And so it is we have a new regular series of audio plays at Big Finish: The Companion Chronicles. As we all know, Big Finish has been creating monthly, full cast plays featuring the television Doctors and companions for over a decade now. Not all the Doctors, mind, because some have passed on to the great Matrix in the sky – and one's a complete mentalist.
The Companion Chronicles was an attempt to (cheaply) fill that gap, by having two-handed dramas featuring just one of those missing Doctors' companions relating a tale featuring him or her and the missing Doctor – usually as they're about to kark it.
Two series in and the idea's proved so popular, Big Finish have gone monthly with it and decided to extend it to later companions as well. Up first is Susan, the Doctor's first ever companion and only known (proper) relative.
A new adventure with the First Doctor as told by his grand-daughter, Susan.
“It was a terrible sound, like someone had just stabbed the Universe and it was crying out in pain”
The distant future. The TARDIS, with the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara aboard, is drawn out of the Vortex and lands aboard the Earth Benchmarking Vessel Nevermore, where Captain Rostrum is navigating by punching holes in the very fabric of space. The Doctor is appalled by this act of vandalism, and fearful that it could unleash monsters from the dark dimensions.
As the benchmarking holes begin to fray, the fate of the universe is at stake. And while the Doctor contemplates a terrible sacrifice, Susan befriends the Nevermore’s First Mate – someone she will remember for the rest of her life…
Is it any good?
It is very good, in fact. But you'll need to have a taste for early Who as well as a certain degree of tolerance for 'retconning'.
With years of continuity weighing things down, it's hard to watch early Who without thinking at least one thought: "She's a Time Lord/Lady, so how come Susan is so sh*t?"*.
In common with many modern day takes on Susan, Here There Be Monsters does a bit of rehabilitation on her and the first Doctor to make up for this. Here, with insights direct from the woman herself, we learn things about the early Doctor and Susan that we really couldn't have learned from anyone else.
Susan is older than Ian and Barbara put together, yet barely more than a Time Tot. The Doctor, incompetently piloting the TARDIS because he doesn't know how anything works and he hasn't yet established a symbiotic bond with it, is merely an adolescent in Time Lord terms, despite his appearance – thus explaining Hartnell's more childish and scary antics.
But retconning is only in the front half of the play, with much of it dedicated to a very Hartnell-esque story of a far off spaceship exploring the frontiers of space (cf The Ark, for example) then messing things up considerably.
Not much really happens in terms of action – this is a play of ideas, in which things from the other side (the downside, in fact) of the universe arrive and turn out to be a major health hazard. Yet all is not what it seems.
It's enjoyable, not over-written like some of the previous series' Hartnell tales, and does a good job of capturing the slightly different feel of the early days. Ford does a good job, as does former Corrie star Stephen Hancock, and the whole thing feels enjoyable claustrophobic – as though we're stuck on a metallic stage at the Beeb back in 1963. Probably not worth getting if you can't stand the B&W days, but a must for any other Who fan with an hour and a few quid to spare.
How much should you have to pay?
Actual price: £8.99 (download: £7.99; Amazon: £7.19)
Actual worth: £7.99
Carole Ann Ford (Susan)
Stephen Hancock (The First Mate)
Writer: Andy Lane
Director: Lisa Bowerman
* Admittedly, not sh*t but rather good indeed in the pilot episode