Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/26/13 on another forum.
Blurb: When the TARDIS materializes in a familiar junkyard in the 1960s, the Doctor and Steven are soon embroiled in a mystery in the City of London. Who are the mysterious bowler-hatted businessmen with their deadly umbrellas? And what secret is young Oliver Harper desperately trying to conceal?
Contracts have been signed. A deal is in place. And the Doctor discovers that perhaps not even he can stop a terrible business...
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven Taylor. Published by Big Finish Productions and released February of 2011.
Setting: Earth: London, England, 1966. The details of when or why Steven is narrating this story are not given.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Daleks Masterplan and The Massacre. The TARDIS returns to the junkyard owned by I.M. Foreman where it had resided in 1963 (see An Unearthly Child). Steven talks about the deaths of Katarina, Bret, and Sara (see The Daleks Masterplan). Steven is reminded of Ian and Barbara having made it home to this time (see The Chase). Steven remembers having been in London in the early part of the 20th century (see The Suffering).
Canonicity Quotient: We've got a few issues here. First, the Massacre indicates that the last time that Steven was on Earth that he was in Egypt. This would refer to episodes 9 and 10 of The Daleks Masterplan. Of course its possible that at some future point before the Massacre he goes to Egypt again but this remains a point of discontinuity. Another issue is that Steven refers to "the last time he was in London" as The Suffering. Yet the events of Frostfire happen after The Suffering as do the events of Upstairs, so the last time that he was in London was either 1814 or 1900. Two fairly blatant contradictions in this story make for a lowered score. 0.90
Discussion: So just in case anyone thinks that I'm against Simon Guerrier, I will say that this one I liked. The Masterplan-Massacre gap has always been one that I felt needed to be explored. I always thought that at least one story needs to be there because at the beginning of the Massacre it seems that all is fine and well in the TARDIS and the Doctor and Stephen seem to be in high spirits again. We know that the events of Masterplan must have been fairly recent for Stephen to react as he did to his assumption that Anne died a horrible death in the massacre but I can easily see a month or so of stories sliding into that gap without any difficulty, so I'm glad to see that it's made use of here. The opening matches up very well with the end of the Daleks Masterplan and I can imagine the events of that story leading into this one.
Oliver Harper is introduced as our new companion. He's characterized by being the effete British stereotype. I imagine him looking like John Steed as played by Ralph Fiennes even if he sounds like a slightly younger Gary Russell. Harper seems brash and is willing to get over the culture shock of meeting an alien species in about 30 seconds and then seems to have no fear in telling them that he's going to stop them when he finds out what their plans are. Oliver has a Big Secret™ which we are beaten over the head with here although I will spoil things and let you know that his secret is revealed in the next story so we don't get the annoying buildup with no closure that seems to haunt so many characters with a Big Secret™.
I really like the Doctor's resolution to things at the end of the story. It seems like shades of the 7th Doctor causing the villains to fall into their own trap but making sure that it's only after he verifies that they really will go through with their horrible intentions. I can see Hartnell doing the look that Steven describes, that look of pure righteous anger when he sees people being pressed into slavery because some politicians want to make a buck. Thankfully Purves is on hand to give us a wonderful rendition of the Doctor. Even though I don't think that Purves' Doctor ever gets the tone of his anger quite right, we still have a beautiful performance as both Steven and the Doctor and I'm very pleased with the whole thing.
One thing that didn't make sense to me is why are the Fulgarites even involved with trading on the floor? Would they really offer their "cattle" to a human buyer? That seems odd and threatens to blow the lid on the whole operation. Why would the British government allow such a risk? People whisked up into a spaceship will never be able to tell anyone what happened to them but someone purchased by a buyer halfway around the world could conceivably escape and let people know what happened. That seems like an incredible risk.
The Doctor's reference to a galactic law seems odd in the 1960's. What organization exists in space at this time to administrate any kind of galactic law. We know that the Third Zone exists around this time period but it was never implied to be a galactic government. It always seemed to me that it covered a sector of space around Earth and comprised the space-faring civilizations in that area. I would have liked some more context around this.
I'm a little confused why the minister acts so scared when the Doctor beams the people up to the Fulgerite mothership. Does he think that they'd blame him for this? I expect that if he blames the Doctor for the incident that Flowers would back him up. I'm also not sure what was served by beaming up the Fulgarians other than to create a momentary respite. Wouldn't they just beam back down again in a few minutes and fix the whole "personnel issue"? The Doctor and Steven leave as if the problem is solved but I don't really think that it is unless the Doctor knows something that we don't.
I'm not a big fan of the pre-song sequences. I'm not sure why they're here since it doesn't evoke the era at all. You might as well use new series music if you're not going to try to evoke the era.
I was a little surprised when I learned that this story was set on Earth. Steven states in the Massacre that the last place he was on Earth was Egypt, clearly referencing the trip in The Daleks Masterplan. Since this story now happens between that and the Massacre eventually we're going to need another Doctor & Steven story set in Egypt to lead into The Massacre. This is why when I imagined stories sliding into this gap I always imagined it as an outer space adventure only.
At the end of the day my gripes are fairly minor and I really enjoyed the story.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: Overall a pretty good hit for the beginning of what has been referred to as the Owen Harper trilogy. Owen comes off as a strong character and we get a fairly intriguing story. The Doctor remains enigmatic through most of the story, but when he reacts it's a great moment for the character. I'd definitely recommend giving this one a listen.