Book Review – Doctor Who: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

  • Title: The Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ace, Zara (guest), Seventh Doctor
  • Cast: Sophie Aldred, Laura Doddington (Zara)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/19/2017

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a Big Finish audio play in the Doctor Who Companion Chronicles series. It’s also a companion piece to the Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor) Key2Time mini-series of three audio plays. I haven’t listened to the other volumes of the Key2Time series, though I’m now thinking that I should order them. But anyway, this is meant to be a stand alone story, and I found that it did work that way. If anything it seemed to me to be a sequel to the Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) Key to Time season.

This story is a bit confusing, and I did have to listen to it in my car twice, but at the same time, I found it to be a good story, if a bit unusual. The story has two episodes, and the first episode is told by Zara and in her point of view. The second episode is told by Ace and is in her point of view, though most of it takes place earlier than Zara’s section (the two sections overlap). Zara is from outside of time, a place she refers to as “The Grace” and she is an Elemental. The Grace also has two Guardians, equal and opposite. These Guardians will be familiar to Doctor Who television audiences, with both of them turning up in the Key to Time season with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana I (Mary Tamm). The Black Guardian was also a major player during Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor. So, Zara’s introduction makes perfect sense, she is working for the Guardians – along with her sister. Both are brand-new to our universe. Both have an assignment – to each find three segments to the Key to Time to bring back to the Guardians so the Key can be assembled and the off-kilter balance of the universe put right.

The story starts with Zara and Ace each stuck in a jail cell someplace. Will they trust each other? Or, will they betray each other? Zara fills us in on her story – after literally appearing from nothing, she takes her first breath of air on a planet. And she’s immediately kidnapped by Zinc, who, along with his wife Magda, is investigating a strange new cult that’s taking over the galaxy. But that is a detail we learn later. All we know now is what Zara knows, she’s picked up from this rainy planet, and she’s suddenly somewhere else with Zinc.

Zara, not knowing any better, tells Zinc everything: about the key to time, the Guardians, her job, etc. Zinc probably doesn’t believe her and tries to figure out where his teleport bracelet has brought him because he is way off course. They go to the telescope room at the local museum. And Zinc abandons Zara. Zara, though miffed, thinks she’s learned a lesson about not trusting anyone. And she realizes the strange tickling in her nose is actually how she perceives being near a segment of the Key to Time. She follows the sensation to a huge lake on the surface of the planet Erratoon, which is a former prison planet and covered with a Geodesic Dome. She talks someone into taking her out on the lake in a boat, touches the surface of the water – and the entire lake disappears as it takes the form of a segment of the Key, which Zara puts in her satchel. Unfortunately, when the lake suddenly disappears, everyone on the lake dies. Anyone in a boat suddenly crashes down to the rock-hard surface of the lake bed and dies from the impact. Zara is arrested for “stealing” the lake.

Ace meanwhile finds herself in a jail cell with Zara. Zara doesn’t even tell her, her name. Ace, being Ace, decides immediately to escape. Zara warns her it’s not a good idea because if you try to escape you forfeit your right to a trial and your memories are stolen. Ace gets them out of the cell anyway, and they are both captured and mind-wiped.

Ace awakes, her memories scrambled but tells us what she remembers. She’d been with the Doctor, whom she now barely remembers, looking into a “Bonnie and Clyde” couple, Zinc and Magda, who had stolen a time ring and were now running all over space and time – pulling heists, setting up “nest eggs”, but also, at times, helping people and being heroes. She and the Doctor are investigating Zinc and Magda to see if they need to be stopped (their current investigation into the cult is trouble, a mystery that isn’t meant to be solved yet). But when Zinc goes off to grab a cultist to interview he simply disappears with no word. We, the audience, know he grabbed Zara and disappeared to Erratoon rather than back to his camp with Magda. Ace takes care of Magda, finding a shelter, making a fire, even preparing food from their supplies. Zinc returns and tells Magda that his trip wasn’t in vein – the planet he accidentally traveled to is rich in an ore needed for intergalactic travel than makes hyperspace much safer. The three end up on Erratoon and Ace is meant to fire a rocket at the geodesic dome, killing everyone on the planet and leaving it free for mining. Ace tries to find her way out of this, even telling a robot constable what will happen. But the robots only prosecute actual crimes. They don’t do any crime prevention. The rocket is set off, and the dome destroyed, but Ace finds herself in a hospital, under the care of The Doctor, but still with a rocky memory. It turns out that all the buildings on the planet were actually ships. When the dome breaks and everyone is expelled into space, they are scooped up by the buildings which are now spaceships. No one died. And now that the secret is out (all the meaningless tasks given to the prisoners weren’t so meaningless) a space dock will be built, people can come and go as they please, once the ore is found, everyone on the planet will be rich, and a new colony built. The Doctor even promises he has something called “a TARDIS” which can restore her memories.

This was an excellent story, well told and performed. I liked it, even though at times it was hard to tell what was going on because of the non-chronological nature of the telling of the story.

Recommended.

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

Click here to order The Prisoner’s Dilemma on CD or Download.

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

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