Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Five Companions written by Eddie Robson and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Inside a cluster of fused together derelict spaceships, for the Doctor’s oldest friends, and one of his newest ones are lost and confused. They don’t know how they got there or what they’re meant to be doing but as the place is infested with Daleks, Sontarans and dinosaurs their first priority is staying alive. To their collective relief the Doctor shows up and has a reasonable idea of what’s going on. If the six of them work together they can escape this place and get home. But, unexpectedly, others may be working together to ensure that they all die here…

An English Gentleman: The Doctor is literally overjoyed to be reunited with his old friends Chesterton and Steven – it’s a far cry from his usual despondent attitude with Tegan! I had to stifle a giggle when Ian and Steven comment that they are too old for this gig and take the opportunity to ask why the Doctor looks so young these days! You forget that sixties Who was a time before regeneration and Time Lords (Steven says with some shock ‘your people?’ as though he had never considered the possibility of bring more than one being like the Doctor) and the Doctor economically skips over the explanations (‘my people change when their bodies wear out…’). He’s never seriously considered doing anything else but travelling. Suddenly having all of these wonderful friends back again means that he doesn’t want to let any of them go. Waving a gun around rarely helps in the Doctor’s experience, it merely gives people more of a reason to shoot. The Doctor admits he would love to see Barbara and all of them again one day and promises to pop in on all of them.

Science Teacher: The thought of Ian Chesterton and Steven Taylor meeting up so many years after The Chase (in the characters own lives and in our time so long after the transmission of the 1965 classic) is a delight and I love how they laugh heartily at how much they have both changed since they last saw each other. He keeps thinking that the only time he has ever encountered anything as weird as this was when he was with the Doctor so he must be involved somehow. He’s supposed to be retired but he got bored with it and has gone back to teaching. Barbara keeps saying that he should take it easy but she is still working on a new book so you can’t talk! I have a secret love (well not so secret as I keep harping on about it!) for The Chase simply because it commits so many cardinal sins against drama and television in general and it has become one of my guilty pleasures so to have a re-run of the ‘Ooh-ooh! Archie!’ scene made me squeal with delight! ‘Oi Fred!’ ‘I think it’s a female…’ ‘Oi Freda!’ Hahaha! His nature dictates that he stays alive and gets back to his wife.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa sounds almost tentative when she says that she is fond of the Doctor and that they work well together. Its not in the script but a little something added by Sarah Sutton almost to suggest that there is something to hide about her feeling towards the Doctor. Ian is impressed with her because he never met anyone who came anywhere near his scientific level. She wonders wistfully that perhaps she should never have left him.

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven admits that he left the Doctor a long time ago so this s the first audio from Big Finish to be set after The Savages and our first chance to catch up with the characters since his decision to become the ruler of a planet. Its rather wonderful that he and Ian met up in a story featuring Daleks so there are no need for explanations for either of them. Steven recognises the Sontarans from a Servo Unit that landed ‘back home’ a few years ago and he understands their probic vent weakness. He wondered if the Doctor might have popped back to see how he was getting along but it never happened and he gets the opportunity now to apologise for failing to do so. Steven still thinks he was little more than a kid when he left the Doctor and that he didn’t quite know what he was letting himself in for. There is peace, more or less, and the Doctor tells him he has done good work. For Steven seeing Sara again is the most wonderful surprise. Her death weighed heavily on him (so much so it was the catalyst for him to almost leave the Doctor) and there was clearly more than just a little affection between them by the time she was age to death.

The Duchess: ‘When we parted company it all seemed rather rushed…’ Theirs is something of a Highlanders vibe when Polly teams up with Sara Kingdom and they tackle a deadly dinosaur together (although Sara is far more kick ass than the snivelling Kirsty!). As ever Polly’s attire is more about looking drop dead gorgeous than practicality (at least this time she was going to a restaurant!) and Sara thought her terrifyingly pointed high heels were weapons! Polly offers to make some tea (but of course she does!) when the technical know-how is lost on her. The Doctor questions whether that was all she thought she ever did and reminds her that she took down a guard detail of Cybermen once! Perhaps she wasn’t always the bravest person he had ever travelled with but she had a fierce sense of what was right or wrong and the Doctor can still remember he standing up to the Cyberleader and demanding to know why he didn’t care. What he said was logical but what she said was right. She was an inspiration to him and has been ever since. Turns out she did get together with Ben in the end and she starts to tell the story of her fathers horrified reaction when she brought him home the first time. Ian and Barbara & Ben and Polly – two friendships that developed into something more and that feels right to me. In both cases they were made for each other. In a moment of empowerment for Polly she uses her stiletto heel to stab a Sontaran in the probic vent and saves the Doctor’s life.

SSS: Sara Kingdom manages to take out a squadron of Daleks without breaking a sweat much to Polly’s delight.

Standout Performance: Nearly an impossible section to comment in considering this is an assembly of some of Big Finish’s finest performers from the companion chronicles range. There’s Anneke Wills who still manages to inject a great deal of spunk and fire into Polly, Jean Marsh who adds an extra touch of elegance to the story with her portrayal of Sara Kingdom, Peter Purves who has never let me down be it on television or audio and remains to this day one of my favourite companions as Steven Taylor and Sarah Sutton who is massively underrated in fan circles and deserves a great deal of respect for her continuing support of the audios and development of her character. However any audio that features the mighty William Russell as Ian as automatically raised from good to great, he’s a phenomenon in his own right and as glorious here as every one of his turns in the companion chronicles. Marvellous companions, all of them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Doctor is running away!’ – very funny coming from a Dalek!
‘You know I’ve always believed that you can’t solve peoples problems forever. All you can do is try to solve today’s!
‘Sometimes its too easy to keep on going forward. Perhaps sometimes I should give myself the luxury of looking back to appreciate all the good people I’ve left behind.’

Great Ideas: At first I wondered how writer Eddie Robson was going to get away with including five companions, Daleks, Sontarans and dinosaurs without this feeling like the ultimate piece of fanwank when it came to me that this was an homage to The Five Doctors and it had to be set on the Death Zone of Gallifrey! Yes that’s right…it took me time to figure that one out! The clue was even in the title! When I first heard of the Cube-like premise (bringing five of the Doctor’s assistants together in an unknown location for a dark purpose) of The Five Companions I figured the opening scene would be of two companions meeting and asking lots of questions so imagine my delight when Robson delays that and has Steven meet a confused Dalek in the first scene! If these special freebie releases aren’t about making all our dreams come true then I don’t know what is and listening to Ian and Steven battling one of the new series Daleks is an absolute joy on the ear. It crosses the boundaries from classic (about as classic as you can get) and new Who in a way that will appal anally retentive fans and delight the rest of us. Its only when you realise who the assembled guest companions are that you realise these are the lucky ones that were immersed in the Dalekmania of the sixties and featured in some of their best ever stories (it doesn’t come much better than The Daleks, The Daleks’ Masterplan and Power of the Daleks!). Much like the giddy joy of Doomsday this story features the coming together of the Daleks and another of the Doctor’s greatest foes (for me the Sontarans are far more interesting than the Cybermen but that’s much of a muchness) and the Sontaran Commander states that the Daleks have always underestimated the Sontaran race and that they fought a rear guard action against a Dalek attack whilst fighting the Rutan in the Madelon Cluster (ooh…can we possibly have that story realised please?). They enjoy a delicious bitch fight where the Sontarans boast that they almost conquered Gallifrey and the Daleks whine that they concentrate too much on honour to get anything done! Nyssa describes the Death Zone as a pocket dimension, an artifical construct with no way back into the real universe. All of the Doctor’s companions admit that there isn’t a day when they don’t think about him.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps, a Dalek swivelling on its base, echoey voices, a creaking hull, terrifying roaring dinosaurs, banging against the bulkhead, dripping water, blasters, Sontaran communications device (it sounds just like the one from The Time Warrior!), Dalek screams, extermination blasts, Sontarans screaming as they battle each other in practice, wind whipping through the ship trying to claw the Doctor’s friends into the vacuum of space.

Standout Scene: The entire release is one long standout scene.

Result: I can’t imagine this failing to hit the spot of any Doctor Who fan. Firstly you have the glorious idea of a Five Doctors style homage then the initial delight of having all of the assembled companions coming together and finally there is the fanboy dream of trying to fit all of the continuity together like a Doctor Who jigsaw and figuring out at what point in their lives we are meeting them all. Like The Five Doctors this is less about telling a good story and more about nostalgia and popcorn entertainment but as a celebratory pat on the back at the wealth of history this show has amassed The Five Companions is not only hugely enjoyable but also necessary. The show needs to acknowledge its history every once and a while and if it can be as ridiculously entertaining as this then so much the better! Every scene is packed full of goodies, gorgeous observations and kisses to the past. What really shocked me was how well these companions worked together and by the end of the story I was wishing we could embark on some kind of ensemble show that allowed them to continue to operate this effectively together! A deliriously enjoyable one off: 9/10


Tango said...

After "The Plague Entropy" is difficult to hear this story. Would it have been better to use Vicki or Zoe instead of Nyssa?

And this story contradicts "1963: Fanfare for the Common Men" and "The Toy" as both show the Doctor talk to Nyssa about Susan.

Unknown said...

Wait a sec. I realized I am several years behind, but I've just had a chance to listen to this.

I agree with everything you said, Joe, but I'm left wondering...

Did they ever determine *who* transported them all to the Death Zone? The Doctor mentions at one point that the Master would be crazy enough to do it, but did they ever actually answer that question, and I just missed it?

I'll probably end up listening to this whole thing again, just to double-check, but, as of right now, it is driving me crazy.

(Doesn't mean I didn't love this. Right at the top of my favorite Big Finish stories. :) )