Typically, the Big Finish Companion Chronicles try to fit in with the writing style of the Doctor Who era in which they’re set. So the Hartnell stories tend to be (waves hands a bit, since it’s a bit more complicated than this) a bit hardcore sci-fi or historical, the Troughton ones have veered towards daft sci-fi and historicals, the Pertwee ones to monster stories and so on.
Set during the reign of the Fifth Doctor, Ringpullworld in no way attempts to fit in. It doesn’t feel like Doctor Who at all, at times. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because if you squint a bit, you could actually imagine this was written by Douglas Adams, since it’s probably the cleverest and most entertaining of all the Companion Chronicles so far. It really is that good.
Funny that it’s about Turlough, mind.
Vislor Turlough is in trouble again: piloting a stolen ship through a pocket universe on a mission that is strictly forbidden by the Doctor. He would be going it alone, but there is unwelcome company in the form of Huxley, one of the legendary novelisors of Verbatim Six, who is narrating and recording Turlough’s life.
As they hurtle towards unknown peril, Turlough recalls his arrival in the TARDIS, and the circumstances that propelled himself, the Doctor and Tegan into the Ringpull universe. He has a story to tell. But only Huxley knows how it might end…
Is it any good?
As you might have suspected from a play by Paul Magrs (who created Iris Wildthyme to do a similar job for Doctor Who itself), Ringpullworld plays around with the whole concept of the Companion Chronicles, how they work, narrative structures and more.
Forget for a moment that this is supposed to be a story about Turlough trying to save the universe from another universe full of odd beings, the gateway to which looks like a beer can with a ringpull (or something). It’s pretty much irrelevant.
Instead, here’s the fun. Turlough and the rest of the TARDIS crew have been latched upon by ‘novelisers’, beings from a world that likes to novelise the events in various people’s lives. As Turlough tries to save the universe, the noveliser with him is narrating the experience. But Turlough is also inspired to write a diary about his experiences, and as he reads it to himself, the novelier novelises him doing that, too. More than that, the noveliser is in touch with the other novelisers, so gets to hear from them what the Doctor and Tegan are up to. But since Turlough can hear what the noveliser says and can interact with him, he can comment on the novelisation. He can also occasionally swap places with the noveliser and novelise himself or have the noveliser narrate the story.
You will get it when you listen to it, I promise, and it works a treat since not only does it provide a really good reason for Turlough to be telling the story, it also allows Magrs to comment on that as well as novelisations in general. (Do novelisers do more than add ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ after dialogue? “Why haven’t you included a bit about the sound of the ‘ancient engines of the TARDIS?'” (a frequent Doctor Who description. “Because that would slow down the narrative.”… “How are you enjoying novelising in the future tense, Turlough?” And indeed, the latter part of the play has Turlough narrating in the future tense, which is nifty).
If you have any appreciation of story-writing forms, approaches to writing, writing conventions, etc, you will sit back and almost literally gasp in amazement at the cleverness of it all.
Turlough’s a great character and handled well here, although the Doctor and Tegan get little to do beyond be analysed and/or pastiched. Performance-wise, Strickson is a bit more like his TV self than previous Big Finish parts, although his Tegan accent isn’t great, despite his living in Australia for 20-odd years. Alex Lowe does a great job, even if does sound spookily like Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant.
If sci-fi ‘realism’ is your game and you don’t like it when Doctor Who gets a bit Douglas Adams, self-referential or comedic, this won’t be for you. But if you admire clever writing, you really should listen to this because it’s great.
Mark Strickson (Turlough)
Alex Lowe (Huxley)
Writer: Paul Magrs
Director: Neil Roberts