Book Review – Doctor Who: Return of the Rocket Men

  • Title: Return of the Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Matt Fitton
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dodo, Steven, First Doctor
  • Cast: Peter Purves (Steven), Time Treloar (Van Cleef)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/19/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Return of the Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line and a sequel to The Rocket Men. However, really it’s just another appearance of the villainous Rocket Men who are space pirates, so if you haven’t listened to the first one, you can still follow this story. And this story is really about Steven – it fills in his history and lets us know who Steven really is. The story opens with Steven basically acting as a space trucker. He’s piloting a ship that hauls containers of supplies for a new colony world. Steven is shot down and his cargo stolen by the Rocket Men. The leader, Van Cleef, even tortures Steven by shooting him in the legs. But then Steven, much to his surprise is rescued by another Rocket Men. Steven cannot see the face of this benevolent Rocket Man because of his visor, helmet, and leather uniform. But as this mysterious man rescues Steven, Steven looks on in shock, the man turns and is shot in the chest by Van Cleef.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is experimenting with a new device that can use the positions of the stars to tell the exact date, minus the year. Steven notes, in surprise, that it is his birthday. Dodo is excited by this news and rushes off inside the TARDIS to find him a present, then presents him with a diary for 1967. Steven thinks to himself that it’s a useless gift but thanks Dodo anyway. Soon the TARDIS lands on a frontier colony world, which looks abandoned. But they meet the colony leader, Carson, and his daughter, Carla, who urge the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven to take shelter. In a cave, they meet the colonists, men, women, and teenagers, there to prepare the first steps of the colony before the main ship arrives with a hundred people. But they are being attacked by a faceless enemy. Supplies are being stolen by raiders, pirates, even before they reach orbit. As the group discusses this, Dodo and Carla return to say a delivery is arriving. They rush to the cafe mouth as the ship ducks, weaves, and maneuvers it’s way before successfully landing. The ship successfully lands, and the colonists begin to unload supplies. Much to Steven’s surprise he recognizes the pilot, his name is Ford and he flew with him in the space trucking business. Steven now knows exactly what year it is – and he has cause to worry.

As the colonists unload supplies, the Rocket Men arrive by ship and a troop descends by their backpack rockets. Steven encourages the colonists to make a stand, especially as the last container of supplies includes devices they can easily use as weapons. The colonists are successful and capture about twenty Rocketmen. But then more appear on the ridges surrounding the plain. They hold the women and children from the caves captive. The leader, Van Cleef releases his men, kills one named Rameriz for “disobeying orders” and kills Ford. Then they take the women and children, including Dodo hostage and disappear.

Steven puts on Rameriz’s uniform and takes the flyer. He knows what he must do – he knows because it’s already happened. Steven is at peace with knowing he is doomed, but he will save his younger self. As he approaches the Rocketman’s base on one of the moons of the system, he receives a radio call from the Doctor – Carson has told him several of the women are competent pilots. Steven knows that if he can free the hostages and get them to a ship, someone will be able to fly them back to the colony.

Steven finds the hostages and sneaks in, telling Dodo she needs to wait for half an hour as well as the locking code for the container they are in. He also tells them where they might find a ship to return to the colony when it’s safe. Things play out as they did before. Steven hears two gunshots while talking to Dodo and knows it’s his legs getting shot out from him. Steven hides behind the ship, noting some of the protective tiles have fallen off it. He rushes out, challenges Van Cleef, who is startled by the ghost challenging him. He applies sealant medical foam to his younger self’s legs and gets him into the cockpit of his ship, turning on the emergency air supply and beacon. Steven then fights Van Cleef, turning the controls of his rocket pack to full – so he flies off into space. He’s shot by Van Cleef.

But Steven returns to Dodo and the others. Dodo is anxious and confused – so Steven shows her the diary – which now has a bullet hole in it. The crushed bullet falls out. Steven also puls out one of the ship’s tiles from the back cover – his insurance. But even though he is now alright and he and Dodo return to the Doctor and the colonists return to their colony, Steven is now considering leaving the Doctor and doing something else with his life. He’d discussed turning points in his life, how getting shot by the Rocketmen and spending three months in a field hospital had convinced him to join the service and fight in the war. Now he’s ready to move on to a new challenge.

Overall, this is a good story – it returns to the premise of the Companion Chronicles telling stories from the Companion’s point of view so we can learn more about them. Even though Steven’s always been one of the more boring companions to me – this story is good, it lets the listener learn who Steven is. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Upstairs

  • Title: Upstairs
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Mat Coward
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, Steven, First Doctor
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/12/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who Upstairs is a volume in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. It features the First Doctor, Vicki, and Stephen with performances by Mauren O’Brien and Peter Purves. The TARDIS lands in an old, dusty attic in 1900, and the Doctor, Vicki, and Stephen step out to explore. But, before long, Vicki is bored and when the Doctor can’t even find the way down to the rest of the residence, even he must admit there’s really no point to this particular stop and they may as well leave. But the TARDIS crew can’t find their way back to the TARDIS. They discover the attic seems to go on an on. When they discover a 1950s-Era television console set, it’s Vicki who realizes the different rooms are in different eras – which will make it even more difficult to find the TARDIS and escape. The only other clue to the situation is that some rooms in the attic seem to be infected with fungus, some weird sort of mushroom.

But within a few minutes, they hear singing and follow it to where a maid is washing herself in a small tub. The Doctor, Stephen, and Vicki question the maid. The maid is also suspicious of the strangely-dressed group. They soon also meet a valet. The valet explains that the servants who live in the attics have discovered two things – the giant mushroom, whom they call, Mr. Prime Minister and that the attics have been expanding for years, as the mushroom has grown. The servants decided to guide the feeding of the mushroom, in the hopes of creating the ideal leader to keep the British Empire from folding like all other empires before it.

The Doctor finds this to be preposterous, pointing out that they cannot turn a mushroom into a man, even if that mushroom is spread, through the Mycelial Network, through both time and space, making it nearly impossible to eradicate. Vicki prevents two maids from eliminating the TARDIS crew outright by referring to the Doctor as “His Grace”, Steven as “His Lordship”, and herself as “Her Ladyship”. They then get the crew to lead them back to the TARDIS. Once outside the TARDIS, the Doctor, with help from Vicki pulls a fast one, gets the three TARDIS crew members inside the TARDIS, and has Vicki introduce a new mushroom species to the attic which will push out the dangerous mushroom from its ecological niche. The servants and mushroom are kept out of the TARDIS and the Doctor and the TARDIS crew leave.

The good thing about Upstairs is that it does have a Sapphire and Steel or Twilight Zone feel about it, especially the first fifteen or twenty minutes as the TARDIS crew explore an ever-expanding, confusing attic and can’t find their way back to the TARDIS. But with no one to talk to other than themselves and no obvious threat, it’s also a bit boring. Once the TARDIS crew meet the various servants and the plot becomes clear, it also seems more and more ridiculous. Giant mushrooms, feeding on prime ministers and chancellors of the exchequer? It just seems so… silly. Also, with both Purves and O’Brien in the cast, and no one else to talk to in most of part 1, we could have gotten some great characterization, and that opportunity is completely missed. We learn a bit more about Vicki, but that’s about it. Plus, with nowhere to go, then getting hopelessly lost, the entire goal of the story is for the TARDIS crew to return to the TARDIS. Sometimes that can work, but more often than not the “why didn’t they just leave” story can fall very flat, especially when the goal becomes – “let’s just leave”. Overall, though the performances are good, I felt this was a very average story.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Anachronauts

  • Title: The Anachronauts
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Peter Purves
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/25/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The Anachronauts is a two-disc story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. It features the characters of the First Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom and takes place during “The Daleks Master Plan” aired story. The Doctor, Sara and Steven are in the TARDIS when there is a collision with another vehicle. The TARDIS crash lands on a desert island and meets the crew of the other ship – which has been completely destroyed in the crash. This other ship was an experimental time ship. The TARDIS is nowhere to be seen. The new crew and the Doctor’s crew join together, although the time pilots don’t entirely trust the Doctor and company. They trek through the jungle, in the rain, find a cave, and locate the TARDIS food machine – sitting by itself in the jungle. Sara and Steven are convinced the TARDIS broke apart in the crash. The two groups stay in the cave overnight.

During their stay, however, they are attacked by what can only be described as a Banshee – a wailing figure with long, white hair. The Doctor calls this figure a “Time Sprite” but says it’s a myth, a fairy tale, something that does not exist.

The next morning the Doctor and Steven head out to find the TARDIS. Sara stays behind. The Doctor leads Steven straight to the time pilot’s ship, which he wants to investigate – where they run into the “Time Sprite” again. They return to the cave, only to find Sara missing. Steven confronts the time pilots and gets shot.

Meanwhile, Sara and the female leader of the Time Pilots climb a cliff to get a better view. The Time Pilots leader takes readings to try to determine where they are, then sets a homing beacon. Sara gets hurt climbing back down and Steven gets shot confronting the Time Pilots.

In part 2, after a bit of a review, Sara and the leader of the Time Pilots return to their ship for medical supplies for Steven. When they get back – Steven is fine, it’s as if he was never shot. Sara falls asleep and wakes feeling better than ever, her broken arm healed.

The Doctor tells everyone the Island was an illusion, a dream – and they all wake on the floor of the TARDIS. But the leader of the Time Pilots attacks – trying to pilot the TARDIS and eventually firing a gun – at Steven.

Sara and Steven wake up in the dark and fog in a city devastated by war – and on the run, pursued by armed police, they quickly find shelter. They are in East Berlin in 1966. They hide, and run, but are eventually picked up by the police for having no papers. They are interrogated but can’t say anything – Germans and Russians in 1966 aren’t going to believe they are time travelers. They are jailed but escape. They are captured again. Sara tells Steven they will betray each other, betray the Doctor, just to get the torture to stop. So Steven decides to get ahead of the game and tell the Stasi he and Sara wish to defect. To back up his claim, he hands over a piece of paper with basic scientific information from his own (future) time period.

Sara and Steven are taken by car to a house in the suburbs and told to wait. Sara, meanwhile, every time she and Steven are jailed, is freaked out by hearing a creature and claims to see it outside the house. Steven tells her she’s imagining it. When the Stasi come around, asking questions and offering the two a house and a weekly allowance – Steven suddenly becomes belligerent. He refuses to answer questions. Sara is perplexed.

The two are separated, and when Steven return to Sara, he apologizes and tells her it’s not real – this whole scenario is fake, like the one on the island. And, he tells her – she’s also not real, part of the illusion. Sara screams but fades away. The Doctor, what Sara had seen as a mysterious creature, pulls Steven out of the illusion. They rescue Sara from her dream, which was quite the happy one.

In the TARDIS console room, the Doctor explains they were in cells in the TARDIS – continuing to heal from the collision, and that the time pilots are still in cells. He pilots the TARDIS to the Cobalt Moon, long after all the cobalt is mined, and drops the time pilots off. There is a beautiful pink sea and sky, and a nearby city – the pilots will be fine. The Doctor, Sara, and Steven return to confront the Daleks.

Peter Purves (Steven) and Jean Marsh (Sara) take turns narrating each of the four parts of this adventure, but also play their own characters during the sections that the other is narrating. And Peter also plays the First Doctor. So, this story – with music and sound effects as well, is closer to a full-cast audio drama than the typical, performed, audiobook style of the Companion Chronicles. This is also a good story – plenty of twists and turns, with excellent performances by Peter Purves and Jean Marsh.

Recommended.

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

Click this link to order The Anachronauts on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Mother Russia

  • Title: Mother Russia
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Steven, First Doctor, Dodo, The Interrogator (Guest)
  • Cast: Peter Purves (Steven), Tony Millan (The Interrogator)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/22/2017

Doctor Who: Mother Russia is a story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. Peter Purves (Steven) tells the story which also features Dodo and the First Doctor. The TARDIS lands in Czarist Russia and the TARDIS crew settles in. The Doctor gets a job as a tutor for the local landed aristocrat’s children, Dodo also gets hired as a music tutor, and Steven spends his days, wandering around, fishing and meeting and befriending the locals. During one of his fishing trips, Steven hooks a fish that is so strong he is pulled in the river. It’s Summer, so it’s no disaster, and the forester, Simeon, laughs at him. Steven and the forester becomes friends, so much so, that the forester invites Steven to be best man at his wedding.

At a dinner with the aristocrat’s family, the TARDIS crew learn it is 1812, both Dodo and the Doctor knows what this means. Steven has no idea – so the audience doesn’t know for sure what’s happening. The Doctor also starts to press for travelling to Moscow.

The time of the wedding grows closer, and rumors start flying that Napoleon will invade Russia.
Finally, the first night of the three-day wedding ceremony arrives – and it is interrupted by a spaceship crash-landing in the forest. Simeon and Steven go to check it out. From that point on things get a little weird – Steven encounters a bear that he swears talked to him, Simeon breaks off his engagement, the Doctor becomes more insistent on traveling to Moscow, though at one point he leaves in the TARDIS without Steven and Dodo – and when he lands again he insists they pilot the time-space machine.

Eventually, they do all travel to Moscow, have an encounter with Napoleon, watch the city burn, see the Russians rout the French, and the alien, a shapeshifter, is found out.

Overall, this story was OK. That the mysterious bear, and various people not acting like themselves were actually a shapeshifting alien was painfully obvious – so much so that it seemed weird that Steven and Dodo couldn’t figure it out faster. The story is also broken up a bit to Steven telling his story to The Interrogator, who is the shapeshifter. And the Russian accents are horrendous, almost to the point of being offensive – like comedy accents. But the story, especially the early part of Steven, Dodo, and even the Doctor assimilating into an alien time was pretty good, and I liked that.

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

Click here to order Mother Russia on CD or Download. Note the Download is currently specially priced at $2.99.

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