Review: The Companion Chronicles – Old Soldiers

Old SoldiersAfter yesterday’s tussle with awfulness – aka the Companion Chronicles’ Helicon Prime – we come face to face with something a whole lot better. Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier has been a companion of sorts – or at the very least a practising Friend of the Doctors – since the Troughton years, appearing opposite him, Hartnell (in The Three Doctors), Pertwee (for most of the era), Tom Baker (a couple of stories), Davison (The Five Doctors and Mawdryn Undead) and Sylvester McCoy (Battlefield). He’s also been something of a Big Finish regular, cropping up in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (with Colin Baker), Minuet in Hell (with Paul McGann), the UNIT range of stories as well as a few others. So quite why they need him to have one of his own Companion Chronicles, I’m not sure.

All the same, of the three stories in the second series of the Companion Chronicles, Old Soldiers is probably the best. A traditional narrative in which Courtney reads the story to the listener rather than to another actor, it’s firmly in keeping with the Pertwee era and fleshes out both the Brigadier and UNIT a little.

Plot (extracted, five rounds rapid, from the Big Finish web site)
Old soldiers, comrades in arms – the Brigadier saw many fall during his years with UNIT, but perhaps none more tragically than those at Kreigskind (sic). Called to help when a friend falls ill, how can Lethbridge-Stewart fight an enemy that can breach every defence?

Is it any good?
On the whole, yes. Set in season seven – reinforcing the notion that the best Pertwee time was Liz Shaw time – It’s a traditional tale with Brigadier coming to the aid of an old friend, the Doctor coming to the aid of the Brigadier and their both discovering that all is not what it seems.

Courtney’s Brigadier is pretty much as you remember him from the Pertwee years, although we could have done without his attempt at a Pertwee impression. UNIT, however, is a touch shadier and far less a bunch of stout fellows with guns, defending the Earth, than they were on screen – attempts at making UNIT more military are also not entirely convincing, though.

The twist revelation of who the bad guy is is actually quite clever, although you can probably guess what’s really going on long before it’s revealed.

On balance, though, it’s hard to not to feel that it’s a little pointless as a play. The message that war does terrible things to people isn’t exactly new, although it’s useful as a bit of motivation for the Brig (although not much). The lack of additional companion – eg Sarah Jane, Jo, Liz or even Yates or Benton – also means the story doesn’t really feel very Pertwee-esque and doesn’t help Big Finish get another 15 points in its I, Spy book of Companions competition (for completists only).

A gargoyle pen golderHow much should you have to pay?
Actual price: £8.99
Actual worth: £5.99 or you could barter a gargoyle-shaped pen holder

Listen to the trailer (Windows Media Format)

Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart)
Toby Longworth

Writer: James Swallow
Director: Nigel Fairs

Available from the deeply unpleasant Big Finish web site


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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