The Revisionists by Andy Frankham-Allen is a Short Trip that brings two of the Doctor’s warrior-companions together, in a story that could have been written as an Armistice Day tribute to the fallen in war. When Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Leela of the Sevateem combine their powers, alongside the Fourth Doctor, you might expect fur and bullets to fly, but The Revisionists is actually a far more thoughtful tale than it is a blood-and-thunder battle.
Someone is stealing memories, or at least slices of remembered personal folklore, from people in one particular hospital. But to do so, the thieves give their victims a moment, a conversation, a blink-and-you-forget-it chance to interact with the important people from their own remote history. They conjure ‘ghosts’ of the past, and then whip them out from under the brain of their victims, leaving a chunk of nothing in their place.
As we move into a world where survivors of World War One are few and far between, it’s warmly symbolic that both Leela and Lethbridge-Stewart commune with founders of their line or tribe, people who had different certainties and different doubts to anything they themselves have experienced, but who still have strong connections to the strengths and weaknesses that make them who they are. And in case you might imagine the Doctor would be beyond such memory-stealing tomfoolery, we here encounter a Fourth Doctor who swears blind he never worked for UNIT, and that he and Lethbridge-Stewart are still relatively new friends.
Ultimately, The Revisionists is a story not of aliens with an evil agenda – no-one here is trying to take over the world, and the pace of the story is very much and very deliberately kept to the intimate, to the personal as Leela and the Brigadier share some truths between themselves. There’s little bluster, little battle, because the threat is not aggressive but desperate, and susceptible to reason. As such, you could argue that it’s a waste of the two warriors, but you’d be absurdly wrong to do so – the story is pitched at the point when the Brigadier is planning to retire from active duty and take up teaching, and Leela, in talking to her ancestor, is able to display the effects of the Doctor’s teachings on her, arguing for science, rather than the religious devotion to Xoanon, so these are warriors in a contemplative phase, and as such Frankham-Allen delivers them believably in a mood piece, an Easter egg of companion-lore that will make you smile, and very possibly go ‘Awww.’
Talking of Easter eggs, the nature of the story is such that we get to meet a much earlier member of the Lethbridge-Stewart clan, with his own motivations, worries and plans, which can only ever be a pleasure, and an additional member of the Sevateem, along with some bolstering detail on the life of the tribe. Both of these are written very naturally, so they absolutely convince as real people whose existence enriches our understanding of the societies and families that produced the Lethbridge-Stewart and the Leela we know.
The point of all of which is that the dramatic arc of this story is internal and personal, rather than external and universal. The memory-thieves do what they do out of necessity, and the way to stop them comes through the rational application of effort and communication, rather than through guns and Janis-thorns. The result is a slower heartbeat, a reflective tone, and – as it’s read by Louise Jameson, an emotionally warm and honest feeling lingering in the mind for some time after you’ve heard it. There are days, and they are many, in the life of any Who-fan when they say a little thank-you to the universe for Louise Jameson. Listen to The Revisionists and give yourself another of those days as she delivers you a special, small thing of wonder and beauty. Go on, you’ve earned one of those. Tony Fyler