Yes, yes, I know. It’s been out for over half a year now. But what the hell, I might as well play catch-up with the Companion Chronicles. I’l be steering clear of obviously “taking the piss” releases, such as Prisoner of Peladon, which stars precisely no companions at all, only David Troughton as a King of Peladon who appeared in a previous Big Finish play. But I’m going to be looking at most of them, I reckon.
First up is The Drowned World, which is a follow-up to surprise hit Home Truths, starring Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom. Home Truths is probably the best Companion Chronicle of the last three seasons, which, given it was about a character that might not even be a companion, was something of a surprise.
The question is: will the follow-up be as good?
Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom is dead, her ashes strewn on the planet Kembel. But, in an old house in Ely, Sara Kingdom lives on…
To the Elders of this ruined world, Sara is a ghost, a phantom that must be excised. She must prove her right to exist, and she does so with stories. Stories of a time when she travelled the universe with an ancient Doctor and his heroic companion Steven inside a magical space/time ship called the TARDIS.
And one story in particular could make a difference. The one about their trip to a world covered in water, where a human expedition is being wiped out. It’s a battle to survive, as the travellers face the horrors of the drowned world…
Is it any good?
Thankfully, it is as good. Woo hoo! The story is split in two: the spirit of Sara Kingdom telling Robert, the visitor to the house in Home Truths, another story of her time with the Doctor; and the framing narrative between Sara and Robert, in which Robert has to decide what to recommend to the elders of Cambridge about Sara’s continued existence.
The story with the Doctor is the lesser of the two tales. It’s essentially a simple story in which the TARDIS trio land on a water planet and the TARDIS sinks beneath the water, stranding them. Soon, it becomes apparent that the water not only contains something malevolent that’s trying to attack the miners on the planet, but the water itself is dangerous. After that, it’s an action piece with Sara running around trying to save people and herself.
I did quite like this since it uses Sara-proper well, showing how interesting a companion she could have been if she’d been allowed to stay on with the show after The Dalek Masterplan (or even starring in that Daleks spin-off series that Terry Nation proposed). Here, she’s interesting, dynamic, committed and resourceful. Okay, she has pretentious dream sequences, too, but you can’t have everything. The prose here is a little too dense as well, and you’re really going to have to concentrate to keep up with the adjective-packed descriptions Sara throws out. It’s also a little harder to do action in narration, so it’s not as tense as it might have been in a full-cast play.
More interesting though is the framing narrative. This is actually very clever and is one of the few times that the whole metaphor of the Companion Chronicles is used well and consistently. Author Simon Guerrier plays all sorts of tricks with its use, with time-jumps between part one and two allowing Robert to continue the story that was told to him by Sara over a decade earlier in the first part, for example. He also makes it seem like someone telling someone else a story, rather than reading out a book, something for which I’m truly grateful (take note other Companion Chronicle writers).
With the secret of Sara and when the story is set blown at the end of Home Truths, Guerrier doesn’t have to play hide-and-seek with the listener any more, and we get a proper discussion between the two protagonists of Sara’s continuing existence. The apocalyptic Earth in which the story is set is a little hard to fathom, but manages to be suitably creepy nevertheless.
The conclusion to the story is delightfully pleasing and is a return to the MR James ghost story quality of Home Truths. Unless I misheard on the CD extras, a third part has already commissioned (or at least everyone would gladly return for it if it were), and I’m really looking forward to it. This is a well written, well directed, well produced piece – if only all Big Finish plays were like it.
Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom)
Niall MacGregor (Robert)
Writer: Simon Guerrier
Director: Lisa Bowerman