What’s it about: Two prisoners meet in a prison cell. Zara is searching for the segments of the Key to Time; she was only born yesterday but already she’s killed hundreds of people. Ace is more ambitious: she was going to kill everyone on the planet. What have they got against the people of Erratoon? They go peaceably about their simple assignments, beneath their artificial sky. They share their meals and leisure time and they never ask questions. Are they even real? Ace and Zara will only survive if they can trust each other. Or perhaps if they sell each other out... If not their awful punishment is to become just like everyone else.
Oh Wicked: I was very impressed by Sophie Aldred’s dramatic reading in this story, taking away Sylvester McCoy leaves her without her anchor from the main range and she works a treat on her own. If only the story had served her better… Tries to use the excuse that she is a girl for the guards not to treat her so roughly! She’s good at taking things apart, she’s a sort of demolition expert. She’s very trusting and you can get lost in Ace’s enthusiasm. I love that Ace can empathise with Zinc and Magda as kids seeing how far they can push their boundaries because she was exactly the same at their age. She remembers her mum bringing someone to a wedding and she had met him before, someone who was the same age as her. If she can’t believe that the Doctor knows best she wouldn’t be able to carry on. Magda talks to Ace like she is sorry because she knows the Doctor’s companion will never be one of the pretty ones, which really raise her hackles. Florana, The Eye of Orion and Cheldon Boniface are the three places Ace mentions where the Doctor takes them to lick their wounds between battles. She’s been all over the universe and there is always someone there to mutter ‘we don’t like strangers here.’ Ace thinks the Doctor has the saddest, deepest eyes, more memory behind them than she can even fathom, he’s kind and he listens. He smiles a smile you cannot read but there is something instinctive in Ace that recognises the Doctor, memory or not.
Tracer: If she had a name Ace might use it against her. A liar, a temptress and a killer. Her sister Amy is exactly the same, malleable. They are both artifical, constructs, flesh machines. Why were they created and why that weird flaw? Remembers the moment of being before not being and the sudden rush of information. Her tickly nose gets ticklier the nearer she gets to the segments. She is crossing a line if she takes her lead from herself. Zara has learnt to be jealous, Zinc is hers now
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You can’t say no to logic! Its not logical!’
‘A good meal starts with hunger and the three of us are famished.’
‘The last couple who assembled the Key to Time ended up on the run with nothing to show for their trouble.’
Great Ideas: The whole of existence as a straight line with the Guardians at opposite ends. In them is what you think of as the universe. Every now and again one of the gets the advantage and the universe falls out of whack. The Grace have a gadget for putting things back to order, The Key to Time can put the universe to rights. Broken up and hidden as segments through time and space. The segment was the lake and when Zara stole it is became a hard body of mud. A time ring stolen from a museum and the Doctor, Benny and Ace are on the case, stolen by a couple of crooks from the Commune of the White Sun. Zinc and Magda turn up, fleece the locals and then disappear back into he vortex. They are testing the give of the timelines, seeing how much they can rewrite the timelines they already know, what’s possible, what damage can be done, stuff everyone who has time travel has to work out. On some worlds they save people and put people right. Maybe they could work and they could leave them too it. One of the great things about time travel is that you can spy on real events and find out what really went on instead of hearing about it second hand years later.
Audio Landscape: Alarm, lasers, rain, thunder, crowded streets, birdsong, the segment of the Key to Time transforming into the crystalline element, screams from the shore as the lake vanishes and the people die, a police siren, the hideous wail of the memory stealing device, the marching of the Constables, the rocket tearing into the sky.
Isn’t it Odd: Is that robotic voice director Lisa Bowerman? I would recognise that voice anywhere…even if it is distorted and deepened! I found the first episode hard to engage with because Zara is not a character I am familiar with. I’m sure once I have reached The Key to Time 2 series it will take on greater significance and I can understand why they seagued the main range and the companion chronicles together to create a deeper, more cohesive whole. The trouble is I go into this range with certain expectations and one of those is to be able to listen to the first person narration of a well-known Doctor Who companion (even Jago & Litefoot and King Peladon count as I am intimately associated with them) and unfortunately as well as she written for Zara doesn’t really count. The cliffhanger makes no sense because we have seen nothing in episode one to suggest that taking away Ace’s memories will mean the deaths of everybody on Erratoon. It just sounds like an idle threat to save her life. I have no doubt that the second episode will reveal what she is on about but if we spent every cliffhanger wondering what they are about and having the moment of peril explained afterwards I wonder if we would ever have any moments of tension!
Notes: Like a bank holiday back in Eastbourne – that’s the second time I have heard my town mentioned this week in Big Finish stories!
Result: I remember once an episode of the Outer Limits featuring Nicole de Boer and Robert Patrick which featured two POWs in a prison cell who develop a relationship and the drama climaxing on a devastating twist wherein Patrick reveals the whereabouts of their fleet and De Boer turns out to be the enemy all along. It was positively gripping, beautifully performed, claustrophobic and great drama. What is this fool getting at, I hear you ask? Well I expected something similar from The Prisoner’s Dilemma after reading the synopsis. It led me to believe that this would be a correspondingly stifling slice of character drama set inside one room and we would find out much about both characters in this range crossover. Audio seems ideally suited to this kind of two hander. Not a bit of it – instead I’m not even sure why writer Simon Guerrier bothered to bookend the story with the scenes between Ace and Zara in the cell because instead this story tells two equally unengaging stories revealing how they came to be in the cell in the first place. I know who Zara is now but I don’t think I understand her any more than I did before I started listening and I would hardly say she was a character who deserved this attention. Sophie Aldred proves quite a skilful narrator and this is set during her New Adventures period, which brings out the best in the actress but the story lacks tension and excitement. Its just sort of there. Perhaps they were better off keeping this series to four stories a season because the most inconsistent series of the companion chronicles strikes up another disappointment: 4/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/38-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Prisoners-Dilemma