Review: The Companion Chronicles 3×8 – The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Prisoner's DilemmaThis particular Companion Chronicle from Big Finish marks the start of two things: first, it’s the first to really start mixing up the idea of the Companion Chronicles and the range’s two-handers; the second is that it’s the prelude to the Key To Time 2 (aka Key 2 Time. Aargh) season that’s going to dominate the Big Finish Doctor Who range for the next five months or so.


Based on the exciting game theory problem The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Prisoner’s Dilemma has Ace and evil “living tracer” Zara stuck in jail together on some random planet or other and they have to get out somehow. The question is, will you care if they do or don’t?

A new adventure with the Seventh Doctor as told by his companion, Ace.

Two prisoners meet in a prison cell. Zara is searching for the segments of the Key to Time; she was only born yesterday but already she’s killed hundreds of people. Ace is more ambitious: she was going to kill everyone on the planet.

What have they got against the people of Erratoon? They go peaceably about their simple assignments, beneath their artificial sky. They share their meals and leisure time and they never ask questions. Are they even real?

Is it any good?
On a couple of levels, yes. It is, at least, slightly ambitious. There’s an attempt to do proper sci-fi and subvert cliché. The traditional Companion Chronicles approach of companion reading story with second actor playing one other role has been subverted so that it’s a two-hander, with evil tracer Doddington reading most of part one of the story, Aldred reading part two and each popping up in the other’s part as themselves.

There’s also some tricky stuff going on with timelines, with most of part one’s events not being explained until part two flashes back to show Ace’s perspectives on things.

Trouble is, I’m still not entirely sure I know what was going on, how they escaped, etc. And I’m not sure I care. While Doddington’s clearly a better actress than Aldred, that’s still not saying much. The whole thing’s a bit convoluted and daft, and its subtextual references to game theory are a pain in the arse. Its attempts to give Zara (not named Zara until the next story) reasons for being evil are ineffectual and shallow at best, and veer towards Curse of Fenric in terms of embarrassing attempts at sexuality towards the end. And the lack of seventh Doctor, for once, isn’t something to cheer about.

While the claim is this is a standalone prequel to the Key2Time season, with both enjoyable on their own terms, I’m pretty sure that’s not true: there are things not explained here – such as the mysterious appearance of the Doctor on a lakeside in part one – that will clearly be explained in later Key2Time episodes, while I’m already listening to the next Key2Time episode and it would have made no sense without listening to this play first.

Indeed, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is only seeming mildly better in retrospect now I’ve started listening to the next Key2Time play. My initial reaction was of huge despair that I was going to have to listen to more like these over the next few months.

To be honest, if I were you, I’d give this one and miss and steer clear of the Key2Time plays as well – give your bank balance a rest.

Did it keep my brain occupied for an hour down the gym or did I, at various points in the play, want to trap myself under something heavy in preference to listening to any more of it?
No, I was praying for boulders and maybe a flatpack bookcase from Argos.

Amazon CD: £7.33
Big Finish download: £7.99
Big Finish CD: £8.99

Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Laura Doddington (Zara)

Author: Simon Guerrier
Director: Lisa Bowerman