Well, there’s good news and bad news for this, the second of the now-monthly Companion Chronicles. The good news is that after two spectacular misses (Fear of the Daleks and Helicon Prime), we finally have a second Doctor Companion Chronicle that actually feels like a second Doctor story. The bad news is that it’s just not very memorable.
Told by Deborah Watling, who played Victoria during the second Doctor’s reign, it’s one of those future Earth stories that were so beloved by the era (eg The Moonbase, The Invasion, The Seeds of Death), in which some exciting world-changing doohickey has been invented and some aliens come along to take it over.
The trouble is that it’s pretty much that – a regular old second Doctor story – rather than something more exciting, such as a chance to give Victoria some decent characterisation.
The Great Space Elevator is a marvel of human engineering; a transit tube stretching from the equator up to a space station held in geosynchronous orbit.
When the TARDIS lands in Sumatra in the future, the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are captured by guards just as the station loses power. Together with Security Officer Tara Kerley, the three travellers take a one-way trip on the elevator to fix the problem, and find themselves confronted by a powerful alien force that threatens to wreak chaos on Earth…
Is it any good?
As an evocation of the second Doctor’s era, it’s very good. From the plot itself to the sound design to the cold, mini-skirt wearing space elevator controller to the Doctor’s conker and ability to con himself onto whatever top secret project he comes across to, well, just about everything, you can practically hear the black and white oozing off it.
The slight over-keenness on science explanation, such as the details about all the carbon nano-tubes that make up the elevator’s cable, are slightly out of keeping; the aliens themselves are far more of a fourth Doctor “threat of the interior” (cf The Invisible Enemy) than a second Doctor monster (ie “threat of the exterior”). But other than that, pure second Doctor.
But the aliens aren’t that memorable, unfortunately. They’re a reasonable threat, but since they get barely an hour to introduce themselves before being thwarted, they needed the killer uniqueness of an Ice Warrior, a Cyberman or a Salamander to stand out, which unfortunately they don’t.
Victoria, while arguably far braver and less screamier than she is on-screen, gets has the barest minimum of development and characterisation as well. We have a few references to her father and to her adopted family, but what’s she been up to all her life? What’s she been doing? What does she do by way of hobbies? Why is she telling us this story? Since this is a Companion Chronicle, rather than simply a “Missing Adventure”, it feels like it’s missed its entire raison d’être.
Watling’s a competent reader, although she does little to mimic the voice of Jamie at times, leaving you stuck trying to work out who said what, unless you get a “canna” or an “och aye” to help out. Helen Goldwyn, with whom she’s partnered, does well with what she’s got, which is pretty much next to nothing.
A bit more work on the script and this would have been a classic. But without a bit more Victoria back story, I can’t desperately recommend it unless you really enjoyed the second Doctor era and wanted to suck up a new story.
Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield)
Helen Goldwyn (Tara Kerley)
Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Nigel Fairs