Rewritten from material that I originally posted 3/15/13 on another forum:
[cutaway for background written long ago that does not really matter]
It's been a long time. I parted ways with Big Finish back in 2005. At the time I felt that the quality of the stories had been substandard. The alternate universe arc with McGann had fallen flat with me. I wasn't fond of C'Rizz. We got yet another Evelyn and Mel meet story (Thicker than Water was actually the last one on my subscription). I couldn't make sense of Terror Firma. The characters acted like they were early 1900's humans but no temporal anomalies were mentioned nor did history need to be put right at the end. I'm also not a big fan of Davros becoming the Dalek Emperor. Anyhow a new series was in the wings so I decided to pin my hopes on that.
It failed. Definitely don't want to get into some sort of flamewar but I gave the new series 4 seasons and it just wasn't my thing. Each season was less and less like "Doctor Who" to me and it was like some other series hollowed out its skin and began walking around inside of it.
So in the last few years I've finished reading the last few Who related books that I had and lamenting that aside from the odd DVD release or the odd news announcement to send me into Total Fanboy mode (Galaxy Four Ep 3/Underwater Menace Ep 2 anyone?) that Doctor Who was now a dead series. Then I remembered Big Finish. I heard from several people that it was kind of agreed that the mid-2000's may have been a downpoint to the company but that there'd been an upswing towards the end of the decade and they were now going strong. I decided to check things out. Wow, have the number of lines increased. The sad thing is that I'm also a big Blake's 7 and Stargate fan, but funds are limited so I figured I'd stick it out with my favorite series, Doctor Who. That's when I noticed the companion chronicles. Stories narrated by the original actors? Stories that take place anywhere in Who history? It's a little known fact that I think that the first Doctor's era while so different from the rest of the show is one of the best eras of the series. There's a magic there that was never recaptured as the show changed into something else that was still good. I decided to start at the chronological beginning and downloaded Quinnis.
Blurb: Before Totter’s Yard, before Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, before the Chameleon Circuit was broken… the Doctor and Susan traveled alone.
The planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe appears, at first glance, to be an agreeable, exotic refuge for the two travellers. But the world is experiencing a terrible drought, and the Doctor becomes its unwilling rainmaker.
Meanwhile, Susan makes an ally in a young girl called Meedla. But friends are not always what they appear, and the long-awaited rain isn’t necessarily good news…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Susan. Published by Big Finish Productions and released December 2010.
Setting: The Planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe, time unknown. The framing device is set in a graveyard in the 22nd century as Susan relates the story.
Continuity: Set prior to the events of the television episode, An Unearthly Child. For non-television adventures, this story takes place sometime after the novella Frayed and before the audio story The Alchemists. The adventure on Planet Quinnis in the fourth universe is briefly mentioned in the television story The Edge of Destruction. Susan says that this happened four or five journeys ago. Older Susan narrating this adventure cannot remember for sure, but she thinks that directly after this they arrived in London, 1963. This would be concordant with "four journeys ago" but still leaves room for another adventure to have happened in between this and An Unearthly Child. Older Susan narrates this story at the grave of David Campbell (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth).
Canonicity Quotient: We are given very bare details of the events on Quinnis in the television story The Edge of Destruction. What occurs in this story matches with what little we know. The Doctor's desire at the end of this story to give Susan a more stable life seems to be at odds with his attitude towards Susan attending school in An Unearthly Child. However, the events of Hunters of Earth may explain this discrepancy. The events of this story directly contradict the description of Quinnis given in the short story "64 Carlysle Street" by Gary Russell and published in the anthology book More Short Trips. I give more weight to a full length story, however. 0.95
Discussion: I was a little skeptical of a pre-Unearthly Child story. I'd read Kim Newman's Time and Relative, which I'd felt was a little off in its chronology and characterization for the Doctor and Susan. Quinnis on the other hand does a remarkable job. The Doctor is the same Hartnell Doctor that we love, and the fact that he's a little more irascible and less prone to helping people fits the time period before he ran into Ian and Barbara. Carole Ann Ford did a great job of narrating and performing as Susan. Complimenting writer Marc Platt's vivid descriptions, she conveys a sense of wonder as she talks about the strange town built on a series of bridges arching over a ground "bursting with hungry life". She also does an admirable job as the Doctor. Although Ford doesn't sound a thing like Hartnell, her performance is given with a loving respect for the actor that makes her Doctor almost as endearing as the actual man when he was performing. In a fun bit of a casting Ford's daughter, Tara-Louise Kaye, plays opposite of her as Meedla. Kaye depicts Meedla as a sulking, bitter child. She overdoes it a bit, but that seems to be deliberate. Meedla was designed to appeal to Susan, an angsty teenage girl in need of a friend. Meedla not only gives her companionship as a fellow outsider, but also someone to help, appealing to Susan's altruistic nature. When Meedla's true nature is depicted, Kaye does a great job giving in giving her speech a corvic quality as if she is actually cawing her words.
As usual from Big Finish, the sounds and music are great. There's a sequence where the people of Bridge Town celebrate, and their chanting sounds as if it was recorded from a ritual in the real world. Maybe it was. There are also the sounds of rain, lightning strikes, the flapping of birds wings, the flapping of an ornithopter, and the squeals of a pig. The music makes heavy use of woodwinds, which gives the story a more fantastic, almost fairy tale quality. This works well, since it's told from the point-of-view of Susan, who is still a child at this point.
One thing that I really liked about this one is that gives us a touchstone for Susan's life in the far future. I understand that it ties into An Earthly Child, but I haven't read that yet. It's nice to know that Susan has a child and has no regrets about staying on Earth. It also helps to inform her character. We see her desperate desire to have friends and belong. Meedla's betrayal may help indicate why Susan doesn't seen to have any friends at Coal Hill. It's also interesting to see the Doctor at a time when he's less compassionate. He threatens someone's life at one point and is completely self-centered. He's still a far cry from the character that we know today, and it's fun to play with that in a story set in his past.
I did find a few things odd. I felt that the Fourth Universe was completely squandered. Quinnis was no more different than the various worlds we see in Doctor Who all the time. I would have liked something that totally breaks our laws of physics or some-such that would justify it being another universe. I wasn't a big fan of the Doctor calling her "Susan". I always assumed that was a name she adopted on Earth and just kept using it while Ian and Barbara were around. I realize that Big Finish is bound by the BBC, and they weren't going to let them reveal Susan's real name in an audio even though I'm pretty sure they have no thoughts to use her in the new series. It just felt wrong. Finally, I thought it was a little odd that Marc Platt felt the need to create a reason for the Doctor to have Susan attend Coal Hill School. He says in the interview afterwards that "they never do things like that", but we really have no evidence for what they were like prior to meeting Ian and Barbara. I always figured that they did try to blend into whatever society that they found themselves in in those days. The Doctor says that they'd stayed so long in England because he'd been working on fixing the faults in the TARDIS, so there really wasn't much of a need to "give a reason" for her being in school. Still, those nits are relatively minor and I was really pleased with the story as a whole.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recomendation: Lots of nice nods to the earliest days of Doctor Who make this story feel like a home coming to those who are familiar with the first season and who love it. It's also a nice jumping on point for new listeners without any established continuity getting in the way. The story isn't the most complicated that Doctor Who ever does, but the characters are interesting. There's a tale about loneliness and hanging out with the wrong crowd, giving Susan a dimension that she was rarely afforded in the television series. I'd suggest new and old fans of Doctor Who to give this one a listen. Lots of nice nods to the earliest days of Doctor Who make this story feel like a home coming to those who are familiar with the first season and who love it. It's also a nice jumping on point for new listeners without any established continuity getting in the way. The story isn't the most complicated that Doctor Who ever does but the characters are interesting and there's a tale about loneliness and hanging out with the wrong crowd, giving Susan a dimension that she was rarely afforded in the television series. I'd suggest new and old fans of Doctor Who to give this one a listen.