Doctor Who: The Second Doctor Companion Chronicles Volume Two – Starring Anneke Wills, Elliot Chapman, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Daphne Ashbrook, Louise Jameson, Matthew Brenher & Jo Woodcock. Written by Julian Richards, Rob Nisbet, John Pritchard & Tony Jones & Directed by Helen Goldwyn & Lisa Bowerman – 4xCD / Download (Big Finish)
The second set of Second Doctor Companion Chronicles covers the length of the Second Doctor’s on-screen life, and then, thanks to a little Big Finish jiggery-pokery, goes a touch beyond it. The stories that add significantly to what we understand about the Second Doctor’s time – Dumb Waiter and The Tactics of Defeat – are almost by default highlights of the set.
But to ease us in, Julian Richards brings us The Curator’s Egg – stretching the point of a pun sliiiiightly past breaking point. It’s the Second Doctor does Jurassic Park, or rather, for the most part, Polly does Jurassic Park, as the Doctor and Ben are absent for the majority of the story. What the Curator’s Egg does is break the elements of science and commerce down and personify them in a pair of brothers, working together to create Cyber-Dinosaurs as pets and attractions for the mega-rich in post-Dalek Invasion England. There’s a bodyswapping plotline that allows Elliot Chapman (usually Ben) to go nuts in multiple roles as both Clarkson brothers and Some Other Things Too (wink, wink). And while there’s a ‘step out from your brother’s shadow and think for yourself’ plotline of character development here, for the most part, it’s a great excuse for a lot of running around, hiding in caves, and (to quote Shakespeare In Love) a bit with a dog. It works within the Companion Chronicle format, and only really in that format, because as mentioned, the Doctor’s not in it, even in terms of narrated input, for much of the story, but as a chance for Polly to show off her mettle and her caring, it’s an agreeable opener for the set.
Dumb Waiter, by Rob Nisbet, is an altogether creepier affair, taking place in the Jamie and Victoria era of the Second Doctor’s life. There’s mind manipulation, there are things being abbbbsolutely nothing like what they appear to be, there’s double-crossing and horrifying reality and a touch of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party played with a really mad host, and ultimately the story is a simple idea complicated with technical doohickery – when you find out what the Dumb Waiter of the title is, you’ll probably have to go back and re-listen to bits of the second story to make sure it makes sense to you. But, and it’s a big but, this is the Second Doctor’s life enlivened with extra Leela!
Louise Jameson takes on a double role here, as Mrs De Winter, a guest at a genteel garden party, and as Leela of the Sevateem, twanged back in the Tardis’ timeline from her adventures with the Fourth Doctor to a trip with some short, dark-haired imposter, with a boy in a kilt as his bodyguard. Hearing Leela and Jamie together, first in their antipathy and battle, and working eventually round to being comrades in arms, is a thing of joy in Nisbet’s script, especially when it comes to comparing the sizes of their…knives. If you enjoy multi-Doctor stories, this one will be right up your alley, because the fundamental nature of Jamie and Leela is the same – loyal, ready to fight to protect their friends and their mentor in a universe that’s mostly trying to kill them. Hearing them come to an accommodation with each other is actually by far the more satisfying element of this second story, with the shenanigans and mortal peril at a garden party being simply the driver that pushes them into conflict and resolution.
The Iron Maid by John Pritchard has all the makings, initially, of a sort-of Joan of Arc story, though technically without the Maid of Orleans herself appearing. It pretty quickly gets weirder than that though, with elements that would not be out of place in New Who popping up here, there and everywhere – silent stars falling to earth without an impact, special space armour that may not in fact be special space armour, mystical voices, siege engines of the angels…all is not well in fourteenth century France, and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe get tangled up in prophecies, beliefs of salvation from national oppression and, as is ever the case, Things Not Being What They Seem To Be.
In particular, this is a Zoe story as she comes to sympathise with a local nun who hears voices, and Wendy Padbury does an excellent job of conjuring up the youth and precocity of her character alongside Jo Woodcock as Marie, the would-be saviour of France. The ultimate resolution of the story’s problems though has a New Who vibe to it, in that it’s a little slicker and more open-ended than anything the Troughton era would have been allowed to get away with, and there’s a fantastic ‘visual’ effect on which the whole thing depends.
The final story in the set, The Tactics of Defeat, is one for the hardcore Big Finish Companion Chronicle junkies only. Why? Because it brings Zoe together with Captain Ruth Matheson, that’s why. For the uninitiated, Ruth Matheson’s a UNIT officer who was trusted to guard the UNIT vault in a pair of previous Companion Chronicles, Mastermind and Tales From The Vault. She’s played by Daphne Ashbrook, who played Dr Grace Holloway in the Eight Doctor ‘Movie’, and accompanied by Charlie Sato, a junior officer, played by Yee Jee Tso, who starred alongside Ashbrook in the movie. So far, so meta. The Tactics of Defeat has Ruth led to a temple of doom by a recording from Zoe that was left in the UNIT archive, and mentions Charlie’s latest mission – as detailed in the Short Trip The Turn of the Screw. Are you getting the feeling of wheels within wheels yet?
The storyline itself is one of determinism and self-governance – whether hearing someone die in a recording can help you go back and save them, or whether they in fact have to die once you’ve heard them…and whether you can in fact be certain that you’ve heard what you think you’ve heard. It’s got a certain amount of alien gubbinry, right enough, and storming performances from both Ashbrook and Matthew Brenher as enhanced super-git Deakin, but it’s essentially a kind of Saw movie in a Temple of Doom setting, with causality at its core, and the prize of living to see another day. Helps to understand a bit of temporal physics, or at least the science fiction of temporal physics, if you want to make it through this one with your brains intact, but there’s a solid, sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere of potential imminent death about it that makes it stand out in a collection that has otherwise felt for most of its run-time as though it’s been filmed out on location – from caves to open air garden parties to medieval French forests. As such, The Tactics of Defeat is a more intense listen than anything else in the set, and arguably, all the better for it.
Overall, the Second Doctor Companion Chronicles Volume Two is a breathing set – it eases us in with dinosaurs and running, takes us to creepy garden parties of the damned, ponders destiny and war in the fields of France, and then buries us alive in a temple of utter gittery. It’s all the Second Doctor would have encountered and slightly less – there’s no straightforward space adventure here, but that’s probably one for the next set. All in all though, you won’t be disappointed in the set, and it does take us to places the Second Doctor might not have been able to go, but where the likes of Captain Ruth Matheson can take us for tangential adventures in the best traditions of the Companion Chronicle range. Tony Fyler