There’s a fine line to be trod between bringing back the companions of the black and white era of Doctor Who simply to enjoy being able to hear new stories involving them, and trying to keep those stories sympathetic to the times in which they’re narratively set. This second volume of first Doctor stories tries something rather daring – a couple of things in fact – but although the experiments are merited, the success thereof is rather more difficult to gauge.
The opening story of the four, Fields of Terror, feels slightly adrift from its would-be contemporaries in that it involves a return to a conflict that this Doctor has previously visited, but without the specific historic personages that might have anchored its narrative in a more identifiable way. There’s a looseness to it that, although it’s lovely to hear Maureen O’Brien reprising Vicki, her reading of the text does little to solidify. The basic plot has fun with the notion that this would have come shortly after the series’ first pseudo-historical serial, but ultimately the resolution – while emotionally resonant – leaves the story feeling insignificant. An underwhelming beginning.
Across the Darkened City is significantly better, another instalment that plays with where in the canon it sits, but in a pre-emptive way. Its conclusion will rankle some and delight others, and there’s no question it’s an uneasy fit for its period. But Peter Purves’ narration overcomes the straightforwardness of the plot to deliver the set’s best episode.
Una McCormack’s The Bonfires of the Vanities is another historical story, albeit this time set only shortly before it would have been being broadcast. An interesting idea and an intelligent sub-plot make up for a lack of distinguishing attributes, although the library setting is nice. The music across these three parts is also pleasant and accomplished, but occasionally somewhat inapt.
The sense of all the elements being in place but not quite gelling is compounded in The Plague of Dreams, the concluding instalment in which the first Doctor is drawn out of his rightful circumstances, and inelegantly repositioned entirely inappropriately. It’s a brave move but one that fails to achieve very much, with only the (possibly accidental) correspondence with current televised Doctor Who giving its “sideways” story relevance.
This is a collection that sets itself a series of intellectual tasks that, whether deliberately or not, it never quite executes. There is plenty of pleasure to be taken from trying to work out where each of the stories is going, and the three returning cast members (plus the excellent Chapman) are never less than enjoyable company to be in. But in the final assessment, the experiments – while worth the taking on – can’t quite be judged a success.
DOCTOR WHO THE COMPANION CHRONICLES: THE FIRST DOCTOR VOLUME TWO / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN, HELEN GOLDWYN / WRITTEN BY: JOHN PRITCHARD, DAVID BARTLETT, UNA McCORMACK, GUY ADAMS / STARRING: MAUREEN O’BRIEN, PETER PURVES, ANNEKE WILLS, ELLIOT CHAPMAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW FROM BIG FINISH, ON GENERAL SALE FROM 1ST AUGUST