Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/27/13 on another forum.
Blurb: It's 1812 and the Doctor, Steven and Dodo get ready to spend their winter in a Russian village. The French are on their way, but that's not the only invasion the travelers will have to deal with.
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Steven Taylor. Published by Big Finish Productions and released October of 2007.
Setting: Earth: The Russian Empire, July through September 1812. The details of when or why Steven is narrating this story are not given.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Gunfighters and The Savages and before the other audio set in this gap, Return of the Rocket Men. Several direct links are made to The Gunfighters. Dodo takes up work as a piano teacher but Steven makes her promise that she won't make him sing the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. Steven is also surprised that the Doctor wants to go on holiday in Russia after they'd already holidayed so recently in Tombstone. The Doctor shows a keen interest in Napoleon likely due to the French Revolution being his favorite time in Earth history (see The Reign of Terror). The TARDIS won't take off when the false Doctor tries to use it, hinting at their isomorphic nature (see Pyramids of Mars).
Canonicity Quotient: While I have some minor plot disputes with Mother Russia, I think that this is another rare case where there aren't any contradictions with established canon. 1.00
Discussion: This one was still early days for the Companion Chronicles and it shows. Peter Purves is fantastic as always but a lot of the narration feels like it isn't necessary. If Steven is saying a line in character we don't need an "I said" afterwards. Still, neither the framing sequence nor the narration seems anywhere near as intrusive as Frostfire so there's already been a huge step forward in the CC quality in my mind.
I like a lot of the character stuff from Steven in this. We get some time to see how much he really wants to relax and how he wants to find a place to belong, setting the stage for the Savages. Purves hasn't yet gotten his Hartnell quite right yet. Its not as developed as it'll be in later stories and a lot of times he just narrates the Doctor's dialog rather than doing it in character. Dodo is actually skipped over quite a bit but what we do get of her is done in just the right tone by Purves and seems entirely in character for this spunky 60's gal.
I like that this story takes place over the span of months and I like that it gives Steven the time to develop a close friendship with one of the locals, Semian. This lets things get far more personal when the exact threat that they're facing becomes clear.
In a way I'm saddened that this wasn't done as a pure historical. The Hartnell historicals IMHO were almost always better than their sci-fi counterparts and aged far better. There's a lot more drama that you can get out of a situation when you realize that all of the players are human and that in some ways you are a slave to causality. Still, the alien thankfully was not to intrusive in this story and it wasn't like the Doctor was repelling an alien invasion with the French invasion of Russia as a backdrop. I just would have liked to have seen the Doctor more directly caught up in those events.
The narrative seems to think that the alien's nature is a secret and waits until the last minute to reveal the details but I feel like to much was given away at the beginning and as soon as it crashed I expected it to start copying other people and was pretty much confirmed by Semian's later appearance. I do have to wonder at how dense Steven is that as soon as he's worked out that the alien takes on other shapes and the Doctor asks him to work the ship that he doesn't realize that the Doctor may have been copied as well nor that Dodo is acting funny and may be the alien as well. The other strange thing is that we keep getting told that the alien has the Doctor's cloak even when it changes shape, meaning that it has taken the Doctor's actual cloak off of his person. Yet, there's no indication that it took any of his other clothes. So can it shapeshift clothes? If so then why steal the cloak? If it can't then was his fake Doctor naked under the cloak? It seems odd.
The other issue that I had with the story is that Steven seems to trust the shape shifter when he says "oh let me have my last performance". I wouldn't trust the thing for a minute. As soon as the smoke obscured the crowd I'm sure that he changed into a random peasant and they would have looked at him and said "hey he's not Napoleon" and put him down. I guess that gives room for a sequel as he manipulates the politics of 19th century Europe but it seems odd for the Doctor and co to just take on faith that he was taken care of when he's such a clear threat to history.
This one was pretty good and I'm glad that Purves has only gotten better from this already high point. Next up - Return of the Rocket Men.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: It's the beginning of Peter Purves' ride to being the best presenter of the Companion Chronicles and it's the start of his amazing performance in reading for the First Doctor. Purves excels but the story is littered with plot holes. Still if you can just gloss over those and allow yourself to imagine the epic scale in both time and distance that this story covers you might just be able to ignore the plot holes and enjoy the story purely on its aesthetics. I recommend it.