Rewritten from material that I originally posted 6/4/13 on another forum.
Blurb: February, 1944: France is occupied by the Third Reich, the French Gestapo has an iron grip and the native resistance attempts to overthrow the invaders. On one quiet winter's night, a British plane crashes to the ground, leaving a flying officer desperate to escape via the evasion lines.
Separated from the TARDIS, Ben and Jamie, the Doctor and Polly find themselves with enemies on all sides. Trapped in one of the darkest times in history, Polly discovers that humanity can be just as dangerous as any threat from outer space. She resolves to make a difference - even if it means leaving the Doctor forever...
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Polly Wright. Published by Big Finish Productions and released March of 2009.
Setting: Earth: Vichy, France. Time: February, 1944. Polly narrates this story from some point in the future but no context or timing is given for this.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones. The story predates the audio The Selachian Gambit, but no information is given as to when this story occurs with respect to other stories set in the same gap in the TV series. Polly mentions encountering the Cybermen (see The Tenth Planet) and the Daleks. The Doctor refers to his recent regeneration and thanks Polly for helping him through the ordeals related to it (see Power of the Daleks). Polly's last name, never mentioned in the TV series is confirmed to be "Wright" (see Invasion of the Cat People).
Canonicity Quotient: I didn't notice anything in this one that made inserting it into the canon difficult. 1.00
Discussion: A nice, simple story to start off Anneke Willis' Companion Chronicles contributions. I lamented the fact that we had so few Hartnell true historicals. I feel like a true historical gives you a depth to the drama that is often missing from sci-fi stories since it externalizes the evils that can be found in history rather than allowing them the human face that they held in reality. Setting a story in occupied France allows you to see a lot of that evil - guilt by association, treachery to get information, people losing their homes - this all came about from a very human evil and I like to see that explored through these stories.
Anneke is wonderful, reprising the role of Polly seemingly effortlessly. The thing that struck me was how fantastic a job she did at evoking the Doctor and Ben and even her Jamie is fairly good. You get a sense that she has so much love and respect for her co-stars that she's able to bring them out in this way. I did find the inclusion of Jamie a bit strange for a story with only Anneke as a voice actress. He was superfluous to the plot and it would have been simpler had it just been a 2nd Doctor and Ben story. Yet, I think that I understand that Lyons wanted this story to be as late as possible in Polly's run so that he could talk about the number of adventures that she'd had so I'm guessing that's why he was included. I'd still love to get a CC earlier in Polly's career.
The story is a great one. The Companion Chronicles once again use their format to tell a story centering exclusively on the development of the narrator - in this case Polly, someone who was not afforded much development in the TV show. The idea that Polly is somewhat depressed thinking that she hasn't made a difference in the rather crowded TARDIS crew is a good one because its something that those of us who have followed her adventures might agree with. That's the hook to bring us into a story that explores just what Polly brings to the dynamic and affords her an opportunity to show that she can in fact influence things for the better and has a very positive impact here, saving one of the members of the French resistance.
I did initally think it odd that Polly referred to her one-year-old self back in England. I'd always assumed that Ben and Polly were 18-19. Ben had just enlisted as a sailor so I assumed that was right out of school and Polly is the same age as Ben. However, I looked Anneke's age up online and see that she was born in 1941 so based on that perspective the comment makes sense. I do find it a bit strange that she buys the story that the "Pilot" is her uncle. Surely she's seen photos of him. You'd think that even if she hasn't seen one recently she'd suspect something was up just based on the fact that she doesn't recognize him. I also think that the story would have been a little harder hitting if the Pilot actually was her uncle and had turned traitor rather than being a spy who had taken on his identity. That would have made sense of the fact that she appears to recognize him after he declares his identity and also let Polly into the fact that war is sometimes more complicated than one expects.
Either way this was a very good story. I wasn't expecting much from this one, so I'm very happy with the result and look forward to listening to more of the Steve Lyons audios I know are coming up and to hearing Fraser Hines reading for Troughton, something I know is going to be a real treat.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: A strong, historical story showing how dark things can be by just including the human race. Polly has never been better, getting to be very dynamic here and showing that she can do more than just make the tea. I definitely recommend it to those who want to sample the range and especially for those who appreciate history.