Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Original Doctor Who: Here There Be Monsters (2008)

Whatever happened to Susan Foreman? The BBC's own DVD for The Dalek Invasion of Earth had a tongue-in-cheek answer in the special features, but for a more serious answer we turn to Big Finish Productions and their fantastic Companion Chronicles series of audio-dramas.

For many years, Big Finish has been supplying Doctor Who fans... or Whovians, or whatever... with new audio-dramas featuring Doctors past. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Syvester McCoy have reprised their roles as Doctors five through seven, allowing fans to revisit their Doctor. The greatest play made by Big Finish was scoring Paul McGann to perform the adventures of the eighth Doctor, whose only televised appearance was the Fox television movie of 1996. Almost the entirety of his run has been on compact disk. There is no doubt that David Tennant, fresh out of the TARDIS as of Christmas, will join the ranks, as he has already stared in a number of other Big Finish productions including The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

These audio-drams leaves something of a gap in Doctor Who history, however. What of Tom Baker, who does not wish to revisit his incarnation of the Doctor, who was the most popular until Tennant? And what of Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and the original Doctor himself, William Hartnell, each of whom have passed on? Thankfully, their innumerable companions remain and are more than willing to share previously untold tales of their time with the Doctor.

The third of the Companion Chronicles to feature one of the first Doctor's companions, Here There Be Monsters stars Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Doctor's only known blood-relative. We meet her on Earth in the wake of its liberation from the Daleks and her marriage to the human resistance fighter David. Yet her life remains a mystery. She notes how she was older than schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright combined, and that David still thinks of her as being human. So instead, she talks to us, the faithful fans.

The story she tells nestles in between seasons one and two, that is, between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. It is well placed, as one of the ongoing themes is Susan's growing up and increasing ambition to leave her grandfather, which she would two chronological episodes later. From the outset, it also addresses many of those pet issues that plague fans of the original: why did the Doctor leave Gallifrey? Was the TARDIS faulty or did the Doctor not know how to drive it? Did Ian and Barbara ever end up together?

Here There Be Monsters follows the notes of the early Science Fiction stories very closely. One has to grant that Carole Ann Ford does a terrible impression of William Hartnell, but one could easily imagine this story being televised in 1964. The TARDIS is forced to land on an Earth ship piloted by a massive, intelligent plant genetically engineered to survive the vast boring blackness of the cosmos. This ship, the Nevermore, is a "benchmarking" vessel used to punch holes in the fabric of space to create wormholes for the passage of later Great and Plentiful Human Empire craft. These holes, in turn, open to that space on the other side of the Void, from which Lovecraftian anti-matter monsters spill out... Though the usual bait and switch happens.

It is effective. The vegetable captain, named Rostrum, can be seen in the mind's eye in all its paper mache and cellophane glory. Aspects of him... it... recall the screaming forest of The Keys of Marinus. There is even a low budget at work, especially with the mysterious "First Mate" who spends the majority of the show in human form, which is entirely unnecessary in an audio-drama. This is a nice touch.

The Companion Chronicles are a fantastic concept and we look forward to many more. Fans of each Doctor hunger for new adventures of their favorite, which is difficult when they have gone to that great blue box in the sky. Big Finish figured out a way to deliver and we thank them for it.

1 comment:

Xenorama said...

I've heard a few of the audio adventures. they are always fun. I think Tom Baker has done a few new ones now as well.