mean that it's still tied in with the TARDIS somewhere? Steven goes to great lengths to talk about how actually being in Berlin in 1966 is so much more real than the computer simulations he experienced in school. Then we find out that the world that he's in is entirely based on his memories of those simulations, so much so that he can only imagine one house repeated ad infinitum. So if the "trap" was intelligent enough to create those extra details in addition to his memories there then why couldn't it create more than one type of house? I may have missed this because I was tired when I was listening to this portion, but how did the human time travelers still have a gun when they'd dropped them all before leaving the island illusion? Why were they also asleep once the Doctor, Steven, and Sara all left their sleep-traps? The explanation given by the Doctor was that their gun had put them to sleep. Did they shoot themselves? That part was very confusing. Why is the story called The Anachronauts? In the end there is no anachronism as the Berlin sequence is an illusion. How does Sara do any narration in episodes three and four when she isn't even present?
There were a couple of things that I didn't like about the Doctor's characterization. First, I can't imagine Hartnell's Doctor standing by and calmly saying "Natalie please don't touch the TARDIS controls." It seemed weak and ineffective. Instead I imagine the Doctor rising up to his full height and saying something like "How dare you lay your hands on my ship!" and giving a smack down with his cane that Natalie would not soon forget. The other part that made me groan is the Doctor playing matchmaker. I already groaned in The Library of Alexandria when the Doctor teased Ian about having a girlfriend. Then groaned again when the Doctor started advising Ian about love in the Rocket Men (a slight gripe on that story so much so that I didn't feel like mentioning it at the time) but at least in the latter we were talking about Ian and Barbara who already loved each other and the Doctor was just telling Ian that he ought not to waste any time in telling her. Here we have the Doctor trying to push Sara into a relationship with Steven even when she didn't see him that way. The Doctor just never had this kind of preoccupation with the relationships with his crew and while I know that the new series is to blame (and I'm kind of happy that least we don't have the Doctor walking around making out with Barbara and Sara which was one of my fears post-new series) it just seems amazingly out of character and IMHO cheapens him by putting him down on our level and having him concerned with the minutiae of our lives.
In the end, I found Anachronauts to be slightly above average but think that it probably would have been excellent broken into two stories and allowing both sets of stories to shine.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation:: It's a bit of a mishmash. As a four-episode Companion Chronicle it actually suffers from feeling like two stories that were loosely joined together and are only connected by the fact that neither one actually happened. It's fast-paced, but don't think to hard about it or the walls will just come tumbling down. I'd hesitantly suggest this one for a listen but it's skipable if you really don't want to dive to deeply into the First Doctor's era.
* - Of course its all a huge fakeout and actually the whole story takes place within the TARDIS.