Recently, Big Finish, the audio-production company that is licensed to produce official Doctor Who spin-off material, celebrated Christmas with a different discounted title over a 12 day period (Twelve Days of…you get it, right?), and one of them was this one – The Scorchies, part of Big Finish’s “Companion Chronicles” series.
The Companion Chronicles are a run of audio dramas which tend to feature companions of incarnations of the Doctor who are played by actors no longer living (eg. Doctors #’s 1, 2 or 3). The companion seems to appear alongside one other solitary voice actor, and makes use of both narration and other storytelling tricks to keep the Doctor largely off-screen.
The Scorchies features Katy Manning as the popular yet anti-progressive 1970’s companion Jo Grant, and tells the tale of an invasion of earth via a television show: the eponymous Scorchies. The Scorchies appear to be a children’s puppet show, but in reality they are insidiously evil aliens who hypnotize millions with their antics and showtunes, driving all the adults of a world to a fatal lethargy distraction, and then eventually lighting the whole place on fire (hence their name). They take Jo hostage and the entire story takes the form of what is intended to be their final, lethal telecast on earth.
It’s a potentially interesting story idea, and it cleverly allows the Doctor (the Third Doctor, in this case) to be involved without requiring the actor who plays him, as he is able to (Spoilers) take over the personalities of various Scorchie puppets to work toward defeating them. However, it is also full of a whole bunch of annoying showtunes. It seems that the producers thought that this would be a novel way of relating their drama, and maybe it is. But some clever lyrics aside, it is also highly irritating, in exactly the way that you can imagine screechy puppets singing would be.
Judging by a review I read, some of the fans of Big Finish also felt that this was a delightful way to do an audio drama. I am not one of them. As I said, this is my first Companion Chronicles, so I can’t comment as to whether they were getting a little same-y, but it certainly served as a poor introduction. Melvyn Hayes makes a game attempt at playing a variety of Scorchies, but the voices tend to blur together, weakening the memorable personalities one would hope from a premise like this (the picture on the cover actually helps a great deal, I could imagine this being an inventive and memorable television adventure if that had been possible). And Katy Manning is fun as you’d imagine, but the story doesn’t take us anyplace new with Jo Grant, and doesn’t give her a role that couldn’t have been easily serviced by anyone, even a one-off guest character. When you combine this with the tiresome nature of the singing leaves you with an adventure that feels very slight, which doesn’t do much to justify its existence.