Now in the second year of its box-set format, The Companion Chronicles – partially narrated stories related by the Doctor’s fellow travellers – returns with four stories set in the Troughton era, and heralded by a rather wonderful video trailer.
After the sad passing of Debbie Watling last year, the line-up of available companion actors has reduced, but Frazer Hines remains a lynch pin as he performs as both Jamie and the Doctor. The set also employs Anneke Wills as Polly and Wendy Padbury as Zoe, with a couple of other familiar Doctor Who voices along the way.
The Curator’s Egg
This entertaining, action-packed opener is set in the early days of the Second Doctor, as he arrives on 23rd century Earth, post-Dalek invasion. While the Doctor’s head might still be a touch muddled, Ben and Polly have accepted that he is the same man and a reference to The Power Of The Daleks roots us in continuity.
Julian Richards provides a pleasingly high concept tale with plenty of heart; the story surrounds the plans of a scientist and his eccentric billionaire twin brother, who have hatched an elaborate scheme to bring dinosaurs back to life, domesticating them with cyborg technology.
While Ben and the Doctor set sail on a hunt, Polly takes the lead as she and scientist Andrew struggle to handle the dangerous ambitions of his brother Zoltan. Given the billionaire’s capacity for self-aggrandising, Clarkson seems like an appropriate surname! Once again Elliot Chapman provides his pitch-perfect take on Ben Jackson, and he pulls double and triple duty here playing both the Clarkson brothers too.
While Doctor Who and dinosaurs might have a chequered history in vision, there are no such limits with audio and sound designer Russ McGee provides plenty of fascinating detail in the extras, explaining how the superb dinosaur – and dog – work was achieved.
Back in 2015, the season finale of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures featured the Doctor and Leela coming into contact with the events of The Tomb Of The Cybermen. Sadly though, on that occasion, there was no room for direct interaction between the two feisty companions. Rob Nisbet’s story addresses this omission head on, with Jamie and Leela meeting, and fighting, as she travels back to an earlier time in the Doctor’s history.
Splitting narration duties split between Frazer Hines and Louise Jameson, this is more than just a fan pleaser for those who wished to see a Jacobite and Sevateem face off – although there is plenty of that, including some humorous knife-envy. Within a genteel garden party setting, a clever story unfolds and the drama provides roles for all the principals, including some charmingly heroic moments for Victoria.
Naturally, Louise Jameson is terrific as Leela, and while Frazer Hines performs his regular dual roles, she also doubles as one of the party guests, the amusingly mannered Mrs De Winter. We must also make a nod to another of Rob Nisbet’s terrific punning titles, although in this case, it is actually the Doctor who coins it within the story himself.
The Iron Maid
Seemingly taking its cues from Joan of Arc – although, as we later discovered, it is based on some historical fact – Zoe takes the lead for John Pritchard’s story. Set in 14th Century France, during the Hundred Years War, it focuses on the visions of another maid named Marie, who whose prophecies foretell the coming of a saviour who will drive the English out of France.
With terrific performances from both Wendy Padbury and guest star Jo Woodcock, this is an emotional tale which plays out within a beautifully rendered historical setting and it features some incredibly strong imagery towards its culmination.
The Tactics Of Defeat
First up, full disclosure: this tale is written by Cultbox’s own Tony Jones. His tale picks up on the events of March’s Short Trip The Turn Of The Screw and follows UNIT Captain Ruth Matheson (Daphne Ashbrook) as she ventures into the jungles of Belize, with an ancient recording of Zoe Herriot as her guide.
The story pits Matheson against Deakin (Matthew Brenher), a scheming arms dealer, and the pair are well matched; both have complex motivations and he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work! We are at pains not to say too much more, as there are ample twists and turns in the plot, but the ride is a satisfying one and well worth taking.
While we know she is not playing Grace, it is great to hear Daphne Ashbrook return to Big Finish once again and as the extras reveal, her enthusiasm for the work is infectious.
While we imagine this release may irk the odd Troughton purist, with stories that incorporate companions from other eras, it is not something which bothers us and we enjoy imagining the connections outside of what we saw onscreen. Indeed, the cover for this set which features them all is frankly gorgeous!
Across the set, there are a couple of moments where you can feel the ‘chronicles’ format being stratched, with characters present who go without speaking or who are conveniently indisposed, but this is nothing the television series didn’t do on occasion, and it’s remarkably easy to be carried away in the narrative and forget.
All in all, this is another quartet of entertaining tales which remind us of the strength of The Companion Chronicles: compelling stories related to us by the Doctor’s friends in a wonderfully personal manner.