After almost three years, the Companion Chronicles return! This boxset was due back in 2020, but, as you can probably imagine, certain circumstances meant that couldn’t happen, and so here we are in 2022, finally listening to four new stories in one of Big Finish‘s most consistently strong ranges. But has this been worth the wait? Read on to find out!
1. “The Death of the Daleks” by George Mann
Immediately after the events of Evil of the Daleks, the Doctor and Jamie arrive on the planet Tersimmon, where they find evidence that their old enemies aren’t quite as dead as they’d thought. Joining with Anya, a battle-hardened colonist, the two investigate how the Daleks could possibly still exist after they were destroyed on Skaro, with the Doctor encountering a ghostly Dalek that only he can see. Has the Doctor been driven mad by guilt? Are the Daleks really back? Or is there an even more terrifying possibility?
The Death of the Daleks, though fairly straightforward in terms of story, is incredibly atmospheric, revelling in a sense of grimness quite unlike other Doctor Who tales. With a cast of four, this isn’t really a Companion Chronicle, playing out more like a regular Big Finish story, which is a little disappointing given we get so few of these boxsets nowadays, but the script is packed with novel ideas and some great character drama.
Fraser Hines excels in his dual role as the Doctor and Jamie, perfectly playing the Doctor’s crisis of conscience and Jamie’s unwavering faith in his best friend. Meanwhile, Emma Samms impresses as the slightly standoffish Anya, who is given a really strong character arc by writer George Mann. Nicholas Briggs also stars here, playing a very different kind of Dalek and putting a sinister spin on George Mann’s inventive new creation.
Overall, had it adhered a little more to the Companion Chronicles format, getting inside Jamie’s head and seeing how he’d react to the situation at hand, The Death of the Daleks might have been an instant classic. As it stands, though, this is still a strong story, with a pleasingly dark tone and lots of fascinating character moments.
2. “The Phantom Piper” by Martin Day
On the planet Sora, everyone has a Shard implanted into their brain, which helps them perfectly recall every memory they’ve ever had. The Doctor is suspicious of the programme, however, suspecting that the Shards might be slowly changing the personalities of those on Sora, and his worries are confirmed when the newly-implanted Jamie flees from a tragic accident, rather than trying to help as he usually would. Visiting local scientist Doctor Hunter, the two are determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and journey back into Jamie’s past to find out!
The Phantom Piper, unlike its predecessor, is a near-perfect example of the Companion Chronicle format, dealing with a very small cast of characters in a very contained story. Most of this story is a single conversation between the Doctor, Jamie and Doctor Hunter, although this is interspersed with some touching flashbacks to Jamie’s childhood, through which we learn how he came to be the man he is today.
This is a very thematically rich story, with writer Martin Day exploring how our memories make us who we are in the present, and how forgetting our past might completely change us. Fraser Hines and Simone Lahbib perform the script beautifully, from the more sci-fi heavy exposition scenes in the first half, to the wonderful character-driven moments with Jamie’s grandmother in the second.
Overall, The Phantom Piper is a quiet, contemplative story with some arresting themes at its heart which, with a little more incident to break up its lengthy conversation scenes, could very easily have won a score of five stars.
3. “The Prints of Denmark” by Paul Morris
While the Doctor and Jamie are busy tracking down a time distortion, Zoe Heriot encounters the Meddling Monk, who offers her a trip throughout Earth’s past. From an old monastery to the very first production of Hamlet at the Globe Theatre, Zoe finds herself exposed to popular culture from throughout history… but, little does she know, the Monk’s reasons for bringing her along aren’t entirely educational. What would happen if television was invented a few centuries too early? Might the play be the thing… to destroy the future?!
The Prints of Denmark, as you might imagine from the gloriously punny title, asks what would happen if the first performance of Hamlet was broadcast live on TV, and how the future might change as a result. It’s a hilarious premise which, although well-executed here, isn’t taken as far as I thought it could be. The notion of historical figures having their own TV shows is brilliant enough for a full-cast, four-part story, and yet I felt it was somewhat squandered here on a story which, despite being very good, is very limited by the Companion Chronicles format.
Rufus Hound returns here as the Meddling Monk, and his performance is a far cry from the over-the-top hamminess we heard in The Outlaws earlier in the month (review here). This is a far more tonally balanced story than we got there, and so Hound’s less naturalistic, more comedic performance fits perfectly with the script. Wendy Padbury serves as a great foil for the character too, perfectly playing Zoe’s naivety, and her eventual triumph over her meddlesome enemy.
Overall, The Prints of Denmark is a really good story, my enjoyment of which was hugely hampered by the thought of a full-length, full-cast, properly fleshed-out version where all of the brilliant ideas are amply explored. If only! Nevertheless, this is the strongest story in the set, and definitely one of the top ten Big Finish stories released so far this year.
4. “The Deepest Tragedian” by Penelope Faith
When the TARDIS leaves her behind on Earth, Zoe Heriot encounters Tom Waugh, an ex-soldier (or is he an actor?) who can’t quite remember who he is. Compelled into acting out scenes from his past, Zoe and Tom become embroiled in a world of confusion, struggling to work out what’s real and what’s not. Zoe loves solving puzzles, but will discovering the truth about Tom prove too much of a struggle for even her?
The Deepest Tragedian is, without a doubt, the weakest part of this boxset, with Penelope Faith‘s script having a really interesting premise, but lacking completely in its execution. Part one alone is thirty seven minutes long, which would make even the best script drag, but when a story is as sluggishly paced as this one, it feels like an eternity. With more incident, less repetition and a shorter runtime, this could have been a properly excellent story, especially with such strong performances from Wendy Padbury and Richard Unwin, but as it stands, The Deepest Tragedian is very much average.
Despite the weaker closing story, The Second Doctor: Volume Three is a strong boxset overall, taking the Second Doctor and his companions into some really intriguing new territory. It’s interesting how much the stories here stray from the Companion Chronicles template at times; there’s hardly any narration, and episodes one and three have many more characters than is usual for the series. Given these stylistic changes, and the lack of any announcement for further Companion Chronicles boxsets, it looks like this might be the end for the series, which is such a shame, because it has consistently been one of Big Finish‘s best ranges. I hope it’s not, but if this really is the end, at least this boxset is (mostly) an undeniable success, and a good note to end on. Recommended.
The Companion Chronicles- The Second Doctor: Volume Three is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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