blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 5.12 - The Cold Equations

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/26/13 on another forum.

Blurb: In the remnant of a shattered satellite, far above the ruined planet Earth, Steven Taylor and Oliver Harper are dying. As time runs out, they face their pasts… and a secret long kept is revealed.

The borrowed time is elapsing, and they realize they are facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. The cold, hard facts of science.

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven Taylor. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2011.

Setting: A satellite in Earth orbit, time unknown but no earlier than 7000 AD (this story happens at the same time as the framing sequence in The Drowned World). Lance Parkin's AHistory gives the year as 200,750. 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 and immediately after the story The Perpetual Bond. Owen Harper is featured here, having joined the crew in that story. The Cahlians are releasing the plague onto Earth that causes the sleeping sickness that effects Robert's daughter among many others and is mentioned in The Drowned World. Steven mentions that he doesn't want to get close to Oliver because recently he's lost to many friends (see The Daleks Masterplan).

Canonicity Quotient: All of the talk about Galactic Law as if its the same Galactic Law in The Perpetual Bond doesn't make any sense with what we've seen onscreen although I suppose this could be two different sets of galactic law and the Doctor just happens to be an expert in both. It raises enough questions for me to dock this one some points, however. 0.95


Being interested in space and science I have been very concerned of late with the various news that we receive about the space junk situation in our own orbit. The situation gets worse all the time and we come closer and closer to a point when our sky will be so congested with stuff that we won't be able to put new things into orbit. Allowing a story to address a period with a derelict Earth when such a situation has already been arrived at not only allows us to have an interesting adventure story but also teach us all something about current events and science. This is the Hartnell era teaching stratagem at its best. I'd also be remiss if I didn't give Simon Guerrier total props for actually putting his money where his mouth was...literally...and taking an astronomy class so as better to learn the subject and use it as a basis to tell more scientifically accurate stories. I salute you sir.

Oliver's revelation was by no means shocking. In fact I was surprised that was the Big Secret™ flashed to us in the Perpetual Bond. I thought that was just going to be in addition to this other detail. I am glad that they didn't drag out the reveal until the third part of the trilogy though. Big Secrets™ end up getting very pretentious if they're dragged out for a long time. I was also happy that once it was revealed that it isn't jammed down our throats in a way that's unrealistic just to make sure we all got the point. Its a background detail that explains his behavior but it doesn't change him from how he's depicted.

I really loved the claustrophobia of the sequence where Steven and Oliver are trapped in the section of the station. Purves does a great job of describing the horror of sticking his hand out into vacuum and I love the fact that Steven uses what they have to send the TARDIS to the Doctor rather than trying to dock with it themselves. That self sacrifice and the talk of being on borrowed time just seems right in this post-Masterplan story.

My gripes on this one are minor. First off, I find it hard to believe that everything recovered by the Cahlians is something readily recognizable to Steven and/or Oliver. While its a typical sci-fi conceit that anything referenced by the main characters will be recognizable to the 20th century audience, I cannot believe that this future time of at least 7000AD would not turn up all kinds of stuff that would puzzle Steven (26th century at the latest) or Oliver from the 20th century.

Galactic law is brought up again. As I brought up in my review of the Perpetual Bond it seemed like an odd phrase since we've never really been shown any kind of galaxy wide ruling power in the 20th century. One thing that I did not bring up was how odd it was that the Doctor was able to quote from it. The Hartnell Doctor wasn't the walking encyclopedia that the Doctor is now. That didn't start until Pertwee with the implication that when the Doctor was turned into a time agent between The War Games and Spearhead from Space the Time Lords made him study a whole lot of stuff. I didn't bring up the strangeness in the Perpetual Bond because Hartnell did sometimes know the most esoteric things but then had incredible gaps like not knowing the state of dental technology in the late 19th century.

Yet here we have the Doctor quoting galactic law again. This can't possibly be the same galactic law in the future. Even if the same agency is in charge surely the law changes. Is someone going to tell me that the Doctor is an expert in galactic law in all times? I also find it hard to believe that this can be the same thing. We've had the Earth Empire ruling that galaxy in between the two stories. Whatever agency created and enforced galactic law in the 20th century would have been swept away and the Federation likely took over this duty after the Earth Empire. I would imagine that whatever empire or coalition currently rules has a new set of galactic law. I find it incredibly difficult to imagine that the Doctor knows galactic law to such degree in multiple times unless he's had multiple adventures where he has had to become a barrister in various time zones in addition to The Keys of Marinus.

So all-in-all this one knocked it out of the park. While I feel that context and links to other stories remain a bit of an issue on Guerrier stories on this one it wasn't all that big of a deal and the rest of the story was fantastic.

Final Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: This story is great. We have Oliver getting used to his first experience in time travel and then we have a tale about two guys trapped together with no hope of survival. The melancholy tone helps you to feel everything more deeply and you'll smile when you find out Steven's plan. The scientific verisimilitude also helps gives everything that bit of reality that helps you to suspend your disbelief. To me this is the highlight of the Oliver Harper trilogy and it makes the surrounding stories and the Sara Kingdom trilogy better just by being tied to them. I definitely recommend it.
Tags: audio drama, cold equations, companion chronicles, daleks masterplan, doctor who, drowned world, first doctor, keys of marinus, perpetual bond, peter purves, season 3, simon guerrier, steven taylor

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