In the wake of the whole COVID-19 pandemic, Big Finish–most famous for their original licensed Doctor Who audios–began to release a variety of projects for free on a weekly basis. Some of these are “proper” Doctor Who adventures, some are licensed from other sources, and others are completely original. I have been taking advantage of these, as I’ve written about here and elsewhere. This time around we’re looking at a an episode of The Companion Chronicles featuring Second Doctor actors Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling.
Big Finish has been pretty generous with all this free product, but the question is how successful each sampler is at tempting me to buy the full release.
(Daily Doctor Who #105)
The Story of Extinction
Line: The Companion Chronicles–The Second Doctor vol. 1
Length: 64 minutes
Buying Price: This full Second Doctor Companion Chronicles vol. 1 goes for $20. This includes this story, and three others.
Comments: The Companion Chronicles is a line of stories that Big Finish has been producing for a while which usually feature one or more companions for Doctors who are no longer with us. They usually act against one guest star in a story which is sort of a hybrid of a full cast drama and a narrated audio book. In this case, we have Frazer Hines (1960’s companion Jamie McCrimmon) as the voice of his TV character, but also voicing the Second Doctor himself–something he’s done for Big Finish on several occasions. Hines does quite a good job imitating Patrick Troughton’s voice, especially when the Doctor is speaking with a kind of modest humility that Troughton made part of his character. He’s joined by Deborah Watling, who was his co-star on TV, in her role of Victoria Waterfield, and Lisa Bowerman (a Big Finish regular) in the guest role of Selsey.
The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins features the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria joining a group of colonists as they have landed on a new planet and are busy exploring and doing research. One of the features of their society is a kind of living paper called “Parchment”, which can display moving words like a computer screen. Mysteriously, the colonists begin to find themselves under attack from the Parchment–which strikes at them as folded origami-like creatures, and also attaches itself to its victim’s faces, feeding them words which unnaturally entrance its victims by the story they are telling. It’s a creepy idea which has a pretty convoluted but satisfying explanation. And the whole story is tied together quite well by some nice thematic elements about Jamie and Victoria’s affection for one another, which is partly seen in some sequences of Victoria teaching Jamie to read.
Slightly distracting to the story is a concept which is not developed fully, namely that one of the main guest characters (Selsey, played by Lisa Bowerman) is a “Face”–a sort of celebrity in their society whose survival is dependent on how many people look at her. The satire of this idea is pretty blunt, and comparisons with present-day celebrity and social media driven culture being quite obvious–but the script never really gets around to saying anything interesting about any of this, and it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story as we hear it. Removing or adjusting this element would have only helped to streamline the story.
The other thing that doesn’t completely work is Deborah Watling’s performance–or more specifically, her voice. The story is narrated in part by Victoria looking back at the adventure from much later in her lifetime, and that part works fine. But Deborah Watling’s voice is so different at the time of the recording than it was on TV, that when she is playing the young Victoria who travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Jamie, one can never really believe it’s the character from that era. As much as I appreciate Deborah Watling and the opportunity to hear her perform again, recasting the younger version of the part would probably have been less distracting.
Does it tempt me to get more? It’s a good story with some neat ideas, in spite of a few shortcomings. I’d love to listen to the other adventures that are in the set, which features stories from all through the Second Doctor’s era (though in all honesty if I had $20 to spend I’d probably buy something else).