For this series of Retro Reviews, I’ve decided to combine multiple stories into one post to make things easier. Today, we’ll take a look at The Bounty of Ceres, Upstairs and The Suffering: three brilliant adventures for the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven.
“The Bounty of Ceres” by Ian Potter
Ian Potter‘s “The Bounty of Ceres”, an absolutely fantastic and completely authentic story that feels like a slice of 1965 brought into the present day.
Narrated by Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien, both of whom sound like they haven’t aged a day and bring the characters of Steven and Vicki back to life effortlessly after all these years, this story is one of the best Early Adventures I’ve heard from Big Finish, packed with creative ideas while still remaining very faithful to the story style of the 1960s.
The guest cast are on top form too, bringing life to the unique and interesting characters Potter has written for them with flair. The standout performance here comes from Richard Hope‘s Moreland, who is given remarkable profundity for a side character, exploring the effects of paranoia.
From the velcro shoes the crew of the Cobalt base wear to the doors that sound like car boots opening, Toby Hrycek-Robinson‘s sound design is excellent too, bringing the sci-fi aspects of the story to life in a pleasingly 1960s way.
Overall, this is a fantastic Early Adventure with a great cast, a creative plot, and stellar sound design.
“Upstairs” by Mat Coward
Upstairs by Mat Coward is another excellent story. As a Companion Chronicle, it features only two actors, with both O’Brien and Purves returning to their roles as Vicki and Steven respectively. O’Brien narrates this tale as Vicki, with Coward giving her some nice character moments throughout the piece.
The plot is incredibly charming, following the TARDIS team as they explore the attics of 10 Downing Street which, due to the alien threat of the story, seem to stretch through time as well as space. Much of the first episode is devoted to this exploration, which gives the story time to focus on the characters before the plot kicks in in part two.
I must admit to being somewhat lost by the resolution of the plot, but overall that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this story, which is elevated by its unique alien threat (you really won’t see this coming) and characterisation of the main trio.
All in all, a great Companion Chronicle.
“The Suffering” by Jacqueline Rayner
The Suffering is different from a normal Companion Chronicle in that it’s four parts long instead of two, following Vicki and Steven as they encounter a malevolent alien force during the 1912 Suffragette protests. Thankfully, Jacqueline Rayner packs this story with incident so that it doesn’t drag even for a second.
Rayner also characterises the main characters perfectly, with Steven and Vicki’s playful bickering with the tape recorder being a perfect example. As with Upstairs and The Bounty of Ceres, this script is incredibly authentic to Season 2/3 Doctor Who.
The sound design in this story, again by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, is excellent, culminating in an incredibly effective sequence in part four wherein Vicki and Steven hear the thoughts of the oppressed women of the era.
I should also note that, in all three of these stories, the First Doctor is portrayed by Peter Purves. As he notes in the interviews on this story, this performance is more of an interpretation than a direct impression of Hartnell, but it’s utterly charming and captures the essence of the First Doctor perfectly. Listening to this, it really was like watching The Time Meddler or Galaxy Four, such was the authenticity of the performances.
Overall, The Suffering is another powerful Companion Chronicle.
Stay tuned for reviews of Across the Darkened City, Fields of Terror and The Dalek Occupation of Winter next week!