How disconcerting. I thought they were going in Doctor order with these, but now we’ve skipped back to William Hartnell again. Wait a sec while I get my bearings.
Right. Whenever there’s a Doctor Who list-writing competition/meme (and these do happen very, very, very often), one of the lists is invariably "shortest-lasting companion", with the challenge being to identify who counts as a companion: anyone who travels in the TARDIS? Anyone in two or more consecutive stories who travels in the TARDIS? It all starts to become a bit tricky, when you consider that Liz Shaw, for example, never actually travelled in the TARDIS yet is undoubtedly a companion.
Fellow competitors in the ‘tricky’ stakes are first Doctor companions Katarina (Trojan priestess) and Sara Kingdom (future secret agent), both of whom pop up around the time of The Dalek Masterplan then promptly cark it after a minimal number of episodes in said story.
Which makes a Sara Kingdom Companion Chronicle an even trickier prospect for Big Finish. How exactly can you get Sara Kingdom to start recounting a tale of her life with the Doctor when she meets him and dies in the same adventure?
Sounds like a bit of a ghost story. Gather round, everyone…
There’s a house across the waters at Ely where an old woman tells a strange story.
About a kind of night constable called Sara Kingdom. And her friends, the Doctor and Steven. About a journey they made to a young couple’s home, and the nightmarish things that were found there. About the follies of youth and selfishness. And the terrible things even the most well-meaning of us can inflict on each other.
Hear the old woman’s story. Then decide her fate.
Is it any good?
It’s really pretty good, provided you’re not fussed by something that doesn’t feel particularly Doctor Who-ish. To be fair, the Hartnell era was quite experimental and didn’t quite know what "Doctor Who" should be like, so it’s not totally surprising that this, as with previous Hartnell-era Companion Chronicle, feels different to the rest of the range.
The story is essentially a mystery, in which Sara, Steven and the Doctor come across a house containing two dead bodies and they have to work out what happened. Is the house haunted or is something else at work? There’s also the little mystery of how Sara Kingdom’s still alive despite obviously being dead in the TV show.
It’s quite spooky, actually – certainly spookier than any of the numerous attempts made in Big Finish’s Sapphire and Steel range. It’s a little hard to follow though and there are leaps in logic that are hard to fathom and seem to be there purely to ensure the story fits its hour-long runtime, rather than because anyone could have worked them out*.
The fact that Niall Macgregor sounds exactly like Christian Coulson from The Haunting of Thomas Brewster made me think there was supposed to be some kind of link between the two stories until it was clear there wasn’t. And although it seems like the story’s supposed to be set in the early 19th century, the story is supposed to have been set thousands of years before that yet clearly couldn’t have been, so I’ve no idea what was going on there. Some sort of weird retro colony planet?
But, as I said, it’s still pretty good, with an intriguing resolution that might remind you more of Nigel Kneale’s plays than MR James’s stories. Marsh is a good reader, although she does have one or two OTT moments, and the sound design makes the narrative part feel more real. Although you don’t get a whole lot of additional characterisation for Sara beyond reminders of what happens in The Dalek Masterplan, it does make you wish she’d been around for longer than just that one story. Fingers crossed for another Companion Chronicle to expand her character a bit more.
The best of the current series so far, I’d say.
Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom)
Niall Macgregor (Robert)
Writer: Simon Guerrier
Director: Lisa Bowerman
* Although you could argue that’s quite usual in ghost stories so is in keeping with the idea of knowledge acquired because the spirits involved want the character to acquire it.