Review: The Companion Chronicles – The Blue Tooth

The Blue ToothAs a notorious Liz Shaw fan, I was looking forward to this entry in the Companion Chronicles range. One of the more adult companions (in a good way), she was one of the main elements of a short-lived strategy to make Doctor Who less childish, way back in season seven. However, she never got so much as a leaving scene when she was replaced by Jo Grant and hasn’t yet appeared in any of the Big Finish range. So it was good to hear she would be featuring in this brief set of audio books.

The Blue Tooth sees Liz returning to Cambridge to meet an old friend. In true Who style, it all goes very wrong when an outer space monster intrudes – no less a beastie than the Cybermen, in fact. And it opens with a promise: to reveal why Liz decided to leave the Doctor.

Plot (upgraded from the Big FInish web site’s)

“I suppose that was one of the Doctor’s most endearing qualities: the ability to make the bizarre and the terrifying seem utterly normal.”

When Liz Shaw’s friend Jean goes missing, the Doctor and U.N.I.T. are drawn to the scene to investigate. Soon Liz discovers a potential alien invasion that will have far-reaching affects on her life… and the Doctor is unexpectedly re-united with an old enemy…

Is it any good?

Compared to Fear of the Daleks, it’s a masterpiece. Fittingly, the story is adult and clever. The Cybermen are actually pretty scary and the plot downright nasty at times. The sense of place is good: although I don’t remember anyone calling Hobson’s conduits anything other than “those bloody drains down the side of Trumpington Street that you’ll cycle into if you’re not careful” during my eight years there, the name checks to Cambridge locations are accurate. The transition between the Doctor as depicted in season seven and then season eight is hinted at quite well, although there is a touch too much continuity repetition at times and the ending is an obvious re-use of one of season’s seven’s fantastic endings.

The relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier is depicted quite well, with the growing camaraderie and playful opposition that characterised later series coming into its own. I’m not so sure about Liz though. Maybe the author, Nigel Fairs (who ruined the Sapphire and Steel range of Big Finish audios as producer), has in mind her slightly grumpy, older self from the videos from BBV, for whom he used to act and write, but the young on-screen Liz, while caustic, was also playful – her sense of fun seems to have gone missing here, although extenuating circumstances could be argued.

It’s annoying to see her status reduced to mere plot device

It’s also a little saddening that Liz, while narrating the story, is reduced to a more traditional companion, crying over her friend’s disappearance, fainting, getting captured by the enemy and eventually getting rescued by the Doctor. For a companion who typically created her own escape routes, masterminded her own plans and even saved the whole world on her first outing through sheer brainpower, it’s annoying to see her status reduced to mere plot device, even if she is the focus of the story for once.

Nevertheless, there are some good “Liz moments”, such as when she notices the Doctor’s colourful new clothes, and it’s good to get a little Liz backstory, even if most of it is about her friendship with Jean. But whoever did the music should be shot. Seriously, it’s like free clip music (“Ooh. Set in the 60s? Spies mentioned? Must get out 60s electric guitar spies music then…”).

But what of that promise at the beginning? Do we learn why Liz left the Doctor? Not really. Unless I blinked and missed it, we’re left with the idea that maybe Liz was affected by the experiences of the story and by the Doctor’s attitude to her, but no definitive explanation of why she left. Maybe some other day, hey?

This is the first of the Companion Chronicles where we have no real idea why the companion is telling us her story. While Vicki and Zoe’s narration had a wider dramatic context, Liz appears simply to be telling her memoirs. Whether that hints at further Liz stories or is just an oversight or dramatic choice, we’ll have to see.

All the same, while Liz purists like me are likely to get annoyed by The Blue Tooth, it’s the best and most fun of the Companion Chronicles so far. I’d probably only recommend it if you like Liz or the Cybermen, who come out of this quite well, but it’s a distinctly superior tale for a distinctly superior companion.

Listen to the trailer (Windows Media Player)


Caroline John (Liz)

Nicholas Briggs (the Cybermen)

Writer: Nigel Fairs

Producer and Director: Mark J Thompson

Price: £8.99 (£10.50 International)

Available from the Big Finish site.