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Blurb: The TARDIS has landed on a human colony world. In the city, where the inhabitants rely on advanced technology to create their children, a marriage is due to take place. But not everyone supports it, and a crash might just prevent it for good.

In the commune outside live the savages, shunned and detested by the city folk. But they have recently been visited by a man, charismatic and handsome, who may yet be their savior - or their doom.

Two different sides, ready for conflict. But neither realizes that a third force threatens their very existence...

Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released September 2016.

Setting: An unnamed Earth colony world, time unknown, but the almost magical technology of Inscape would seem to imply a very late date, so likely the 5th millennium or later.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock. There is no indication of where this fits in relation to other stories that take place within the same gap but it is likely that it takes place after the previous Philip Hinchcliffe Presents story, The Devil's Armada. Leela says that the Doctor always tells her not to bring Janis Thorns, but she does anyway (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang).

Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor acts as if the idea of his having thirteen heads is strange, and he doesn't understand it. This may be in-character as the Doctor joking, but he doesn't act as if he's joking. Leela also seems out of character, falling for an inept hunter. Other than that, everything fits with the established continuity. 0.85

Discussion: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents returns with a new story idea from ex-Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe. As with the last two stories in this line, Marc Platt, wrote the script based on Hinchcliffe's outline. It's an interesting idea to have someone that was so strongly associated with the "golden age" of the series' past to create new stories. I hesitated a little bit before purchasing this, because two of Hinchcliffe's three previous ideas, The Valley of Death and The Devil's Armada weren't very good. While the Ghosts of Gralstead was a significantly better story, it still had significant plot issues. So, I was really curious to see what this would happen in this story.

At it's heart, The Genesis Chamber, is an allegory for Romeo and Juliet. It just happens to be set on a colony world sometime in the distant future. The colonists have split into two factions - those who embrace technology and live a pristine life inside the city and those who live outside as settlers on this dying world. There's no love lost between the two sides as we're told that those in the city sometimes come out to hunt the settlers who they refer to as savages. The Settlers on the other hand, eschew everything having to do with the city, living a bare lifestyle without any technology. The Doctor points out the fallacy of that, because even the settlers use simple tools and equipment. Yet, both sides are soon beset by an alien menace that wants to see the humans eliminated from the face of this world.

Let's forget for a minute that this already sounds like it's pulling from stories like The Face of Evil, which Hinchcliffe already produced. Let's also forget for a minute that it sounds a real awful lot like The Savages, which Hinchcliffe may not have known about, but Platt certainly does. You would expect, from any sensible plotline that this story might be about the dangers of taking any idea to ridiculous extremes. You might even expect that since it's called The Genesis Chamber that it might be about the morality of growing human beings to order as they do in the city. But no, the story dances around all these issues as nothing more than a backdrop for a very boring alien invasion. The catch here, the aliens are coming from underground. The story is written as if this is an incredibly novel concept and that we should be excited about it without any other reason. Obviously, Hinchcliffe has never seen Frontios, but why is Platt not pointing these things out?

Unfortunately, this is really the rub of this story. There are all kinds of things going on. It appears that there are few "families" inside the city, and that there's a power struggle between the Suks and the Janz. It's mentioned a few times, but never effects the story at all. DeRosa declares war on the Settlers, but nothing ever happens with that either. Farla has a deep, dark secret, but it's so unimportant that in episode six a character wanders onto the scene to say what it is and then wonders off. There are maybe half a dozen lines of dialog about it, and that's all that there is to it. Why even bother working it in if that's all that you're going to do with it? I usually don't agree when people say that most of the six-parters in the TV series should have been four-parters, but wow is this a story that's heavy on the padding and should have been a four-parter.

There's so much potential that's wasted. A story about a society that's all about purity and manufacturing people to order would be interesting enough for the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Here, there was some really great potential to explore what's wrong with making people to order. What's wrong with wanting to be among technology and never venture out? Yet, the story never even questions it. The city is bad and while the Settlers aren't completely good their way is definitely better. The Genesis Chamber and Inscape itself are an interesting concept as well, but they're wasted as a deus ex machina at the end rather than really exploring the idea of a computer that has limitless power.

There are just so many things that don't make sense. If Inscape is so powerful and prepares for all possibilities why was it helping to exterminate the Suks at the beginning of the story. Why does it take to the Doctor even though his data isn't in the city other than story convenience? Why does no one seem to mind Volor's locusts crawling all over and inside of them except for the Doctor and Leela? Farla seems to think that he's still wonderful after he's done it to her and no one else shows much reaction. Does everyone really not notice the locusts moving through the city to wherever Volor is when he wants them? How were the locusts already attacking Inscape before Volor got inside? If he could control them remotely and they could get inside anyway, why did he need to get inside to get the information he needed? For that matter, how is it that he lived with the Settlers for a while but never read Wulbane's mind? After all, no one seems to care when he does it. Why is it that Inscape needs to use the city's entire power to protect against a hacking attempt? I get that writers don't always understand computers, but in this day and age that's a bit of a lame excuse. I also can't understand given Inscape's limitless abilities why it would be used as nothing more than a baby factory. Even if people never wanted to leave the city there are so many more applications to which those powers could be put to use. Why is Volor perfectly fine in the supposedly toxic atmosphere of the planet? I understand that his skin suit protected him from the blast, but he goes about perfectly fine after that even though he's exposed to the planet's atmosphere. In fact, he's so much of a danger that the Doctor has to lock him in an eternal prison rather than wait for him to die of natural causes, which is really odd.

The characterization is where things get really bad. Some characters veer from unpleasant to homicidal in an instant. DeRosa's trust of the Doctor fluctuates without any seeming rhyme or reason. Farla is in shock, but then snaps out of it when the plot demands that she should. We're supposed to believe that Volor's motivations are hidden behind so many layers of manipulations that it's impossible to tell what he really wants, but it seems to be just be a smokescreen for making things up as he goes along. After all, if the Genesis Chamber is what he was seeking all along from whatever he learned outside, why was he reading the minds of random people or Farla rather than of DeRosa or anyone else that was actually in a position of authority? So the aliens come, and they can't risk any humans possibly telling anyone about their base even though the humans have never ventured far from where they are and don't have any contact with other civilizations, but then they decide that they have plenty of time to let the humans die out from natural causes? If anything, part of why this story doesn't work is because the invasion was so inept. Yes, it was a change, but without the immediate threat it made it feel inconsequential.

Really, though, the huge issue with this story is the romance between Leela and Dack. I don't much care for the Shown and Ana one either. Romeo and Juliet were in the same social strata after all. I just don't buy that Ana could be won over by this dirty boy who probably only bathes once every couple of weeks in so short a time. She may be open-minded, but that's pushing things considerably. Yet, at least with that one, it's a common enough trope, so I excuse it because that's the kind of story it is. But Leela and Dack just came out of nowhere. It's clear from the beginning that he's smitten with her and that makes sense because Leela is awesome. At first I thought she was just being nice, but then she goes full on "he's my pair-bond" with him and it's like "what...?" I mean, it echoes of a similarly bizarre romance in Requiem for the Rocket Men, and I suppose that someone is equating this with Andred, but Andred at least was a professional warrior. His temperament didn't match Leela's and he seemed kind of boring to us at home, but you could at least see why she'd be attracted to him. Dak is an inept hunter. I don't see how there could be any mutual respect between them to make a decent relationship. Maybe he was just that good looking, but I also don't see her as being superficial. It just seemed really, really odd.

The story isn't without its merits. Everyone puts in a great acting performance in this one. Special mention really needs to go to Gyuri Sarossy for sounding like such a creepy, yet charismatic villain with Volor. John Culshaw ought to win an award for sounding like Michael Jayston, because it's kind of eerie how much DeRosa sounds like him. Tom seems to have been on fire, being full of wit and energy during the recordings. Louise Jameson never disappoints and this script gives her some room to stretch her emotional range a bit, which is always nice. The music is great. There's a nice suite of it on the CD. It's very well developed for the story and makes for a good listen. The sound design is also very good, but I had a problem with Volor's insects. I could never tell where they were coming from or how no one ever seemed to notice them. With the Doctor they're described as crawling all over him and into his orifices. The sound effect used for them is exceptionally loud, implying that they're there as a giant swarm, but most people that Volor uses them on don't seem to notice what is happening nor do those around them. It's very strange and it seems like better sense should have been made of conveying what was going on with the sound effect either through nuance to the sound or by direct dialog.

Final Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: Philip Hinchcliffe's latest story doesn't feel like an extension of his era so much as a loose collection of ideas taken from stories that he already did and whatever he happened to be thinking about at the moment. The story is filled with good ideas that are squandered, plot holes, a flat alien menace, and characters that behave in a way that makes no sense. The story is lifted up by some excellent performances and some wonderful work on the music and sound design, but it's not enough to keep this from being a dull and tedious slog. I do not recommend it.

If there's one thing that I've been seeing over and over again on my feed it's people theorizing about the identity of Zoom, the Flash's latest nemesis. I've found several flaws with the reasoning, so below are my thoughts on the subject. I'm putting up the warning right now, that if you're not caught up on season 2 of the Flash then there may be spoilers, so if that will bother you don't read any further.



I've seen a lot of speculation that Zoom is Henry Allen from Earth 2. The reasoning seems to be based solely on Zoom's apparent height and build and a funny morph animation someone put together that makes it look as if John Wesley Shipp's face is behind the mask. The issue with the first point is that using physical clues to deduce the identity of a character that the writers have completely enclosed and given a fake voice to doesn't seem like a smart bet. By the same logic, it should be Tony Todd behind the mask, since it's his voice for Zoom. It may very well be a stunt double performing as Zoom for similar reasons and the real actor will only "step in" once they need to do some sort of a reveal.

On the second point, a computer generated animation is not a safe bet to go on. We don't know how doctored the images were to make them line up. It's not as if there are any shots with Zoom and the 90's Flash that were purposefully recorded with the camera at the same distance and the characters in the same pose. Some resizing and adjustment would have been necessary just to get things to line up, which means that it's possible that the apparent facial size and shape from that animation may not be how things appear in real life.

A lot of people feel that this would be a major development in the story, for Barry to have to fight his own dad. Yet, I feel like the idea of fighting Earth 2 doppelgangers is already running its course. Dr Light is already a doppelganger for Linda Park, someone that Barry is close to. Caitlyn was proven not to be a metahuman in this week's episode of the Flash, so the rumors that Killer Frost will be her Earth 2 counterpart appear to be true as well. Making Zoom yet another Earth 2 doppelganger of someone that Barry knows seems to be playing out what will be a tired idea at that point. Sure, it'll have more of an impact, since it's his dad, and they could get some mileage out of it for an episode, but that's about it. It'd be a gimmicky "gotcha" moment, because Barry already knows that the Earth 2 versions of characters can be very different from the Earth 1 versions. He'd move on after the initial shock. I don't care if Zoom were Joe, Iris, or Barry himself from Earth 2. There's no way that a doppelganger will have the right impact necessary for Zoom to be a proper nemesis.

Yet, someone will most likely ask, how can it be someone from Earth One when Zoom has been operating on Earth 2 for two years, but the breach only opened six months ago? The answer there is simple. They made a big deal out of the fact that the breach opened a hole in time and space, not just reality. Whoever became Zoom could easily be someone from Earth One that fell into the rift and traveled back in time to Earth 2. This would explain two very important factors that would not make sense if Zoom came from Earth 2. First, he knows not only that Barry exists but also knows personal details like women he only dated for a couple of weeks. The second is that Zoom patterned his costume on the Flash of Earth one and not that of Earth 2. That would be odd if there was no connection between the two worlds until the breach opened. So then who are the candidates?

Candidate #1: Eobard Thawne. I have to admit that while this is the most likely candidate, I almost think that that invalidates him. We already had Thawne as the Reverse Flash and most viewers will be incredibly unhappy to see him as Zoom as well. While he was erased from existence, the breach started almost immediately thereafter. There's some potential for an explanation that the breach existing as a hole in time may have stabilized his existence somehow and allowed him to exist on Earth 2. Thawne has the technical know-how to figure out how to pass through the breaches. He also knows all about Barry and the show could always use Tom Cavanaugh in a dual role if they couldn't get the Eobard Thawne actor back. Yet, I really don't think this one is it.

Candidate #2: Ronnie Raymond. Robbie Amell has already said that he's coming back to the show and I have never bought that he's dead. The idea of a friend turned villain runs very close to Zoom's comic book origins and it would also be a colossal blow to the cast, effecting Caitlyn and Barry deeply. Robbie's busy on the X-Files reboot, but that's only 6 episodes long, so he could easily have time to come over in the second half of the season and would explain why they have to use substitute actors for Zoom. Yet, I'm not buying it because it would seem so far out of left field. Even if Ronnie was left on Earth 2, he's the one that chose to enter the breach. It'd get some real mileage out of the cast to see a friend turned villain, but it would seem to be a gimmick just for the purposes of getting a rise out of people. For that reason, I really don't see it.

Candidate #3: Eddie Thawne. "But wait, Eddie's dead." everyone shouts. Yes, but his body was also sucked into the breach. Eddie is the only candidate who could explain why Zoom looks "like death" and also has his costume modeled after The Flash. It's possible that Eddie could somehow have become frozen in the moment of his death, which would hearken back again to Zoom's comic book origins as a character whose powers are based on time rather than speed. It just seems that he moves fast because time is moving so slowly for him that his normal movements are perceived as fast by everyone else. It'd be easy to see how Eddie might be bitter after trying to sacrifice his life only finds himself turned into a monster and coming back to his homeworld finding that Barry got everything. Eddie could then be driven to become the fastest being to triumph over Barry and best him at his own game. It's true that this actor is also busy on another show right now, but it's possible that the Flash show runners anticipated that and pre-recorded some scenes for the reveal. It may be that we don't find out Zoom's identity until the final episode of the season in which case whoever is doubling in the suit and Tony Todd can fill in until then. This is the one that I'm leaning the strongest towards, because even though there's a real world logistics issue, it's something that could be overcome and making it Eddie would make so much sense on all the other levels.

At the end of the day I don't know if this is what the CW will go with. I'm excited for this season of the Flash and have the confidence in the showrunners that when Zoom's identity is revealed it will make sense and have sufficient emotional impact.


Blurb: Steven Taylor left the Doctor and the TARDIS to become king of an alien world. But it's now many years since he gave up the throne and went to live in a cell in the mountains, out of sight of his people. He's not escaping his past – quite the opposite, in fact. As his granddaughter, Sida, is about to discover...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Sida. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.

Setting: The unnamed planet of the savages in December, 1986. Sida narrates the story to an unnamed audience sometime after these events take place.

Continuity: For Steven, this story takes place after the television story The Savages and after the narration portion of the Big Finish audio The Founding Fathers. For the Doctor it takes place concurrently with the television story The Tenth Planet. The deaths of Katarina, Brett Vyon, and Katarina are mentioned (see The Daleks Masterplan). The Vardan who killed Oliver makes an appearance (see The First Wave). Steven reminds the Doctor that he was willing to let Anne Chaplet die (see The Massacre). Sida refers to Steven's cell (see The War to End all Wars). The copy of the Doctor's mind makes an appearance (see The Founding Fathers).

Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor communicates with Steven and Sida. A day later he is brought to their world for well over 24 hours. In all, over 48 hours passes before the Doctor returns to Earth. Yet, the Tenth Planet doesn't take place over that large of a span of time. The entire conceit that the Doctor's mind was pulled to the planet of the Savages also seems to contradict the reasoning that the Doctor is weak because his "body is wearing a bit thin". The whole notion of the Doctor having a "brain in a jar" leftover from The Savages seems to be a half-remembered factoid. Guerrier says in the interviews on the CD that a friend pointed out to him that the Doctor still has a brain in a jar in the Savages, but this seems to ignore the fact that the Doctor's brain was never cloned or extracted from his head. The Elders took his energy and that energy seems to have been imbued with some element of his personality. Jano took the entire infusion of the Doctor's energy that they'd stolen, but even if he hadn't, it would have all been lost when the Doctor destroyed the energy siphoning machine. 0.35

Discussion: I was really excited for this story. I didn't care much for the ending of The Founding Fathers, but I enjoyed the story over all. It seemed a bit bizarre to set up the faux-Doctor as the big bad for the trilogy only to have it disappear at the end of the second installment in the trilogy. Still, I was really curious to see what Simon Guerrier came up with and was intrigued by a companion chronicle that didn't contain any narration about a time when Steven was with the Doctor. It'd be a good opportunity to flesh out the world of the Savages and give Steven an adventure that showed how far he'd come since his time with the Doctor.

Peter Purves continues to impress in this one. He's freed up a bit to play Steven only as an old man, but he does it well, giving us the same vital, man of action from Doctor Who and showing how he's aged. There's a bit of nuance to his performance showing that as Steven has gotten older he's become more like the Doctor and I really enjoy that element. His Doctor performance hasn't diminished with time either. While I prefer William Russell's Hartnell, it's not difficult to see why Purves is the fan favorite. He's got so many of the Doctor's mannerisms expressed perfectly even if his voice doesn't sound at all like Hartnell's. Sida grew on me throughout this trilogy. She's a tough girl, raised on Steven's stories of his time as an adventurer in time and space. She hates injustice and wants to do right. Alice Haig plays her here with a real fire. She goes from an exasperated bureaucrat to someone fiercely determined to protect her people and clever enough to outwit an invading alien. It might be a difficult job for anyone else, but Haig pulls it off with ease, making her character very likable. Lisa Bowerman reprises her role as the Vardan here. There's not much in the part to challenge her. The Vardan is basically a moustache twirling (if she had one) villain and there isn't much depth there, but she does what she can with it.

The cast is well served by the production. I like that the music goes from a soundtrack that would feel at home in a 60's story in the beginning to a much faster-paced, modern sounding music as the story weaves on. It's like an audio link that bridges the Steven with the Savages with this older version, who'd be someone we'd see on modern TV if Purves were ever able to reprise the role. The soundscape is also rich. We've got the normal Vardan sounds, but also the sounds of jackhammers, gunshots, hovercars, bolts being thrown, and grappling on the floor. With this being more of a "full-cast audio" then a typical Companion Chronicle, there's a lot more room to have action rather than narration and the sound department steps up here.

So much of what works in this story can be laid at the feet of the actors and the director. Unfortunately, the writing is just not up to par. At the best of times, I feel like Guerrier emphasizes characterization at the expense of writing. When he hits with things like The Cold Equations and The Library of Alexandria he hits big, but many times his stories feel contrived to evoke emotional responses rather than following the logical development of a particular premise and the characters as performed on screen. Nowhere does this feel more evident than in The Locked Room.

In the CD interview, Guerrier talks about being stumped at the plot of the overall trilogy, which he hadn't planned ahead for when he wrote The War to End all Wars. It sounds like he had several different ideas and ended up just going with one that came together in a rush and it shows. What should as a Companion Chronicle have been a story about Steven quickly became a story about Sida instead. She's even the narrator for the tail, even though there isn't much narration to be had. Steven remains a passive observer, someone to comment on what's going on, but Sida is the one who does all the action. Even at the end, with the Vardan destroying everything. It isn't Steven who comes up with the plan to save the day. It's Sida. This story could and should have been a showcase of how Steven had grown and matured during his time with the Doctor and shown how he didn't need the Doctor to save the day. Similar themes were developed in The Time Museum and Second Chances. Here was a chance for Steven to have the limelight, but even at the end he wants nothing to do with the world. Sida has to even threaten him with jail just to get him to help out with the rebuilding efforts. He's just a depressing character to follow and it's an unsatisfying conclusion after he seemed to want to get more involved during The Founding Fathers.

Yet, this whole story seems to have been developed around the idea of cheap reference thrills to hide the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. Oliver is trotted out again because having "died" it supposedly gives the character more weight and Guerrier makes sure to try and get some more mileage out of that one. The Doctor is brought in seemingly just so that Purves can do his Doctor impression again, despite the fact that the Doctor isn't really needed or wanted in the story. To make things even worse, there's fanwank explanations for how the Doctor is from The Tenth Planet and that the reason that he was knocked unconscious is that his consciousness was brought to the planet of the Savages...for a day. We'll get back to that later. The Doctor really adds nothing to the story, except as a vessel to bring back the Vardan from The First Wave. I really thought that when Steven talked about a "she" returning and that it was something that touched both his mind and the Doctor's that it would be the proto-Drahvin from The Suffering. I feel like that would have been such a better story as it would have set Steven against Sida and we might have gotten some interesting mileage there. But no, it's cliched villain A played by Lisa Bowerman. At least it was already hinted that the proto-Drahvin may come back. There were never any indications that the Vardan would return and it makes the whole story so incredibly hokey, especially since the faux-Doctor would have been a much more interesting threat. Instead, we get the Vardan taken down by the proto Doctor in a deus ex machina supreme. Even though he was supposed to have destroyed his consciousness, apparently it was all a ruse. Out of nowhere he's back and Sida apparently has extra-sensory perception to tell her that he's still there. It's such a mess that doesn't hang together but expects you to be oohing and awing over the continuity references so much that you won't notice.

What makes this even more frustrating was that Guerrier and others have said that he campaigned to do a Steven story that is set after he left the Doctor in the Savages. It's a great opportunity for world building. The Savages and the Elders were at war the last time that we saw them. How did Steven forge them into one society. What side did he take his wife from? Did that cause any schisms? How did he keep the old tensions from resurfacing? None of that is evident in the story that we're told. There's some lip service to a revolt, which could mean that the old rivalries had sprung up again, but we're never given any details around them. Instead, we're presented with a world that might as well be an Earth colony of some type rather than an alien planet with two civilizations that lived very different lives. I'd expect that even 100 years on that there'd still be some evidence of what had gone before.

One of the things that I've always appreciated about Guerrier's stories is that he's made absolutely sure to make the science correct. He even went back to school, apparently, when he was doing the Cold Equations just so that he could talk reasonably about astronomical observations. That's why it seems so odd that this story makes no sense when it comes to science. Apparently Steven picks up the Doctor's mind from Earth and takes it to the planet of the Savages. Yet, how does this work? It can't be some sort of TARDIS-like technology that can pluck the Doctor's mind from time and space or all the talk about the planet needing to face Earth for this to work wouldn't' make any sense. Also, neither Steven or the Vardan in his mind know anything about time travel, so that doesn't make any sense. So, basically, unless Geurrier is trying to argue that the planet of the Savages is in Earth's solar system, that means that the Doctor's mind has been gone from Earth for years. It would also take years for it to return. Yet, in The Tenth Planet, the Doctor is only unconscious for a few hours. In The Locked Room, Steven makes contact with the Doctor one evening and then makes contact with him on another, which is already more time than the entire story of The Tenth Planet takes When you add to it that the Doctor spends a whole day out of his body, you start to wonder whether Guerrier ever even cared to do anything like fact checking. In fact, how did Steven even know where the Doctor would be? Vardans can only communicate at the speed of light and even if the planet of the Savages is relative close to Earth, it'd take years for Steven to get the message and by then the Doctor would have left.

There's also an odd dating issue going on. Since there's no time travel going on, we almost have to assume that somehow Steven has made some sort of machine for instantaneous transmission. That places The Savages at some point in the 19th century. Yet, Steven is very clear that the doctors on the planet wouldn't be able to help the Doctor because he "isn't human". This statement means that in Steven's view, he and the people of the Savages are all of the same race, but the Doctor isn't. Yet, if this story really takes place in 1986, contemporary with The Tenth Planet, then how are humans populating this planet? It doesn't make any sense and one wonders why Guerrier didn't just use the notion that this was a lost Gallifreyan colony, since that simplifies things immensely while also giving good fodder for future stories.

Final Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: It's a story that had everything going for it - a great production team, good director, wonderful performers, and two stories preceding it which were fantastic. Yet, it was all let down by a story that doesn't seem to know what it wants to do and tries to get by by throwing as many references at the audience to help them ignore the fact that the emperor has no clothes. The performances and direction help to keep this from being a total loss, but it's a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a great trilogy. There are still two great stories in the Companion Chronicles Vol. 1, and I wouldn't call this a deal-breaker to completing that set, especially if you liked the first two installments of this trilogy, but I would advise getting ready for disappointment.

Blurb: The TARDIS lands in Leicester Square in the summer of 1762. When the Doctor, Steven and Vicki find themselves locked out of the TARDIS, only one man can possibly help them. But the American, Benjamin Franklin, has problems of his own...

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 2015.

Setting: Earth: London, England in the summer of 1762. Steven narrates the story from the unnamed planet of the Savages, roughly 70 years after he decided to stay there.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four and sometime after the audio story The Suffering. There's no evidence for when this story occurs with respect to other stories set within the same gap. Steven mentions that they'd met time travelers bent on changing history before (see The Time Meddler). Steven mentions that he'd been to London in 1912 (see The Suffering). Sida talks to Steven about how he needs to leave the seclusion of his cell from time to time (see The War to End all Wars). Steven still lives on the planet where he left the Doctor (see The Savages).

Canonicity Quotient: Once more, we have an issue with The Perpetual Bond, which states categorically that the last time that Steven was in London was The Suffering. Yet, even if you place Frostfire before The Suffering (see Frostfire's entry for the reason why this doesn't work), we now have Upstairs, An Ordinary Life, and The Founding Fathers with Steven in London after the Suffering and before The Perpetual Bond. It's a bit of a mess. You'd think that someone at BF would notice or would at least make sure to flag any statements about "the last time" someone does something in a series where we jump around within the character's timeline. Thankfully, Guerrier seems to have learned from this mistake and made Steven's reference to the events of the Suffering more specific to allow for more adventures in-between. 0.98

Discussion: The Founding Fathers may be one of my most anticipated Companion Chronicles ever. After The War to End all Wars, I was really excited for the prospect of more stories about Steven after he left the TARDIS in the Savages. I was also happy to hear that for once we were finally going to hear a tale from Steven about his time with Vicki. With the promise of the Doctor meeting some of the founding fathers of America it sounded like this one would be one of the truly great stories.

I'm going to get my gripes out of the way first this time and talk a bit about how The Founding Fathers is a pretty big misnomer. We get one founding father - Benjamin Franklin. While he's an interesting character and he's used well it's a bit of a let down. I would love to see a Doctor Who story set in America and dealing with Franklin's involvement in the founding of the nation. There's still room for that somewhere down the line, but it feels like this title should have been saved for that eventuality.

The other issue is that the framing sequence story completely falls apart, and the ersatz Doctor is completely wasted. Steven tells a tale to explain why the "Doctor in a jar" should never be allowed to run for office. Yet, we aren't given key information to help us understand the reason for the story until after Steven is finished telling it. It keeps the listener in the dark about why the story is being told and thus makes it impossible for us to figure out why Steven is telling it. When Steven does give his reasoning and the basis for it, it seems like a fairly sound conclusion, but seems to be a poor fit for the story that he just told. The evidence Abigail was fairly weak and even a copy of the Doctor's mind would have been likely to get more information before doing anything as ruthless as Steven suggests. Also, while it's true that the ersatz Doctor probably shouldn't be trusted to run things, the real Doctor shouldn't be either. At least in this case, though, I think that this was part of the authorial intent. Steven views the Doctor with rose-tinted glasses that have caused him to forget just how ruthless he could be. If trapped in a jar, I don't doubt that he would have done the same thing to get out of his prison. Surely, though, Steven could have thought of a better example of a time when a moral decision had to be made and which needed a quick decision where the ersatz Doctor might have gone with logic and efficiency rather than compassion and justice.

Ignoring the framing sequence, this is a fun, little historical. The familiar trope of the crew being locked outside of the TARDIS is used. The interplay between the Doctor, Vicki, and Franklin is nice to see develop. There's a bit of intrigue and we have the Doctor struggling to deal with Franklin getting into the TARDIS. That cliffhanger made my jaw drop, and I couldn't wait to see how the Doctor would deal with Franklin wandering around the TARDIS.

Gurrier shows his forte by giving some strong character moments as well. I liked that the Doctor baited Franklin by having Vicki come up with the questions about his methadology. I also thought it was great that the Doctor didn't actually need Franklin to get back into the TARDIS at all. He just wanted to take advantage of the situation to go see him. It's such a first Doctorish thing to do. I also really appreciate it when the characters get things wrong. It's understandable that they'd think about time travelers after their recent experiences with the Monk, and I liked that it turned out to be a red herring. I also laughed out loud when the ersatz Doctor made fun of Steven's American accent for Franklin and commented on his oratory skills. I do love stories like this and the Suffering when the narration is itself part of the story and having someone critiquing it while it was going was a treat and very much in character for the Doctor. I also liked why they explained why the "Doctor in the jar" wasn't taking part more in the story, since theoretically it would know more about some of the events than Steven would. The focus on character really helps to make the story enjoyable while providing a counterbalance to the lackluster framing sequence.

If you're getting sick of me praising the production values on Big Finish audio stories, unfortunately you're out of luck. These guys have been doing this for a while and know what they're doing. Purves once again shines as Steven, playing his world-weary older self in such a way that it's recognizable that it's still the character of Steven, but it's also apparent that a lot has happened to him since then. His Franklin is a little overblown, but no worse than most American-accents that I've heard from British actors. He also plays the Doctor with the same great performance that we're used to from him. The only downside is that his portrayal of Vicki is almost identical to that of Dodo. He even gives her the same crazy Dodo-accent even though he turns it down slightly. The two characters don't sound anything alike, so it is somewhat jarring to hear Dodo's voice come from Vicki in the story.

Alice Haig puts in a very notable performance as Sida. That character is really coming into her own with this storyline and it's nice to see that she's maturing into someone who takes charge a bit more often. Lisa Bowerman also puts in a fair performance as Abigail Holt. She's good at playing working class historical British as she's shown in other places. The only downside is that she does it so much that it's impossible to mistake her for anyone else, which can be a little disconcerting. The Companion Chronicles continue to expand their audio landscape. This story features all kind of sounds from bubbling vats to jingling coins, to lightning to rain to fire, to explosions to banging on a door and more. While many say that it's hard to get into the COmpanion Chronicles because of the narrative format these wonderful elements help to enhance the telling of the story and draw a listener in as if they're listening to a friend tell a story about some event. It can be a real treat and this story is no different.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: Once again, Simon Guerrier proves that character is his forte. It's a tale of the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki trapped outside of the TARDIS and how they use their wits to get back in whilst being involved in some historical intrigue. The framing sequence let's things down a little bit, but the main story is solid enough to prop up the whole. I definitely recommend it, especially if you've seen The War to End all Wars.

Blurb: Office life is tough, the commute is a grind, nothing works quite as well as you'd like. Vicki seems to remember things being better once, before the little flat. It’s time she put some excitement back in her life. It’s just a shame the Doctor can’t help.

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Vicki. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.

Setting: The time and place for this story are unknown. It's apparently an Earth colony sometime before 2493. Vicki seems familiar with the technology, but states that it's old. This could just be parallel development, but it's the only link given.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Space Museum and The Chase. There's no direct evidence to where it fits with respect to other stories in this gap, although the reference to the time/space visualizer at the end of The Doctor's Tale would imply that this happens sometime before that story. However, the fact that both The Sleeping City and The Unwinding World both involve brainwashed populations with the TARDIS crew not suspecting the truth of the situation until they've been on the world for some time would seem to imply that these two stories do not occur close together either. Vicki mentions that Ian and Barbara teach at Coal Hill School (see An Unearthly Child). Vicki mentions the time that they spent in Rome (see The Romans).

Canonicity Quotient: The whole idea of that season two TARDIS crew creating a revolution not because they need to but because they're cosmic do-gooders and that's what they do, just feels wrong when you consider the era. The only reason that they did something similar in The Space Museum was out of self preservation. This story makes it seem like they could have gotten back to the TARDIS some time ago, but chose not to so that they could overturn this oppressive regime. 0.95

Discussion: It's not a secret that I've never had much time for Vicki. Her character never seemed "real" to me. She looked about twenty but acted about fourteen. She would do things like try to poison Nero and it was always just fobbed off as girlish enthusiasm. I also hadn't cared much for her previous Companion Chronicles aside from The Suffering. I felt like her impressions of the rest of the TARDIS crew were poor and the writing tended to be subpar. Yet, in the Early Adventures, Ian Potter showed himself adept at writing her character in ways that made use of her previously established character and skills to make her an integral part of a compelling story. I looked forward to seeing what he could do with her in the Companion Chronicles format.

I actually really liked the format. Having this set up as a conversation between Vicki and Connie made for a tense situation. Although Vicki tells Connie about events that happened in the past, most of the conversation is about what's going on now. That gives an immediacy and tension to the situation that many Companion Chronicles lack. The other thing about it is that it allows Maureen O'Brien to focus on just portraying Vicki. We avoid her poor impressions of her cast mates by having the events that they took part in described to us or just listening to the sounds of what they're doing when the story cuts to a scene with them. The only place where this doesn't work as well is with the Doctor. Some of his early actions are described by Connie but in the second episode, the story tries to give an immediacy to events surrounding the Doctor by having his actions described by a woman that he's with. Unfortunately that leads to a bunch of dialogue where the woman is supposedly repeating things that he's told her or describing events that there's no need for her to describe. That felt a bit forced, but the rest was superbly handled.

The story is actually fairly simple, but made far more interesting by the format. It's a typical tale of the Doctor and crew showing up in a corrupt regime and fixing it. This being an Ian Potter story there's a twist. The neat thing here is that Potter knowing that he's developed a style decided to change things up by adding a second twist in the second episode. That one's a little clunkier and far more predictable, but I did enjoy that first twist, which took the story so far and turned it on its head. There are a few neat ideas at play as well. Apparently symbols of the TARDIS have become a symbol of rebellion in this area of space. It makes one wonder how many times the Doctor will visit that area again for the TARDIS to be so well recognized. It makes me wonder if there's a Potter Masterplan at work? There's also the fact that we can't really rely on anything about the Vicki/Connie discussion. At the end of the day, we know a few things happened because they happened in the "now" of the story. Yet, Vicki was being purposefully deceptive and Connie's memory was being altered, so none of the things that we're told may be correct, which is a clever way of hiding some of the plot concerns, like why would a society use technology to brainwash citizens into getting rid of technology? You'd end up losing your own method of brainwashing in the process and therefore lose control. I have to say that any story that builds in its own fix for plot problems is pretty clever and worthy of attention.

O'Brien as always is wonderful as Vicki. I don't know how a woman of her age does it, but it requires no effort for her to sound like a teenager again. Alix Dunmore does a fantastic job as Connie. She sounds like a snooty "in control" businesswoman even though she's playing a robot. She also plays the old woman that the Doctor is stuck in with episode two and it was hard for me to tell that it was the same actress, which is always a joy when listening to something like this. The music is basically non-existent on this one and there isn't much to comment on there, but the use of sound is nice. The sounds of footfalls, sirens, things falling, and other action sounds are used cleverly to denote the actions of Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor. It's a nice form of storytelling that allows the characters to be there without ever having to utter a line in the story.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: In a short span of time, Ian Potter has shown himself to be one of the better Doctor Who writers working for Big Finish right now. His use of plot twists, while expected now, is being honed so that the twists remain surprising and by mixing things up he keeps the storytelling fresh. With the Companion Chronicles, he uses the format in a nice way to heighten the tension and keep the listener engaged. All-in-all this one is well worth your time. I highly recommend it.

Blurb: When the Doctor falls ill, Susan is forced to leave the safety of the TARDIS behind. Exploring a disused research center in search of medical supplies, she becomes embroiled in the deadly plans of a terrorist holding an entire world to ransom – and the soldier sent to stop him.

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Susan. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2015.

Setting: The Planet Rua, time unknown. No one contradicts Susan when she says that they're an Earth colony, so these aren't just humanoid looking aliens. The heavy usage of nano-technology would imply the late 3rd millennium or anything beyond, but it's more likely the 4th Millennium perhaps between the collapse of the original Earth Empire and the emergence of the Galactic Federation. Susan narrates the story at some unknown point in time to an unknown audience.

Continuity: This story takes place after the audio story The Beginning and prior to the audio story Quinnis. There is no evidence for where it fits in with respect to other stories set in this gap. Susan mentions that her people mastered nanotechnology thousands of years ago (see Deceit & Lungbarrow). Susan mentions that the Doctor's reason to leave was that he wanted to make changes on Gallifrey (see The War Games & Carnival of Monsters).

Canonicity Quotient: Susan's discussion with the Doctor about why he left Gallifrey seems odd based on what we learn about him in stories set later in his life. We were always told that he advocated Time Lords interfering in the affairs of other civilizations. Here we're told that he just advocated change on Gallifrey and Susan is the one asking why if change was good for Gallifrey why wouldn't it be good for everyone else. It's possible that the Doctor simply gives the answer that he gives to discourage Susan from trying to change things on her own and getting into danger, but that seems like a weak explanation given his usual mannerisms. He usually isn't afraid to tell Susan what he thinks and just relies on her to obey him unquestioningly. 0.98

Discussion: The Companion Chronicles are back! I was over the moon when the First Doctor Boxed Set was announced. While I wish that the Companion Chronicles were continuing as a monthly set and while I wish that they were doing more than just single Doctor-themed sets, I'm still excited to get anything new from this line. My only point of disappointment was that an Ian story was not included with this release. It's my fervent hope that we'll get one with the next first Doctor set. This has nothing to do with the the story that I'm reviewing, though, so I had better move on. The Sleeping Blood is the first story in the set. It's a Susan story from before the time that Ian and Barbara traveled in the TARDIS. Stories set in that period always walk a tightrope. It's exciting because it's a period that the television show never visited, so it theoretically allows a very wide range of storytelling both in terms of format and character. Yet, at the same time the writers are hamstrung. They can't allow the Doctor to be to brave or proactive and Susan can't go to far beyond the scared teenager, clinging to her grandfather. So it is both with interest and apprehension that I approached this new story.

The story is based on a pretty sound premise from the 60's series. The Doctor in those days was prone to all sorts of mundane maladies, aches, and pains. In this one, he's accidentally poisoned by a plant and Susan tries to take the Ship from location to location in search of some sort of advanced medical aid. I really liked how the story brought out that it wasn't that the Ship only went to primitive locations. They went to a few that probably had the technical know-how to help the Doctor, but they were to suspicious of strangers showing up and asking for medicine, so Susan was forced to move on. There's also a really neat idea about a society that's dependent on nanites being incredibly susceptible to a decent hacker. The Butcher and his threat are horrifically detailed to us by the death scene of one of the soldiers sent to stop him as her nanites kill her from the inside. Setting the story in an abandoned research lab also allows for a lot of possibilities and I like that a significant portion of the story is taken up by Susan exploring and learning about the location. In many ways the story reminded me of Day's earlier work, The Menagerie, although the similarities are only superficial.

On the flip-side, I found a lot of the developments in the later portion of the story to be fairly hard to swallow. This group of soldiers has been sent into this abandoned facility to locate The Butcher and come across a teenage girl who claims to be a space traveler. Rather than being incredibly suspicious they just decide that not only should they trust her completely, but that they should put her to work in helping them fight the Butcher. Then there's the idea that these robots shoot out hypodermic needs to infect people with nanites but not a single one of the soldiers thinks something of a stabbing pain lancing into some portion of their bodies. Finally there's the Butcher. Disappointing is something of an understatement. I understand that the story wants you to sympathize with him, once you find out his actual background, but it's hard to do so when even his so-called "motivation" is very minor. It isn't that the system that he lived in made his mother die. He had the ability to help her. She chose to end her life based on a feeling that it was her "time". This really deflates any justification that Butcher had for his actions and makes it difficult to sympathize with him. Yet Susan seems to think that the society is to blame and is all set to start a revolution. While Susan is prone to overreacting even in later stories, it does seem like something of a reach. I was surprised that the story ended here. I thought that Susan was going to slip out of the ship and do a little reprogramming, perhaps broadcasting the Butcher's message to his world and leaving us thinking that maybe Susan did make some kind of change on that world. It seemed to be the thing that the story was demanding for resolution and makes me think that some sort of editorial control was inserted in the name of keeping things consistent with the TV show, although I don't think that Susan sending a little message and possibly starting a revolution that she never sees would be inconsistent with what we see on TV, that's the only reason I can see for choosing that particular direction. I also found it completely ludicrous that this soldier who's willing to kill in the name of money is perfectly happy to let Susan run off at the end. He starts off seeming like a nice guy, but by the end he's exposed as one of the "poor masses" that The Butcher is trying to help, but instead of going along with him he's trying to achieve his own fortune to pull himself out of poverty. He's also being deliberately deceptive with Susan in order to obtain her help. This doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would just let her go and not take the chance of getting in good with his superiors by giving them her Ship. I understand that the two episode format of the Companion Chronicles hamstrings it sometimes but this seemed like another unfinished storyline that just had to be tied up so that things could end on time. I also had a bit of a hard time with the fact that all the Doctor needed was some antibiotics. Susan could have whipped those up in the TARDIS herself and you don't need a particularly advanced culture for that kind of medicine. If the nanomachines had been what they needed that would have been one thing, but that did seem to be a bit of a let down.

There's some nice work on the production side. Carol Anne Ford doubles as the voice for the research lab's computer. She does a really good job with it, sounding very endearing in the role. Ford herself still sounds great as Susan. She pitches higher and gets enough of her 20-year-old self's voice in there to give the illusion that we're hearing her younger self speak and she's able to emote while doing it, which is always nice. I was a little disappointed that she's decided to give up on her William Hartnell impression though. While it was never accurate, I always thought that it had a certain charm, being informed by her fond memories of her former co-star. Although she isn't required to say much as the Doctor this time, what she does say is very bland and I would have loved to hear her use that former impression instead. Darren Strange has a similar situation with a dual role. For Kendrick he does a good job of playing a soldier who seems completely out of his depth. Until you're made aware of why he was chosen you wonder why this guy would lead such an important team, but the way that he conveys youth and a lack confidence actually serves to help tell the story. Unfortunately he's something of a joke as The Butcher. For the initial communications you assume that the Butcher is treating his voice, so that it can't be recognized. Instead, even after the characters meet him, he still sounds like someone whose voice is about 3 octaves lower than would be possible for a human to produce. It made the conversations with him during the climax somewhat comical, which isn't the effect that they were supposed to have. It doesn't help that Strange doesn't alter his accent at all, relying on the electronic treatment to do all of the work. As usual, Big Finish does a good job with the soundscape and there are plenty of sounds to enhance the story and the music is minimal but used to good effect when needed, which is pretty well in-keeping with the era.

Final Rating: 6/10

Recommendation: A bit of a mixed bag, I think that The Sleeping Blood wins some points for having some excellent ideas and telling a somewhat topical story with the Doctor and Susan from a time when the TV series would have us think that their lives weren't all that interesting. It's undercut by some plot points that feel like they're wrapped up to quickly or dropped altogether and it's a shame that Darren Strange doesn't sell his performance as The Butcher like he needs to. Still, the overall effect is good and since Martin never disappointed in the novels, I'm looking forward to his next outing with Big Finish. I recommend listening to this one if you get the First Doctor boxed set, but I don't believe that it's enough of a draw to buy the set just for this story.

Blurb: On a planet in the far future, Frankie and his fellow robots have been consigned to the Scrapheap, doomed to explore no further than the limits of the artificial Wall. Life goes on, day after day - until a monster appears in their midst. It lives alone in a small hut on the edge of Scrapyard, and scours at night for the remains of dead robots. Frankie sets out to confront the monster in its lair. Its name? The Doctor!

Format: Short story audiobook narrated by Peter Purves. Published by Big Finish Productions and released January of 2015.

Setting: A junkyard on and unknown world on an unknown time. The blurb references that it's the far future, but there is nothing to indicate a more exact date.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There's no indication of when it takes place with regard to other stories set in the same gap.

Canonicity Quotient: There is nothing in this story that conflicts with established continuity. 1.00

Discussion: This was my first experience with the short trips at least on audio. I'm familiar with the short story anthologies that BBC books used to put out. Big Finish picked up doing those back in 2003, but eventually the BBC pulled the license to do printed Doctor Who stories from Big Finish. The Short Trips didn't end there, though. They began releasing Short Trips anthologies on CD as well as releasing them as download extras for subscribers to their main range. The Short Trips are simply short stories read by an actor associated with the "era" of the story being told. As I'll go into below, the definition of "era" gets a little vague here.

Flywheel Revolution is a fun little story that presents us with an alien point of view. Paul Leonard used to excel at that sort of thing back in the old Doctor Who novels. Here, the first person narration really helps to "sell" it though. Machines rule on this world. Thankfully those machines seem to have been created by beings with a similar intelligence to our own and they use terminology that we can understand. Yet, it's still a very alien point of view. To these machines, someone poking around in a junkyard and pulling out parts is like someone on our own world rooting around a graveyard and cutting into dead bodies. Frankie's shock and horror at what the Doctor was doing is presented really well. I also like how he describes the Doctor in such a way that it shows that to Frankie's senses this is some monstrous being beyond anything that he's ever imagined.

Yet, as with all great science-fiction, these robots are relatable as well. They know that there's a process and order to their existence and they speculate on whether there was some intelligence that started it all or if they developed by chance. The rulers of this world insist on perfection. Any robot with a malfunction is sent to the junkyard until they stop working. They're walled in by an impenetrable field, so that they don't get out and disrupt this world. When considered in those terms, it really isn't all that different from a lot of other worlds and regimes that the Doctor has run across during his many adventures. The rulers here don't even consider that they can repair the robots. Yet, even more interestingly, now that the robots have been shunned for so long and left to live in a junkyard they don't want to be repaired. The very individuality that the thinkerers who run this planet were afraid of has come about because of their own bias and their own desire to keep the imperfect from ruining their world. It's nothing to mind-blowing, but this is a short story and the concepts need to be small and easily digestable. Individuality is given a chance to flourish in the end and we're left to speculate on what happens to Frankie once his revolution starts in earnest.

All stories set during this early period in the Doctor's life are interesting, because he's such a different character from the one that he would become. This Doctor doesn't think twice about puttering around a junkyard and taking materials, even though he must already know that this is a world run by robots. A later Doctor might think about the etiquette of a robot civilization and how they might find this to be similar to grave robbing. Instead, when a robot catches him "in the act" he has nothing but extreme curiosity and excitement. He tries to find out more about the world, at first oblivious to Frankie's disgust at what the Doctor is doing. Yet, this man isn't so different from the one that we'll eventually know. Once he realizes what he's done, he apologizes to Frankie and offers to lay his friends' remains to rest. It's a touching scene that's presented with an air of sincerity that helps to convey that this is still a very young Doctor, new at exploring the universe and sometimes a little thoughtless.

The whole thing is performed by Peter Purves. This man could teach a master class at voice acting. The story is told in first person, and Purves does a great job of reading the lines, but also in conveying Frankie's emotions. Purves doesn't do a special voice for Frankie but uses his own voice to speak for Frankie, which gives him an authenticity that he wouldn't normally get in a production where one man does all of the voices. Purves reads the Doctor's lines in his regular "First Doctor" voice, something that he's more than used to now. Purves jumps into playing the Doctor with relish, also giving him a depth and range to express the Doctor's excitement, his sorrow, and his calmer, more thoughtful moments. The only other special voice that Purves does is for Toby, Frankie's friend. Purves' voice is obviously treated to make it incredibly deep for Toby. The role is small and there isn't much to convey with Toby's lines, but it does help to vary up the dialog between the two. There are also some sound effects interspersed throughout the story to keep it from getting to bogged down in narration.

My only gripe is that I feel like the first person format lead to a lot of confusion. I'm used to Peter Purves playing Steven Taylor. Having this story told in first person made me assume that it was Steven narrating. It took a few minutes to figure out that my assumptions were wrong. It would have helped if there'd been a more positive way of indicating that even though Purves was saying "I" that it wasn't in reference to Steven's character. The only other thing that niggled at me is that the Doctor indicates that he's traveling with Susan, Ian, and Barbara who are apparently held elsewhere throughout the length of this story. I feel like either William Russell or Carole Ann Ford should have read the story in keeping with the era in which it's set. Since Frankie is ostensibly "male", William Russell may have made the most sense. While I understand that the vague rule for who reads a short trip is that it's someone who was part of the "era", I think that they should go for a companion actually from the time period in which the story is set if available. For instance, I'd be fine if Purves narrated a story that was about the Doctor and Dodo traveling alone together because Jackie Lane has no interest in working for Big Finish and Purves is the closest actor associated with that Doctor and companion. Similarly, if either Katy Manning or Richard Franklin read a short trip set in seasons 7 or 11, I wouldn't mind that either as neither Caroline John, Elizabeth Sladen, or Nicholas Courtney are around to narrate those eras themselves. Here, it feels like a slap in the face not to include Russell and I'd be very curious to know how he would have performed this story differently.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: It's a fun little science-fiction tale that gives us a nice window into an alien civilization and how one member of that race interacts with the Doctor. It's a bite-size tale, so don't expect to much, but we do get is a nice amount of characterization and development for the Doctor and a story of individuality winning out over conformity. I definitely recommend it.

Blurb: 1950s London: newcomers arrive daily on British shores seeking a fresh start, new opportunities, or simply the chance of a different life. However, some are from much further afield than India or Jamaica...

After an emergency landing, the TARDIS crew must make the best of it, and look to their new neighbors for help. But the Newman family has more than the prejudices of the time to contend with. A sinister force grows in strength amid the pubs, docks and backstreets of London...

And without the Doctor, marooned in a time and place as alien as anything they've ever encountered, Steven and Sara may well face their greatest challenge yet. To live an ordinary life.

Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Peter Purves and Jean Marsh published by Big Finish Productions and released December 2014.

Setting: Earth: London, England over two weeks in the winter or late Fall (November) circa 1956. Steven and Sara mention multiple times that it's the 1950's and Joseph refers to the Queen. This makes it at least 1953. Based on rather flimsy conjecture over the fact that no one mentions the fact that the Queen is new, I've put this a few years on. Also, Steven mentions that they could wait to meet with Ian and Barbara but makes the "1960's" sound like they're somewhat distant, so I don't think that this is near the end of the decade. Historical weather data points to an unusually cold November in 1956. Since Audrey hadn't seen snow prior to the story's beginning and the fact that no one mentions Christmas, this story likely takes place in November, so 1956 would seem to fit as the year. However, there's really no reason that I can see why this can't be set anywhere from 1953-1959.

Continuity: This story takes place between two episodes of The Daleks Masterplan, The Feast of Steven and Volcano and sometime after the audio story The Anachronauts. There's no indication of where this story fits in relation to other stories set in the same gap. Steven mentions that he met Ian and Barbara (see The Chase). He also mentions Vicki and that she told him more about them (see The Time Meddler). Sara mentions that her brother is dead; that she doesn't get along with police in Liverpool; and Steven, Sara, and the Doctor mention the taranium core and that the Daleks will likely be after them at some point (see The Daleks Masterplan). Steven is obviously in love with Sara (see The Anachronauts). The Doctor uses the same venusian lullaby on baby Josetta that he uses later on Aggedor (see The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon).

Canonicity Quotient: While shoving much of anything into the gap between The Feast of Steven and Volcano was always going to be difficult this story just decides to drive a semi-truck through it. Its getting a little more difficult to swallow that Sara could have had this many adventures with the Doctor and Steven. We don't know if Jean Marsh will be able to do anything else, so if this is the end I guess it can just about work, but much more will make this a little difficult to swallow. We've also got the issue that Steven mentions "the last time that he was in London" in The Perpetual Bond and refers back to the events of The Suffering. There have already been problems with this in other stories and it just highlights how the authors shouldn't put in such definitive statements when new stories come out all over the timeline, but still it's a contradiction. Even though Steven gets memory loss at the end of this one, he still remembers everything that happened afterwards and knows that he was in London. It's just his memory prior to being copied that is at least partially erased. I'm also not a big fan of the first Doctor displaying such large amounts of psychic power. I'm a bit more ambivalent towards him being great with kids. I can see it but it seems like the Doctor on display here was a bit more mellow (as Purves' version tends to be) than the first Doctor we got on screen. 0.85

Discussion: As a whole, the Early Adventures have not wowed me. The Bounty of Ceres was quite good, even if the story had some logical flaws, but overall the range has suffered from some really bad missteps. An Ordinary Life had a few things going for it. First, it's by Matt Fitton, who wrote the excellent Return of the Rocket Men. Second, it deals with Steven and Sara Kingdom. This is a TARDIS team that has gotten so little play over the years. Fitton had already displayed a really great understanding of the character of Steven, so I was looking forward to what he would do with his character and how he would develop the character of Sara Kingdom.

I think that my biggest problem with this story was that so much of it was pulled from the second half of the Anachronauts. David Richardson admits that this story idea has been floating around for a while, and the liner notes for The Anachronauts indicates that it was a last minute replacement script for another concept, which had gotten shelved. I suspect that that original story was also based on the concept of An Ordinary Life. When it fell through, Guerrier used that idea to create the portions of The Anachronauts that took placed in 1960's Berlin. The idea of Sara and Steven living in one place and one time, the idea of them developing feelings for each other, and the whole debate about whether they should get involved all comes from that story. While the Sara from that second half of the story was an illusion it seems odd that Steven doesn't act like he remembers that adventure at all in An Ordinary Life. It also frustrates me because I'm not a big fan of The Anachronauts and on top of that I never saw Sara and Steven as very compatible. Whereas stories dealing with Barbara and Ian's relationships make me giddy with glee, stories about Steven and Sara's relationship fall flat with me because it seems forced.

The story is a bit more of a mixed bag. It's at its strongest when its dealing with the struggles of ordinary people just trying to live their lives amidst the prejudice of the time. Steven and Sara come up against these views like a brick wall. That creates some nice contrasts as Steven and Sara start feeling the brunt of the same persecution simply because they're helping out the "undesirables". It does lead to some nice dialog, though, such as when Steven replies that he is "being with his own kind" because they're "decent human beings" or showing the more subtle side of racism when we're told that someone won't have the Newmans in her house, not because she's prejudiced but because her neighbors are. Some of the things depicted are actually horrific such as Michael's coworkers actually forcing him into a crate and nailing it shut to ship him back to Jamaica. There's also a really great line from the Doctor at the end that immigrants such as the Newmans actually live extraordinary lives and are pioneers who enrich the culture that they're in. It all makes a really powerful point and it's a real shame that this whole story wasn't done as a true historical.

If I'm going to pick a slight nit, sometimes I feel like Steven and Sara are portrayed just a tad to naive. Even though national origin may have no meaning in the future and all races may be regarded as equals, I find it hard to believe that there's no prejudice at all. Steven's 24th century home time likely has some prejudice against aliens and I find it hard to believe that there will ever be a point in time when prejudice against place of origin doesn't exist. There will always be less affluent locations or locations viewed as less desirable to live because they're offworld. I'm sure that people from certain colonies would be regarded as lesser than those from others and colonials may not like those from Earth. I also feel like Steven should have a little more of a clue since he's already been exposed to the gender disparity in The Suffering and this isn't that many years forward from that story, so the racism shouldn't be such a huge shock.

The real issue with the story, though, comes when it's time to throw in the sci-fi part. I get that the 1950's would have probably been to recent to do a "historical" story back when season three was initially made. I also understand that the creators at Big Finish considered this more of a modern story in the style of the War Machines. But honestly, the science fiction element was completely intrusive and had nothing to do with the first half of the story. It almost feels like this is another Anachronauts where you have an 'A' story and a 'B' story that are only loosely connected together. A lot of people have mentioned the similarities between these unnamed aliens and the Zygons. The problem is that they couldn't have used Zygons because Zygons would have been more interesting and would have been involved in some sort of evil plot. It seems like Fitton tried to concede to his spec to make this about immigrants just trying to fit in by giving us boring, aimless aliens, because outright sinister aliens would have been to intrusive to the 'A' plot and would have very obviously destroyed the message of the story. Yet, the aliens that we get distract from the story as well. The whole theme about immigrants getting mistreated gets lost because the aliens treat themselves as immigrants who just want "an ordinary life". The fact that they're driven back to sea at the end and not given a chance at that life seems a strange mixed message for the story. It doesn't help that the Doctor ends the matter with the extremely dark line of dialog that "if a parasite doesn't know that it's a parasite is it any less culpable". Many view immigrants as parasites as well, so that really doesn't help to convey a positive view of immigration.

A second nit is that the "ordinary life" in the story is supposed to apply to Steven and Sara, yet that whole notion is entirely absurd. Steven is from the 24th century and Sara is from the 41st. Having them muse about living "an ordinary life" in those kinds of conditions defies any sense. It would be like throwing me back to the 14th century and having me muse about living an ordinary life. I would never consider any life from centuries ago to be ordinary because it would be so different to the way of life that I've been raised on. It really hurts the story in my opinion because it's one of the main thematic points in the story but it rings terribly false.

An Ordinary Life does have some really nice character moments. I like all the scenes with Steven trying to be protective of Sara and her not letting him get away with it. Sara wants to feel useful, so she tries to fix the hole in the window. Then there's the attempts to cook when neither of them knows how to do so. Sara can't bring herself to talk about Bret to Audrey, which says a lot with the absence of words. We also learn that the SSS sterilizes operatives, so as not to create family ties. It adds another layer to that organization and tells us a lot more about Sara and how far she's willing to go to do what she thinks is right. As I said earlier, I didn't care much for the romance angle as I don't think that Peter Purves and Jean Marsh have any chemistry, but I didn't have an extreme problem with it. Two people put in a common situation under stress are likely to develop feelings for each other that they wouldn't under ordinary conditions. My main problem is when Sara decides that the best way to get a job as a policeman is to beat up the police force and show them how good she is at combat. As someone in a form of law enforcement herself she should have realized that that was an awful idea that would just get her locked up and just made her seem like a dumb brute.

The production values were decent but didn't reach the heights of some other stories. It's really nice to hear Jean Marsh putting in another strong performance after she kind of faded during the Anachronauts and The Destroyers. She's once again showing some real voice inflection and while she doesn't necessarily sound youthful she sounds a LOT better than she did in her last few Big Finish stories. Peter Purves is once again fantastic as Steven and effortlessly brings back the character. My main issue is that once again Big Finish felt that the Early Adventures need to sideline the Doctor. This time he's gone for three episodes instead of one or two. I hope that in their third season that they get past this because I don't really see a point in doing the Early Adventures if they have to sideline the Doctor so much. Of course for this story, it's kind of necessary for the Doctor to be gone for so long. If it were the only Early Adventure that did this, I'd have no problem with it but having had three of the four stories sideline the Doctor for a significant amount of time it is becoming really disappointing. I love the Hartnell era and I think that both William Russell and Peter Purves do him justice, so I'd like to have more stories featuring that Doctor.

The guest cast is really good as well. Ram John Holder really excels as the charitable and kind Uncle Joseph. You really get the impression that this is a laid back war veteran who just wants to enjoy life in his later years. Damian Lynch also does a find job as Michael Newman. His role initially doesn't require much more than talking in a monotone but then it all changes in episode three. Suddenly he's able to make the monotone positively sinister, even chuckling in a sort of off way that's really creepy. Stephen Critchlow plays the typical bully type. He does it well but there isn't much to it. Sara Powell is alright as Audrey. Her accent seems a little overdone and can be a bit difficult to listen to but her friendship with Sara is believable and I do like the scene where they're together in the marketplace bonding. The music this time wasn't exactly to my taste either. It didn't have a lot of variability and while there were Jamaican characters, the bongo drums seemed a little out of place especially as the Jamaican culture wasn't really a large part of the story. The sound effects were good and there was plenty of sound from the squelching of the disintegrating copies to cooking to trucks to crates being burst open and beyond. It made the soundscape fairly rich, which gives the story a lot of nice texture to help the imagination in visualizing what's going on.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: It's a bit of a mixed bag. There is some wonderful stuff showing the ignorance of prejudice and really highlighting the struggles that people have trying to live in a new country. Unfortunately, the lame aliens and the mixed thematic messages detract from the whole. There's some good characterization except when Sara just randomly becomes dumb to conveniently make sure that she isn't in a particular scene and even the production seems relatively uneven. Still, I think that it's better than it isn't but it finishes off the Early Adventures on rocky territory. I do recommend listening to it.

Blurb: Professor George Litefoot: the eminent pathologist who advises the police in some of their grisliest cases. Henry Gordon Jago: the master of ceremonies at the Alhambra Theatre. These are two very different men from contrasting strata in society who became firm friends and collaborators after their adventure with the Doctor and Leela battling the evil Weng-Chiang.

Some years later, Jago and Litefoot have defeated dangerous denizens of the daemonic darkness together. They have stood side by side against threats to the British Empire. But when a body is found on the banks of the River Thames and Litefoot's post mortum reveals that it is actually a highly detailed wooden mannequin, their most dangerous adventure begins.

Dr Tulp has masterminded a deadly scheme, Jack Yeovil and his murderous gang plan to live forever, and only Jago and Litefoot can stop them...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the points-of-view of Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot. Published by Big Finish Productions and released May of 2009.

Setting: Earth: London, England sometime in the late Victorian period (Lance Parkin's AHistory states that it's the summer of 1892).

Continuity: Jago refers to the Weng-Chiang incident (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang)

Canonicity Quotient: There are no issues with fitting this into the established canon. 1.00

Discussion: Words can't express how exciting it is to have Jago and Litefoot back after over 40 years. They only appeared once in Doctor Who, but they left an indelible mark on the series. The BBC even considered giving them a spinoff television series. That's where this Big Finish audio takes over. Andy Lane took a script idea that he'd had for a television series and adapted it as if it were for a Jago and Litefoot series if such a thing had existed. While it is stretching the idea of a companion a bit, both Jago and Litefoot acted as the Doctor's companions during The Talons of Weng-Chiang, so it still works.

One of the things that really jumps out at you with this one is the atmosphere. That gothic, Victorian atmosphere from Talons of Weng-Chiang is back. This is a London full of dimly-lit streets and ever-present fog. Science is the answer to all problems and technology is expressed in brass, wood, and electrodes. These days you'd almost call it steam punk, but it remains just a hair's breadth over on the end of verisimilitude to keep it going into the more outlandish areas of that particular genre. The Mahogany Murderers gives us the delightful concept of criminals who escape prison by having their minds transferred into intricately carved wooden puppets. I like that the process isn't described in to great detail, although it is clearly a technical process as the mannequins depend on some electrical apparatus for their unnatural lives. Jack Yeovil seems like the kind of villain that's fitting for the setting; a petty, murderous man with his sights on acquiring power at the loss of everything else. The ending, where Jack and his men are destroyed by fire is suitably dark and gruesome but the elusive Doctor Tulp gets away, paving the way for another series of stories.

I also like the formatting. Having two people who were involved in the story allows the narration to have a less monotonous flow than in many other Companion Chronicles. It also gives allows for some characterization as Jago cares only about making his story more interesting while Litefoot wants everything in its correct, linear order. It also allows the listener to get a vantage on the story that he wouldn't have if he was only following one of these narratives. Several times in the story Litefoot or Jago find something that impacts the next stage of the other's tale or one of their actions influences something that happens to the other. It makes the story a little more fun to listen to.

Of course, it's already a privilege to have Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter back. The script allows Jago and Litefoot to live again and they feel like the same characters from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Litefoot's reaction to the squalor of London's slums is a nice reality check for someone who grew up in riches and Jago's matter-of-factness about it shows that while these two men are friends, they come from entirely different worlds. Litefoot's fascination with the intricacy with which the mannequins are fashioned is a nice way of getting into this pathologist's mindset and Jago's belief that electricity would never "catch on" is a fun way of showing the insular character of the man. Of the two, Baxter evokes his old character far better. He sounds just slightly older but his mannerisms and speech patterns are exactly that of the Professor Litefoot from Talons of Weng-Chiang. Unfortunately, age has not been as kind to Christopher Benjamin. He still has a rich, deep voice but sounds nothing like the Henry Gordon Jago of the Talons of Weng-Chiang. There's very little of the bluster and his entire tone of voice is completely gone. I hope that it returns in the subsequent Jago and Litefoot audio series but at least from what I can hear he's lost it. Lisa Bowerman also puts in a short performance as Ellie the barmaid. Bowerman's problem is that it's hard not to notice that it's her whenever she turns up in an audio, but she does well enough by the small role of Ellie. The soundscape is also good, complimenting that atmosphere. We have the crackle of electricity, tavern sounds, horses hooves on cobblestones, running, and coins jangling. The music is also excellent helping to evoke that dark, Victorian London that I mentioned above.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: It's really exciting to hear the return of Jago and Litefoot after all these years. This story gives a great example of what a series with these two characters would have been like and it's definitely intriguing enough to deserve further installments. It's dark and atmospheric and full of mystery and it's nice that it conveys the sense that this is the middle of a series of adventures that these two men have been having ever since the Doctor left. Baxter leaves no complaints but Christopher Benjamin could work a bit on regaining the character of Henry Gordon Jago. Thankfully the format makes this really engaging and I strongly recommend it to everyone.

Hornets' Nest 5 - Hive of Horror

Blurb: As a new day breaks over Nest Cottage, the Doctor and Mike know they have to face their enemy for a final confrontation. Reduced to miniature size, and with Mrs Wibbsey along as an unwilling adventurer, they venture inside the hornets’ nest itself. The Queen lies in wait for the enemy which she and her brood have faced so many times over the millennia. If she is to guarantee the survival of her alien hornet race for another thousand years, this is a battle she must win!

The loyalty of the Doctor’s friends will be tested to the limit. And perhaps, at last, they will all understand why Mike Yates is so important…

Format: Multi-voice audio drama starring Tom Baker and Richard Franklin published by BBC Audio and released December 2009.

Setting: Nest Cottage, Sussex, UK on the planet Earth in 2009.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation and immediately after the audio story A Sting in the Tale. The Doctor mentions that he already has a dog (see The Invasion of Time). The Doctor talks about the time that he was shrunk down and examined the inside of his own brain (see The Invisible Enemy but also see the Canonicity Quotient). The Hornet Queen and Mike talk about his being taken over by an AI (see The Green Death) and they refer to the details around Operation Golden Age and his getting discharged from UNIT (see Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Mike mentions that he's studied under many different mystics to prevent his mind from being controlled again (see Planet of Spiders). The Hornets are still controlling the stuffed animals (see The Stuff of Nightmares). The Doctor can use Francesca's ballet slippers in combination with his sonic screwdriver to reduce things in size (see The Dead Shoes). The Doctor still has the aniseed balls that he picked up in Blandford (see The Circus of Doom). Mike and the Doctor remember that the Hornets don't like alcohol (see A Sting in the Tale).

Canonicity Quotient: This story inherits the issue with its predecessors and adds a few. The Doctor refers to the Wrath Warriors, something from the comic and something that the Doctor only encountered after he was with Romana. This is at odds with previous statements that he'd just had adventures with Leela and also creates further problems by trying to reconcile the comic strips with the series. The best possible explanation is that the Doctor has encountered the Wrath Warriors in a previously unknown tale. Mike says that he got a hip flask from the Brigadier when he was discharged from UNIT, something that seems very out of character given how and why Mike was discharged from UNIT. The Doctor says that he remembers walking around in his own mind but it was a clone that did that, not the Doctor. The clone disintegrated, so this Doctor can't be the clone. 0.50

Discussion: I actually had a lot of good expectations going into this story. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of A Sting in the Tale, I did really enjoy the cliffhanger. The idea of Mrs Wibbsey becoming truly sinister was interesting and hinted at some possible character drama. I also really liked that the Doctor and Mike were thrown into immediate peril and couldn't wait to find out how the situation had resolved itself. Even better, the primary narration was over. The Doctor was done spinning his tales about what he'd been doing before Mike arrived. Now it was time for Mike to finish his story to the audience. A Sting in the Tale also hinted at something more going on with Mike's being brought to Nest Cottage and I was very interested to see how that played out as well.

One of the initial problems with this story is that it really doesn't pay off any of that cliffhanger at all. A cynic might point out that classic Who did that from time-to-time as well. However, I find that kind of attitude lazy in the extreme. While I like the continuing adaptations of Doctor Who to feel like the classic series, I don't think that gives a writer an excuse to copy the mistakes of the series because it makes writing easier. So instead of coming back to the Doctor and Mike fighting for their lives as Mrs Wibbsey has lured them into a trap we have the Doctor and Mike sedate and talking about "well it's a good thing we sorted all those animals" and then wondering if Mrs Wibbsey is really all that bad. So we get no action and somehow seem to have forgotten Mrs Wibbsey's actions in the previous story so that she can be shown to be completely innocent in this one. It was...bizarre to say the least.

The format still doesn't do many favors. While this story is more engrossing than many of the tales narrated by Tom it does lose a little something every time that Richard Franklin pulls the listener outside of the narrative to tell them about some detail that was going on at the time. Still, at least this time the narration is far more brief and more of the action happens as part of the story, so it is easier to follow along with what's happening. It is odd to imagine some parts though as the Doctor shrinks he and his friends and they are on the head of a stuffed zebra. Were they standing on its head before they shrunk or did they somehow shrink and then float over to the zebra's head? Neither one really makes much sense and it's completely glossed over in the actual story.

The plot is really simplistic. The Doctor and Mike decide to take on the queen of the hive and they take Mrs Wibbsey with them while they go. As they progress, various items from the previous stories allow them to continue and eventually defeat the queen. Yet, this story really isn't about the plot. It's about the characters. This is about Mike Yates being offered another chance to betray his friend and about his own internal struggle with it. It's actually really neat to see him tempted in a way that actually makes sense for his character and explains why he was brought to the house at this point in time and why he would make a good target for the Hornets to corrupt. It's lovely development for the character and even if the Hornets are fairly easily defeated and even though it doesn't make sense that the queen can't return herself to normal size since the Hornets can change size at will I like the fact that the emotional interaction between Mike, the Doctor, Mrs Wibbsey, and the Queen was true focal point of the story. He even sees Wibbsey as the traitor, ascribing his failings to her and saying a lot more about his own character than I think that he intended. It's wonderful stuff.

As before the cast is really good in this. Susan Jameson gets a deliciously large role and Mrs Wibbsey gets to give her withering comments and complete disdain to everyone around. Tom Baker is still playing a slightly odd Doctor. He doesn't narrate anywhere near as much this time but what he does is still done with that perfect reading voice. Rula Lenska is perfect as the Hornet Queen. She exudes charisma and sounds creepy. Richard Franklin steals the show, though. His more thoughtful, older Mike Yates is a real pleasure to listen to and it's great to hear his real dilemma thinking through the Hornets' offer. The rest of the production is sparse, harkening back to the style of The Stuff of Nightmares. There's some music when the Hornet Queen appears and there are a few odd sounds beyond the Hornet's buzzing but for some reason Mike's narrative is distinguished from the Doctor's by a lack of music and sound. I didn't notice it anywhere near as much this time, though, so the story must have been fairly engrossing.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: It all finally ends not with a bang but with a drama about the heart of one m an. Hive of Horror works for the same reason that The Circus of Doom does. It's about people rather than creatures. That makes all the difference in making this an interesting story and a fitting end to the series. While I can't recommend getting into this series because it has far to many misses instead of hits, if you've already made it to A Sting in the Tale you should really enjoy this conclusion.



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