Not wishing to be tasteless or anything, but it can’t have escaped your notice that a lot of the Doctors Who are dead now. Numbers one to three have passed on; number four is a tad on the eccentric side. Many of their companions live on, however.
Something of a dilemma for Big Finish, no? Being Doctor Who fans of the first order, they’ve got the collecting instinct, and getting those companions into the Big Finish range would be just great. Even better than Top Trumps, in fact.
Now, they’ve already had a fair stab at this. Carole Ann Ford’s played an alternative version of the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, alongside an alternative Doctor in a couple of the Doctor Who Unbound range; Anneke Wills, William Russell, Caroline John, Katy Manning and others have all played new characters in other Big Finish plays; and most of Tombo’s assistants have turned up in ranges of their own (Gallifrey and the Sarah Jane Smith series to be precise).
But with the slight exception of those Unbound plays and The Kingmaker, Big Finish’s producers have stopped short of getting other actors to play the Doctor. So what to do?
Cunning plan. How about creating audio books instead of plays, with the original companions pretending to be telling stories to other people? You don’t need the Doctor anymore and you get to make the companion the centre of the story.
Plus it’s cheap.
Plot (told by a fireside for minimal cost from the Big Finish story book)
Vicki has a tale to tell.
But where does it start and when does it end?
Ancient Carthage. 1164 BC.
Lady Cressida has a secret. She keeps it deep in the cisterns below the Temple of Astarte with only one flame for warmth. And it must never get out.
Regency London, 1814 AD.
The first Doctor, Steven and Vicki go to the fair and meet the fiery Dragon, the novelist Miss Austen and the deadliest weather you ever did see.
But which comes first?
The Future or the Past?
The Phoenix or the Egg?
The Fire or the Frost?
Or will Time freeze over forever?
Is it any good?
Vicki isn’t the most interesting of characters, it must be confessed. Essentially just a Susan replacement but without any of her more intriguing qualities (not even having a different reason for leaving the Doctor), no one would have made her the centre of any story unless contractually obligated to do so – or the words ‘doctor’, ‘who’ and ‘companion’ were involved.
When she’s describing the actions of fellow companion Steven, another Hartnell cipher, you think he might not have been that dull after all
However, she’s not bad in this. It’s a Marc Platt job – he who wrote the equally not-bad Ghost Light for the TV series as well as some of the other Big Finish adventures, including those Carole Ann Ford Doctor Who Unbound plays – and it bears all his hallmarks: clever plotting that’s perhaps a little too clever, some nifty ideas and any sense of fun sucked out of even the most entertaining of concepts.
O’Brien does a good job of narrating the tale and the script is well written enough that when she’s describing the actions of fellow companion Steven, another Hartnell cipher, you think he might not have been that dull after all. Hartnell’s Doctor is less clearly evoked, however, and despite his kindly grandfather qualities and occasional crotchetiness onscreen, you wonder why no one hits him on the head in Frostfire, he’s so offensive to all other human beings and aliens.
If you’re a Whovian who actually gives a toss about the Hartnell years – and you’d be forgiven for not – you’ll enjoy hearing Vicki in action again, even if the script makes her character somewhat lonely and empty by the end, a sad fate for someone who was quite jolly on the show. Platt might as well have subtitled the story “We’re all ephemeral and we’re all going to age and die” for all its cheeriness. Still, with many of these Chronicles likely to be “last chance to hear” events, it might have been nice to have fleshed out Vicki’s character, rather than leaving her surname-less and relatively past-less by the end.
All the same, it’s quite pleasant to listen to, refreshingly brief, reassuringly cheap and avoids the silliness of other recent stories. Not one for anyone except the diehards, though.
Listen to the series trailer (Windows Media Player)
Maureen O’Brian (Vicki)
Keith Drinkel (The Cinder)
Writer: Marc Platt
Producer & Director: Mark J Thompson
Price: £8.99 (£10.50 International)
Available from the Big Finish site.