Review by Jacob Licklider
The Companion Chronicles have the distinction of being the second longest and consistently running Doctor Who range at Big Finish Productions. They began in 2007 and released several single releases to 2014 before switching to yearly boxsets between 2015 and 2019. A box set was announced for release in June 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Second Doctor: Volume Three was plagued with production delays, finally having production finish in late 2021 for release in 2022. Among this rumours spread that the Companion Chronicles would be ending with this volume which have not yet been confirmed, though there is some contradictory evidence of actors mentioning recording a release which hasn’t been announced while higher ups mentioning that this would be the final installment in the range.If this truly is to be the final release of the range (and I truly hope it isn’t) it is a stellar release for the range to go out on, finding creative ways to explore the entirety of the Second Doctor’s era and not limit itself to the Companion Chronicles’ two-hander format as it’s rumoured Big Finish will be taking the range towards a more full cast approach if it is to continue.
The set opens with The Death of the Daleks by George Mann, making it at least the fourth story to have some variation on the title. Despite that, it is a very apt title if you put the correct emphasis when saying it. Set in the immediate aftermath of The Evil of the Daleks, Victoria is sleeping on the TARDIS after her harrowing experience while the Doctor and Jamie find themselves on the planet Tersimmon. Tersimmon is a planet whose human colony has been ravaged by a Dalek attack, something that frightens the Doctor due to the belief that The Evil of the Daleks resulted in the end of the Daleks as a species. Mann’s script is fascinating at examining what the end of the Daleks would mean and what actually happens in the aftermath of the Daleks, in their death. While this is the second story in the last year to do this (After the Daleks focused on the aftermath of a 1960s Dalek serial as well), Mann approaches it differently, literally dealing with how a Dalek attack affects people after they are defeated and how the Daleks as a species deal with defeat.
They send a psychopomp, a Dalek psychopomp. The ‘death’ of the title is with a capital D. This psychopomp is essentially a ghost Dalek with Mann using several horror tropes to setup a genuinely tense situation where survivors of a Dalek attack. The Dalek itself is used sparingly so that focus can be made on the characters involved, something Dalek stories have a tendency to forget, especially the Doctor. Frazer Hines shines and this is really the only story of the set to feature the Second Doctor prominently throughout (the rest focus squarely on the companions involved). Hines gives this contemplative air to the Second Doctor here as the story attempts to reconcile his actions at the end of The Evil of the Daleks. It also helps that there are three guest actors, Emma Samms playing the head colonist Anya, Lisa Bowerman as another prominent colonist, and Nicholas Briggs providing the Dalek voices. It’s similar to a “Doctor” Chronicle and honestly makes for a refreshing take on the Daleks for a Doctor’s era that didn’t usually feature them. 10/10.
Jamie McCrimmon as a character gets more focus as the set shifts to more traditional Companion Chronicle style stories in The Phantom Piper, a story all about getting into the mind of Jamie while covertly starting a revolution on a planet overtaken by identification implants. Martin Day provides the script to this one and he focuses on exploring the legend of the Phantom Piper, making this the second story to be dealing with the idea of a psychopomp, though this one is purely mythical. The story that Jamie tells explores his life as a piper and with his family, something that never actually got a lot of on television. Sure, The Highlanders dealt with the historical setting he came from and explained which Scottish clan he was a part of but it really isn’t explored. The Phantom Piper finds a way to rectify this by exploring Jamie’s insecurities something that Frazer Hines portrays excellently.
It is interweaved with several ideas all dedicated to concepts of privacy as it intersects with identity, ending with a quip about the Doctor starting a revolution by simply standing in a room. This is a story in the future and the frame story is equally important to the actual story of his childhood Jamie is telling, something which is done because after this story the set doesn’t actually include much of the Second Doctor as a character. Indeed here he’s seen looking on as Jamie is the subject of the experiments involving identity implants, and Day has some fascinating things to say. Now this does have a tendency to drag in a few spots which brings it down and this story on the whole feels more disconnected from the rest of the set. 8/10.
The Prints of Denmark is what happens when you extract an entire story from a single line from a Doctor Who serial but not even attempting to fill in a gap. Paul Morris takes the line from The Time Meddler about putting Hamlet on television and writing a story around the Meddling Monk, here played by Rufus Hound, doing exactly that. This story is 100% a farce and played for as such, contrasting the Monk’s whacky antics with Zoe Heriot’s cold, hard logic and dedication to preserving history. This makes a story essentially a two hander with Hound and Wendy Padbury filling in some other voices, but what is most interesting is that this and the final story are both Doctor-lite (the final not even featuring a scene with the Doctor in it).
This allows the chemistry between Padbury and Hound to shine, and Paul Morris is clearly enjoying writing a story where there can really be an exploration of what history might have been like if television had existed since the times of Shakespeare. This is a story where the listener may want at least a passing knowledge of English history as this is a fairly thorough alternate history tale, especially for an hour. This is also a story that is infused with so much metatext and references to Doctor Who fandom and pop culture in general that it somehow elevates the farce. This is a story where it confirms Kanye West and Rufus Hound both exist as people in the Doctor Who universe, with West performing an all rap version of Hamlet, and of course the missing episodes which is just fitting for a story set around the Second Doctor’s era. It’s a brilliant farce. 10/10.
Penelope Faith closes the set with The Deepest Tragedian, which is also a story steeped in metatext, but metatext of a different kind. It’s looking at the post traumatic stress disorder of an actor whom Zoe is looking after for mysterious reasons. The story sets up a mystery that it slowly peels back, layer by layer, never quite confirming every single question that it sets up, implying a lot more about who Tommy, the actor, is and what he has been doing. It’s a very interesting question to answer and Richard Unwin gives this fascinating portrayal. Wendy Padbury as Zoe here is also compassionate, but almost toyed with throughout the story as her compassion puts her in this dangerous position with Tommy. There is this undercurrent of danger throughout which initially feels simply like a response to the stresses of war but Faith’s script is full of subtext. The subtext barely makes its way into the text, but like The Phantom Piper before it there is a slight issue in how there is some drag, especially in the first episode in particular. 9/10.
The Second Doctor: Volume Three may end up being the last of the Companion Chronicles but it is certainly one to go out on. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury lead their respective halves while four writers provide incredibly interesting and stellar stories while despite the production troubles and the handing off of producing from Ian Atkins to Dominic Martin, between the pre and post pandemic recordings is seamlessly done. 9/10.
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Review: The Companion Chronicles – The First Doctor (Vol 3)
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