Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 03 review

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The third volume in Big Finish’s Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor brings four new, CD-length stories from the earlier era of the show. It’s been two years since the previous set for the first Doctor in this range and fifteen months since the second Doctor. There’s a theme running through the set: heroism. First up is Carole Ann Ford as Susan.

Man of Steel?

In ‘E is For…’ writer Julian Richards brings the world of superheroes very much to the fore, but this is very different from the Capaldi Christmas special The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Instead we have a world where those with gifts are monsters to be hunted by the state and locked away for their own good and the protection of society. Susan’s own telepathic powers seem heightened and finding herself in a prison she confronts one of the most dangerous monsters of all.

The story take a little time to make its direction of travel clear but is compelling from the start with Carole Ann putting in a strong performance and director Lisa Bowerman also gets to play someone very different to her normal role of Bernice Summerfield. Mark Edel-Hunt (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) also stars as Virgil Winters. The story works on many levels, covers a range of topics and touches a lot of nerves. Julian avoids clichéd endings and makes us realise being a hero might not be all it’s meant to be.

Meeting your heroes

John Pritchard’s story ‘Daybreak’ is set in our future but Vicki’s past, a past she studied in school. There were heroes and villains but met face to face they are less black and white then she had imagined. There’s a touch of not changing history mixed with an Orwellian police state. The rebels are less noble than history presented and knowing their fate Vicki has to find her own heroism in making sure history happens as it should, no matter how grim. the First Doctor is more of a presence in this story than the first, but the centre is very much Maureen o’Brien’s performance as Vicki.

No laughing matter

Producer Ian Atkins and Paul Morris teamed up to bring us ‘The Vardan Invasion of Mirth’. It’s an outing for Peter Purves as both Steven Taylor and the first Doctor and a multitude of others drawing from the vocal talents of Stephen Critchlow. Steven is not drawing in his experience as a space pilot as he is trapped in 1950s Britain and needs to make a career in Television (they spelled it with a capital T in those days!) Enter comedian Teddy Baxter. The Vardans have appeared before in Big Finish – they were first seen in the TV story ‘The Invasion of Time’ and have the ability to travel down as radiation, including radio and television signals. Unlike the first two stories it’s fun rather than dark though none the less entertaining for that. Peter Purves is in fine form throughout.

Through a child’s eyes

Guy Adams focuses on Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Elliot Chapman) for ‘The Crumbling Magician’, a story set near the first Doctor’s regeneration. The story involves a lot of jumping around in time as Polly is mortally wounded and living her life in a random order. This is an idea Kurt Vonnegut used to great effect in his classic novel Slaughterhouse Five and it works well here. Can Polly die? Will Continuity allow it or even demand it?

In the midst of chronological confusion there’s also David Warner’s Allie who is very much in need of a friend and struggling to cope with the death of his mother. The story works well on several levels and the second half puts Ben centre stage and we see a different side to his character in his interactions with a young boy. Ben discuss his own fears when others see him as heroic and we also get to experience some of the horror of the situation as seen through a child’s eyes. Every parent who has ever called their child a little hero will identify with this part of a well-written tale with excellent performances all round and great chemistry between David Warner and Elliot Chapman.

We can be heroes

This is another strong set of stories connected by a theme that never gets in the way of strong writing. It’s a great excuse to spend time with those earliest of companions and pushes the boundaries of the show without breaking the mould. Lisa Bowerman’s direction is tight throughout and the music and sound work as excellent as ever.

Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 03 is available now via the Big Finish website in both CD and download.