Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/27/13 on another forum.
Blurb: Caught in the inevitable path of its own history, the TARDIS arrives on the planetoid Grace Alone, where the Doctor, Steven and Oliver expect to face their fate. What they don’t expect to find is a massacred crew – and a race of alien invaders known as the Vardans.
When the Doctor is apparently killed, his companions attempt to survive against the odds. But those odds are narrowing. Their borrowed time has expired.
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven Taylor. Published by Big Finish Productions and released November of 2011.
Setting: The planetoid Grace Alone, the Oort Cloud, exact time unknown. Its the early days of the Earth Empire so it is likely late 24th/early 25th century. 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 Cold Equations. Oliver mentions his big secret and Steven mentions that he's on Borrowed Time. The Doctor refers to the file that he found, which indicated that they would die on Grace Alone (see The Cold Equations for all the above). Steven talks about changing history with respect to the Battle of Hastings (see The Time Meddler) or messing with the pyramids being built (see the Daleks Masterplan). Also, Steven remembers Katarina, Bret, and Sara who all died during the events of The Daleks Masterplan. As he's dying, Oliver refers to seeing the Doctor through the events of the Massacre on to the events of The Tenth Planet.
Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor steers the TARDIS to exactly what he needs to go without any kind of outside agency helping him. This is already a problem for this era in the show's history. Also, Oliver Harper dies in this story and is not referred to be Steven when referencing those who have died recently in The Massacre nor is he one of the visions that taunts the Doctor in Timewyrm:Revelation. We're lead to believe that this is either apocryphal or that Oliver made such a small impact on the Doctor and Steven that they forget about him fairly quickly after this story ends. That would seem to belie the reactions that they have to Oliver's death in this story. Additionally, the Vardans meet the Doctor and learn of Gallifrey for the first time in the third millennium AD, which is fairly well contradicted by The Invasion of Time in which they are contemporaneous with Gallifrey. Plagued by some big discontinuities we have to conclude that not everything in this story took place as described. 0.85
Discussion: The final story in the trilogy of Steven and Oliver was still pretty good but I felt that it fell a little flatter than the rest of the trilogy. First off I will get out of the way that both Purves and Allen have been acting their socks off but it was nice to get a few more voices into a Companion Chronicle. Giving the Vardans a feminine voice helped to contrast with the other characters. Speaking of the Vardans wow they work far better on audio then on screen. You easily imagine that sound of shaking tinfoil to be energy crackling and without the horrible visual of translucent shaking tinfoil you can really imagine these as beings of pure energy that can move at the speed of thought (since light is faster than thought, thought is the bottleneck on their movement). I would definitely be happy to have BF use the Vardans again in another production.
Science once again makes a contribution to the story and once again I like that Guerrier is using his newfound class in astronomy to tie some real science concepts into his stories and using them as a basis for telling something interesting. Using the idea of electromagnetic radiation and how fast it travels as the basis for revitalizing the Vardans was fantastic. Once again this really feels like the kind of thing that old school Who used to do and I love it.
I'm of two minds about some aspects of the story. I understand that as a Companion Chronicle it ought to be a smaller, more personal story but I am in some ways saddened that we didn't get a Vardan invasion story. It's quickly subverted by a story where the Vardans want access to the TARDIS. The Vardans' ability to move through the electromagnetic spectrum is scary especially when you consider a future time when electronic communications would be the only way to communicate between the stars. The Vardans could be everywhere. Shutting off the technology might slow them down but that would also cripple everything. It'd be an interesting dilemma for a story to deal with. Still, the story being told here about fate and courage and never giving up may have been lost in a larger story so this is alright in and of itself.
Oliver's death bothers me. I understand that he had an arc and that they wanted to show his development and then give him a tragic end. My cynical side makes me feel like this was done to elevate his status and give him a more poignant ending than many of the Doctor's other companions. The other problem is that from a series perspective it makes it seem as if Oliver gets no respect. Steven doesn't mention him in the Massacre when he mentions the friends who have died recently. In all of the angst ridden tales that have dealt with the Doctor's companions who have died the list is always Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric. It makes his omission seem odd. I think that I would have liked at the end for Oliver's courage to be rewarded and leaving it open ended for more stories with he and Steven.
It feels to me after listening to this right after the Cold Equations that its a little samey. All the talk about borrowed time and the orbital mechanics seem like they're retreading the same material. I like the science but I would have liked a little more variation. Other than the concept of the Vardans and the basics on moving at the speed of light we aren't really given a whole lot that's new here.
The Doctor's ability to pilot the TARDIS straight here is just wrong. While later Doctors post Pertwee seemed to always be able to pilot the TARDIS when it was important, Hartnell and Troughton never could. One could say that it was just happenstance that their next adventure would take them to Grace Alone but the way that the scene is played makes it seem as if the Doctor is somehow able to do this deliberately, which doesn't seem right. It also means that no gap is left for further Oliver/Steven stories and I'm not sure why this gap would be closed off since he's killed off in this story.
The chronology here seems a bit off. There's no implication in The Invasion of Time that the Vardans or Sontarans are time traveling which means that the invasion force is likely contemporaneous with Gallifrey's present. Indeed Rodan sees that Sontaran warship traveling along near Gallifreyan space, so at the very least the Sontarans are of that time. Since the Vardans are working for the Sontarans there that would place them a few million years into the past. I'm all for the Vardans being around for untold millennia just like the Sontarans but this story heavily implies that for the Vardans this story takes place before Invasion of Time which just doesn't make any sense. I suppose its possible that the Vardans who invaded Gallifrey were a faction that never communicated with the rest of their race so the Doctor's encounter with these Vardans sets out a new chain of events with the these Vardans wanting time travel but that seems a little convoluted. Once again I feel like Guerrier doesn't really look at the context of his stories placement in time and how that would effect the various details. Just because the Doctor or the audience encounters things in a particular order doesn't mean the rest of the Who universe does.
I'm not a big fan of Oliver's death changing history. His monologue at the end of the story indicates that by saving the Doctor and Steven he changed their futures as well so everywhere that they went afterwards changes the history of those places as well. With all that we've seen in Doctor Who I can't believe that if the Doctor was destined to die and be autopsied on Grace Alone that the universe would have even still existed. I realize that again it seems to want to elevate Oliver's death into something more than a character journey but I feel like it goes against everything we've learned about the Who universe. Changing history is possible but that's one that would have huge ramifications. I prefer Oliver's journey to be a deeply personal one and having his sacrifice be one of simply deciding to stop running and face his fears.
I liked this story but it had more nits for me to pick at. That and the fact that i felt that we were retreading a lot of the ground from The Cold Equations has me rate it a little lower than the rest of the trilogy even though I still think that this one was fairly good.
Final Rating: 6/10
Recommendation: It was a great ride, but we sputter out at the end. The conclusion of the Oliver Harper trilogy feels like it was rushed, borrowing a lot of dialog from the previous story. The Vardans are a concept that work better on audio and the science is once again right, which gives a good feeling to the era. Yet, it seems like the ending is forced and there is a LOT that doesn't make sense. However, if you've gone this far in the Oliver Harper trilogy then there's no reason to stop now, but I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone listen.