Book Review – The Many Deaths of Jo Grant

  • Title: The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Rowe (guest), Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Nicholas Asbury (Rowe)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/27/2017

**Spoiler Alert** The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is an audio in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. The story opens at UNIT HQ, where the Brigadier is upset because the Doctor has left in the TARDIS and he needs him. Jo is waiting for the Doctor to return. But when the Doctor does return he brings a baby alien princess whom he’s rescued from her planet which has been invaded by fierce alien conquerors. No sooner than the Doctor arrives though than the aliens also arrive, threatening to destroy Earth to get to the baby. UNIT fights off the aliens who teleport in to HQ as well as their space ship, but the aliens have fantastic weapons. Jo, the Doctor, the child, and an UNIT soldier named Private Rowe try to leave. Jo sees the Doctor in danger and sacrifices herself to save him.

Two more vignettes follow – in one Jo dies, thrown into a pit to be eaten by a giant mouth (it sounded similar to the creature in Return of the Jedi that Jabba threatens to thrown Luke into.) In another instance, Jo again sacrifices herself – to save an alien planet, after the Doctor is unable to do it because he’s knocked out.

But each time, in each vignette, there are two re-occurring figures: Rowe, and a space-suited figure with a mirrored faceplate that only reflects Jo’s own face – not allowing her to identify the figure inside the suit. Jo also keeps experiencing deja vu.

Jo then wakes up in a space ship, exiting a strange pod, and meeting the Doctor. He explains she’s been trapped in a mindscape – a torture device that has been banned for centuries.

But they are soon confronted by Rowe, and he threatens Jo and the Doctor with a disrupter – the two fight and are seemingly both destroyed.

Jo wakes again. This time she sees that the Doctor is also in a pod. He had entered the Mindscape to rescue her and it was the Doctor in the mirrored spacesuit. Meanwhile, Rowe is an alien scientist, from the conquerors who are after the alien princess. Rowe’s people are selfish and have no empathy with others – especially the worlds they conquer. The idea of sacrificing yourself for something greater or to save someone else is so foreign to Rowe’s people they simply can’t understand it. So Rowe had put Jo into the Mindscape to study her. He had “killed” Jo in the device 412 times. But Rowe’s people are also experiencing troubles with the princess’s planet. The princess’s people, in desperation, are taking any ship they can and crashing it into Rowe’s people’s outposts, military depots, and weapon stores. This kills the pilot and any skeleton crew on board the ship but these kamikaze attacks are having an effect against Rowe’s people too because they are completely unprepared and do not understand the idea of sacrifice for a cause. Rowe was studying Jo to try and understand her feelings for the Doctor and her willingness to sacrifice herself for him.

In the end, the Doctor makes a deal with Rowe – he wins the baby princess’s freedom but promises not to take her home to her planet. He and Jo are also freed and will return to UNIT.

This was a good story, Katy Manning does an excellent job telling it, and although I felt she had Jo a bit too innocent at times (the story is set between “Carnival of Monsters” and “Frontier in Space” – and in “Frontier in Space” Jo really kicks butt – preventing the Master from hypnotising herself, rescuing the Doctor several times, she’s even instrumental in figuring out the solution to the problem) so this Jo should be more grown-up and capable, not the somewhat incompetent girl of “Terror of the Autons”. Still, seeing how much Jo cares for the Doctor and what she’s willing to do for him was well-played. It’s somewhat odd having the other actor in the story being Rowe – who’s several different characters or versions of the same character, but it does always help to have two people in a Companion Chronicles story. And like many of the stories in this range – it does have the feeling of a Missing Adventure book or a Past Doctor Adventures book which I appreciated. I hated seeing Jo die over and over – it seemed cruel, and I figure she’d have serious issues with dying 412 times – even if it didn’t “really” happen. But still, it’s a good story and worth checking out.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Many Deaths of Jo Grant on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Doll of Death

  • Title: The Doll of Death
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Jane Goddard
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/10/2016

The Companion Chronicles is a Big Finish Audio Series that let’s the company explore earlier eras of Doctor Who than the full audio plays do, which feature the living Doctors. The Doll of Death is read and performed by Katy Manning (Jo Grant). Although it starts in “modern” times with Jo attending an environmental conference with her activist husband Professor Jones, she’s sick in her hotel room – so she decides to “catch up with her blog”. The rest of the story is Jo telling the story, and because it’s Katy – she uses “funny voices” to play the various characters.

The story does feel very much like a typical Third Doctor Era story. The Doctor has a device, a blue shift detector that sets off an alarm. He and Jo investigate a mysterious break-in at a museum. At the museum – they meet a professor who accuses them of trying to steal his research and project (not to mention a mysterious tablet). There are mysterious blue doll-creatures, and backwards-running attack dogs. The dogs are described as “Labradors” though – not something I would ever think of as “vicious” or even used in an guarding or attack capability.

Anyway, once the Doctor and Jo’s investigation really kicks off – the story proves to be fascinating despite it’s very typical framing. The Doctor and Jo encounter a research from a parallel Earth that runs backwards to this one, what the Doctor calls “Reverse Causation” – events before their causes. The Doctor and Jo, but especially Jo, investigate and see the results first, then the causes – bit by bit. It’s Jo who finds the creepy “doll hospital” and it’s owner Mrs. Killebrew, who is “possessed” for lack of a better term by the Alternate Earth researcher. Throughout the story, the motivations of the researcher are in question – is she an honest academic who was trapped? Or does she have deeper and darker motivations – especially when it’s revealed that she is their to observe the Doctor.

I liked the way the backwards-story and forwards-story collided. And the story does make a lot of sense – one can follow it easily. My rating for this particular Companion Chronicle would be 3.5 though. I thought the story was just a little bit too typical. It’s always good for a Companion Chronicle to reflect it’s era – but this one just fell a bit flat. It’s also presented as “Jo telling us a story” – rather than it being about the companion giving us their own point-of-view on being a companion for the Doctor. This particular story was very much, just OK, but not great. I’m not totally disappointed – I’ve just heard better (Like “Find and Replace” also a Companion Chronicle or “The Wormery” which technically features Iris Wildthyme played by Katy from the main range.) I wouldn’t discourage anyone from picking it up – the dolls ARE creepy, the backwards story works, etc., but it was very much only, well, 3.5 stars.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Doll of Death on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Ghost in the Machine

  • Title: Ghost in the Machine
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Jonathan Morris
  • Director: Louise Jameson
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Damian Lynch
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/03/2016

**Spoiler Alert** I listened to this audio-play mostly on Halloween, then finished it on the first. It’s a wonderfully appropriate story for Halloween as it’s very atmospheric and creepy. Ghost in the Machine is part of the Companion Chronicles Doctor Who audios series from Big Finish. The audios always remind me of the Missing Adventures or Past Doctor Adventures books because they feature stories with older, previous Doctors, those whom are no longer with us for the most part. Uniquely for Doctor Who stories – the Companion Chronicles are often from the point of view of the companions, and not third-person.

In this story, Jo Grant leaves the wardrobe room of the TARDIS and enters the control room to find it empty. She examines the TARDIS console and finds they have landed and the atmosphere outside is breathable. So Jo decides to leave the TARDIS to find the Doctor. Jo quickly finds the Doctor comatose and a tape recorder with two words written on it, “use me”. Jo then makes a recording of everything she’s doing. She quickly discovers she’s in an underground base, a base where everyone is dead, and the power is off. She finds the exit but it’s sealed from the outside. She also finds the control room of the base.

In the control room, she finds a skeleton, and a series of tape recordings. She plays a recording which contains a warning, a warning that she is in terrible danger and she needs to leave: now. Jo, of course, ignores the warning as she tries to find out more.

Gradually, Jo discovers the research facility was researching sound, audio recordings, and using audio to bring someone back from the dead. And as you as listening to this as an audio recording this makes for a very creepy listen. Suddenly as she’s listening to the audio recordings of Benjamin Chikoto, Jo realizes that what Ben is saying is somewhat different each time. Then she plays back the recording of her own voice and hears herself saying things she didn’t say. Jo gets creeped out. Finally, Jo herself is captured and moved into one of the tape recordings, and her body is taken over by the Voice.

Inside the tape, Jo learns from Benjamin Chikoto what is going on – that the facility was researching sound and audio, that they found the very first audio recording: a wax cylinder of Thomas Edison reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. the recording also had a second noise or voice on the recording. By isolating that voice – they unleashed a monster. And Chikoto’s boss ordered the base sealed, resulting in the death of everyone there.

Also, inside the tape, Jo discovers the shadow following her is the Doctor. Since he had not recorded himself saying anything – the only way he can speak is to borrow someone’s body. He borrows Ben’s body and then Jo’s to explain part of what’s going on – and to formulate a plan.

The Doctor manages to execute his plan flawlessly – he and Jo escape, the Voice is destroyed by her own plots, and Ben? Poor Ben is erased – but by his own choice after years of being trapped in a half life inside a tape recording.

Ghost in the Machine reminds me very much of the British television series, Sapphire and Steel, particularly “Old Photographs”, but that is a compliment, not something negative. The story is creepy, atmospheric, and suits the audio format extremely well. It also feels very much like a two-handed play, with Katy Manning as Jo and Damian Lynch as Ben – though each also play other parts at times. I highly recommend this story. Give it a listen on Halloween!

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Ghost in the Machine on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!