Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sleeping City

  • Title: The Sleeping City
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Ian Potter
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian Chesterton, Gerrard
  • Cast: Ian (William Russell), Gerrard (John Banks)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/5/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Sleeping City is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series which tells new stories from the companions’ point of view. This time it’s Ian who is being interviewed by Gerrard who is implied to be a member of one of the British security services or the police. Ian and Barbara have returned home to England on Earth, but it’s the middle of the Cold War and their long absence has aroused suspicion. Gerrard wants Ian to tell him where he’s been, what he was doing, and more than everything to tell him about The Doctor.

After reviewing, briefly, how he and Barbara met the Doctor and Susan, and then how Susan left and they met Vicki, Ian tells Gerrard of their arrival on Hisk. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki are exploring a market, but when Ian and the Doctor protest to a market seller that they are only browsing and they have no local money a constable is called over. The constable asks why they don’t have local currency, then explains they should have received their commerce cards when they entered Hisk through the spaceport. Every visitor to Hisk is entitled to a 700 unit commerce card. The constable leaves then hands out the cards to each of them. Shortly after that, market trading is halted for the day because it’s time for Limbus – the shared sleeping, rest, and dreaming time. During the dream, everyone’s experiences and dreams are shared. They head to the Limbus Hall, and Vicki remarks that the machines are like the teaching machines of her own time and that she slept-learned all her ancient history. Vicki tries out the experience and enjoys it, remarking she had a castle and there were dragons, nice ones (she painted the nails of one of the dragons) and et cetera. She and one of the constables’ talks Ian and Barbara into trying it. The Doctor insists that he won’t try Limbus, that it would clash with his body chemistry. But this time, something goes wrong – they meet the market seller who was selling pastries, only to find him again in the market – but this time he is selling cakes. Only one of those cakes suddenly grows into a monster and attacks the cake seller. Everyone rudely awakens. The cake seller insists “It might not be a Harbinger”, but no one quite believes him. The constable informs Ian, Barbara, and Vicki that everyone who sees a Harbinger dies within a few days – by suicide. The TARDIS team is shocked, they decide to protect the market seller. They go with him to his stall, and Barbara eventually decides to help him make a cake – she sends Ian, the Doctor, and Vicki to other parts of the market to get ingredients. But when they return the seller is gone though he left behind his address. They have difficulty finding the apartment, but when they do it’s too late, the man is dead. The Doctor though insists he heard and even saw someone else fleeing the scene. the local constables don’t believe him.

At the next Limbus session, it’s Vicki who is attacked by a Harbinger. The Doctor insists something is wrong, and it makes no sense that Vicki would be attacked. He knows something is wrong. The Doctor launches an investigation. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara interview various people who had skipped the Limbus session and investigate years of mysterious deaths that were classified as suicides despite mysterious circumstances. Later that day, Vicki is attacked. The scene is told from Ian’s point of view and at first, he thinks the Doctor is attacking Vicki. Then he sees a figure between the Doctor and Vicki who is actually the one attacking her. They save Vicki. The Doctor realizes that the Harbingers come from Limbus, and are ordinary people of Hisk that are programmed to rid the community of any people deemed unworthy.

The Doctor comes up with a plan to create his own Limbus, having Ian and Barbara build the dream world using their memories of Earth. This will replace the faults in the Hisk dream world. And it will stop the dream programming that turns people into monsters, monsters that everyone is programmed to ignore. It turns out Ian isn’t back on Earth at all – he’s still on Hisk, and his interrogator is the last remains of the fault in the Hisk programming. Ian and the Doctor convince the Hisk interrogator, really a representation of a program, that he must update and improve the Hisk world. And not ever destroy people because he thinks they are unworthy or lost. It seems to work.

The Sleeping City was an average story. At first, Hisk seems at an ideal place – everything is shared within the city and they make their money from trading with other cities. The constable who explains this points out, if they bought and sold items within the city, they’d only be taking from themselves. The entire planet is built into trading zones, and the Limbus sessions in each zone are staggered, so someone is always in Limbus. Within a zone, Limbus strengthens the community, and this is shared with the other zones. But the dark side is the AI that keeps Limbus going has gone a bit wonky and decided to kill off the members of the society that don’t fit in. It’s a dark concept and doesn’t quite make much sense. The story also is mostly about Vicki and Ian and Barbara is almost a ghost. She’s mentioned, here and there, but I kept wondering where she was. Still, William Russell does a brilliant job as Ian and John Banks is very good as Gerrard.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Wanderer

  • Title: The Wanderer
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Richard Dinnick
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Susan
  • Cast: William Russell, Tim Chipping (as Grigory)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/26/2020

**Spoiler Alert** I don’t give out 5 Star reviews lightly. My reviews usually top-out at four stars, and to earn five, something has to be extraordinary. The Wanderer, a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles audiobook/play lines is extraordinary. I loved every minute of it. My second listen wasn’t to catch any details I’d missed (I listen to audios while commuting) but because I just really wanted to listen to the story again. Immediately. It was that good.

The story begins with Ian reflecting on how the phrase, “Nomadic Lifestyle” conjures up romantic ideas of Arabian Nights, riding across the desert on camelback, but the reality is quite different, then he mentions one true wanderer he and Barbara met on their travels. Then his wonderful telling of the story transitions into the story itself. The TARDIS lands, we quickly find out, in Siberia in 1900. It’s extremely cold, though the local carters who give the Docter, Susan, Ian, and Barbara a lift to the nearest village remark that it is Springtime.

As they arrive in the village, they meet another wanderer, dress in robes, gathered in at the waist by a rope. He is called Grigory, and the people call him Staritz, meaning Elder, leader, healer of his people. Everyone is just getting to know one another when a man rushes up, asking for aid. He’s a local lumberjack and his sons have taken ill. The Doctor offers his services and they wander off, making the trek to the logging camp. But when the Doctor opens the door to the simple log cabin, he is taken very ill and collapses. Ian reflects that it reminds him of the Doctor getting radiation poisoning on Skaro. Barbara and Susan stay with the Doctor and the other two sick men while Grigory and Ian return to the village for medicines and aid.

At the village, they find the healing woman and obtain basic herbal remedies, they also obtain more lanterns then head back. But when they reach the cabin they find it’s been ripped apart, Susan and Barbara are gone, the two loggers have died, and the Doctor is still ill. But he recovers enough to tell Ian that he’s being affected by chronon radiation. There’s a device in the nearby boathouse that’s alien – and leaking radiation.

Barbara arrives and fills in some details. The Doctor starts to recover a bit. Susan was poisoned by the radiation, it affected her mind, she ripped up the room, then took off. Barbara ran after her then returned. The Doctor’s notebook contains information about the alien device. He’s recovered enough to tell Ian a little bit about it – it’s supposed to be a recon device, gathering information – but it’s malfunctioned. The interaction of the chronon radiation and the device’s original purpose means it’s recording Earth’s future at a rate of 1000 years per day. And anyone who touches the device is overwhelmed, either by the radiation itself or by a sonic blast of literally too much information. The two men who died touched the outer surface of the device and were poisoned. Susan touched the inside, became stuck to it by some force, and Barbara had to pry her off, but she still wasn’t stable and ran off. Grigory hears all this and touches the device. He’s knocked out but recovers. The Doctor manages to free the device’s homing beacon and reverse it. He gives it to Ian and asks him, Barbara, and Grigory to find the alien spaceship. As Ian and Grigory walk through the woods, it becomes clear Grigory wasn’t unaffected by his encounter with the alien device. He’s now seen the next thousand years of Earth’s future but not his own fate. The description really reminded me of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

“I can see: Alexander, Kaiser Wilhelm, Bolsheviks, a Great War
Revolution, Armistice, Stalin, Nazis, Hitler, a Second World War
Television, Computers, Space Flight, Gagarin, Berlin Wall, Cuban Missiles
A Tenth Planet, Aliens, Invasions, Lunar Bases, Men on Mars, The Doctor!”
– Grigory Rasputin

And a little later, Rasputin continues to describe to Ian how he sees the Doctor through time.

“The Doctor is woven through the Tapestry of Time, keeping it safe against all manner of enemy: Others of his kind, denizens of Hell and other planes,
Soldiers from distant worlds and home-spun foes,
Plastic people, Men of Metal, Creatures of Carbon, Silicon, and Calcium,
Egyptian Gods, werewolves, ghosts, and vampires,
So many nonsensical things with unpronounceable names, like scrambled Roman numerals.
If they are as ungodly as I suspect, then The Doctor must truly be a Staritz.” – Grigory Rasputin

After a short walk, Ian and Grigory come across a small, squat, frog-like spaceship. Hearing a scream, Ian hides behind the ship then sneaks around it. He sees three aliens, short and stocky, but powerful, like their ship, with four arms, and a tail that curves up over their heads from the back and ends in a nasty stinger. Essentially, they seem like intelligent, walking scorpions. One of the aliens is holding Mikhail prisoner (the father of the two loggers who found the device earlier). Ian makes himself known and Grigory runs off. The aliens demand Ian tell them the location of their Ranger. They kill Mikhail and bring the unconscious Susan out of the spaceship, threatening her. Ian demands them produce and set free Barbara, but the aliens ignore the demand (because they actually haven’t seen her). The aliens threaten Ian, but he points out that if they kill him, they will never find their Ranger. He also tells them the device was damaged in landing and it’s making the humans here sick. But he’s scanned, the aliens find the homing beacon on him, then he and Susan are returned to the ship and tied up. then the aliens (four of them now), leave. Susan opens her eyes. She’s awake, uninjured, and no longer affected by the poisonous radiation from the Ranger device. Just as she and Ian try to figure out how to get themselves free, the door opens. It’s Rasputin, who lets them out. He’d run off so he wouldn’t be captured and he could let them free.

Everyone ends up back at the boathouse, where the Doctor and Barbara are waiting, including the four aliens. The Doctor tricks the aliens into handling their device, but because it is malfunctioning, it turns the aliens into petroleum puddles. Grigory is suddenly overwhelmed by the info-dump of a thousand years of future history, screams in agony and collapses. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan gather the villagers and they haul the alien spacecraft by horse to a nearby river and drop it in to hide it. The Doctor takes the alien device (what’s left of it) and Grigory into the TARDIS. Grigory is cured of the radiation poisoning by exposure to the time vortex, and the Doctor wires the device into the TARDIS console. He returns Grigory to the garden outside the palace in St. Petersburg, after assuring Ian that Grigory will not remember any of the events he experienced. But when the Doctor tries to program the TARDIS to return Ian and Barbara to 1963, the alien Ranger finally gives up the ghost and goes “poof”. Barbara is upset at first but then accepts it. Ian is depressed that he and Barbara will still be doomed to wander, but he realizes that as long as he’s with her, she is his home, so it’s all right.

I loved this story! Loved it – every though a short summary makes it sounds somewhat grim, it’s actually a very enjoyable and fun story, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Ian’s somewhat sardonic narration is absolutely perfect. And you gotta’ love that Ian meets a man, dressed as a monk, named Gregori, in Russia, in Siberia, in 1900 – and it NEVER crosses his mind this guy might possibly be Rasputin until Rasputin mentions his last name. That bit was hilarious – and it’s so Ian, he can be quite clueless sometimes, but it a totally loveable way. Also, Ian being a bit depressed at the end of the story because of the possibility of finally going home is dangled in front of him and then it’s snatched away until he realizes that wherever Barbara is is his home is perfectly priceless. The entire story is just filled with little gems here and there, bits of dialogue, situations, that just really work. They suit the characters, break the tension, get you to laugh, but never make fun of or demean any of the characters. I also enjoyed the beginning where Grigory is a very rational man, but also a man of faith who believes he has a destiny. This isn’t presented as ego, but as a common thing – that everyone, no matter who they are, wants to be remembered. The Wanderer is a truly enjoyable story and I highly recommend it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

  • Title: The Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: John Dorney
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Vicki
  • Cast: William Russell, Gus Brown (as Ashman)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/27/2018

**Spoiler Alert** John Dorney’s The Rocket Men very cleverly starts in the middle of the story and then uses flashbacks to fill in what’s going on. But unlike the normal “start with an exciting bit and flashback to explain it” technique, The Rocket Men flashes back and forth between the near “past” and the present, using a word, phrase or action to move from one time to the other and back again. It’s a very effective technique and the story flows extremely well – without being overly confusing.

The Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles series, and features William Russell as the First Doctor’s companion, Ian and Gus Brown, as the Leader of the Rocket Men, Ashman. The First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell on the long-running BBC television series, Doctor Who), Barbara, and Vicki are also featured in the story. The Companion Chronicles feature a story told from one of the Doctor’s companions’ point of views and are often more wordy, framed as a two-hander play.

The TARDIS lands on Jobis, an idyllic gas giant and tourist destination, with cities built on platforms in the air, floating luxury hotels, and even beautiful creatures to watch – such as giant flying Manta Rays in the skies, and insects that sparkle like diamonds. After a few days, the Doctor goes off to another platform to visit and share ideas with some local scientists. Ian books a tourist trip on a glass-bottomed boat. Barbara isn’t feeling well and decides to stay at the hotel. Ian checks to make sure he doesn’t need to look after her, but Barbara decides she’s okay and Vicki really wants to try the boat ride, so the three split up. On the boat ride, the tourists, including Ian and Vicki, are attacked. Ashman leads his fierce Rocket Men, a group of pirates who want to steal the “diamonds” from the sky. The Rocket Men wear brown leather and rocket packs on their backs – and they attack the barge. Once the attack is winding down, Ian is able to attack one of the guards, knock him out and steal his uniform and pack.

Later, and the first scene in the story as one listens to it, the Rocket Men have attacked the hotel and gathered up the people they haven’t killed. They demand that the companions of “The Doctor” turn themselves over. When Ashman starts to threaten innocent tourists – Vicki and Barbara turn themselves over. Ian struggles to not admit who he is and seems to be waiting for his chance for something. When Barbara is thrown out an airlock, he rushes the door and follows, then uses the jetpack he’s wearing to control his descent and direction. He rescues the terrified Barbara and takes her to a nearby platform. She cries. They hug.

But Ian and Barbara aren’t completely safe. Ashton attacks and he and Ian start to fight each other in midair. Ian gains advantage, but then Ashton deactivates his rocket pack and Ian starts falling. He’s rescued by a Manta Ray. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s been working with the local scientists. They manage to break through the Rocket Men’s jamming signals and get out a call for help. The local authorities wrap things up and defeat the Rocket Men.

This an awesome story – it’s full of adventure and fun, but the core of the story is Ian’s feelings for Barbara and her feelings for him. It’s a very romantic story – both in the traditional sense in terms of the adventure and the scope – with men with rockets strapped to their backs running around, gas giant planets, giant manta rays, and a floating hotel. It’s awesome. But it’s also romantic in it shows a relationship between Ian and Barbara. That’s extremely fun.

Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the Ian-Barbara relationship from early Doctor Who.

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

Click to order The Rocket Men on CD or download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Transit of Venus

  • Title: The Transit of Venus
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Jacqueline Rayner
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, Joseph Banks (guest), First Doctor
  • Cast: William Russell, Ian Hallard
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series features stories told from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions. This series gives Big Finish the opportunity to tell stories set in previous eras of the British Television Series, Doctor Who with previous Doctors and companions. In that aspect, the Companion Chronicles are similar to the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures original novels. The Transit of Venus is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton, and is set in the First Doctor (William Hartnell) Era. As is the case with many of the Companion Chronicles, Russell is joined in his performance by Ian Hallard as Joseph Banks. The Transit of Venus is a pure historical story. The only science fiction elements are the TARDIS, and Ian’s references to the previous television story, “The Sensorites”.

The story opens with the Doctor, now very angry with Ian and Barbara, dropping them off someplace on Earth. He doesn’t even stay to see if they are in fact in 20th Century Earth or to check that they are alright. In turns out they are not alright, and, luckily for Barbara and Ian, Susan insists that her grandfather (the Doctor) stay and check. The Doctor and Susan see Ian and Barbara being attacked by the sailors of the 18th-century sailing ship they have landed on. The Doctor and Ian end up staying on the ship and Susan, Barbara, and the TARDIS are pushed over the side. Thus, this is a First Doctor and Ian story. Never fear, though, Barbara, Susan, and the TARDIS are found and the crew reunited at the end of the story. In some aspects, this is typical of early Doctor Who – the stories often depended on the TARDIS crew being separated and reuniting later. Often such separations serve the plot by the crew separately learning important information which is later pooled for plot purposes. Other times, characters disappearing serve more practical purposes – giving the actors on the show some much-needed time off (back in the days when producing Doctor Who was closer to three-quarters of the year repertory theatre than modern television. In the case of this audio play, having half the cast missing for all but the opening and closing scenes seems to have been done for purely practical reasons – fewer characters make the story smaller and easier to tell on audio.

However, this is not purely a negative. Once it becomes apparent that this will be a Doctor and Ian story, the listener can just go with it, and it is still a very enjoyable story. Ian and the Doctor end-up on Captain Cook’s Endeavour sailing ship, navigating the Pacific Ocean on their way to charting Australia and discovering the Cook Islands. The story is educational – teaching about the famous voyage as well as the geography of the region – the groups of islands, their names, the coastal features of Australia, etc. It’s the type of story that if filmed, especially with some sort of budget, could be extremely enjoyable, sort of Doctor Who does Master and Commander. Because this is Doctor Who there is another plot to pass the time on the long ship voyage – Ian meets Joseph Banks, a famed botanist. Yet, whenever Ian is alone with Banks, weird things seem to happen. Ian sees Banks shoot an albatross that is following the ship, and Ian warns him of the superstition against killing an albatross. Then he hears Banks quote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Later, as Ian approaches Banks’ cabin, he hears voices, which, to Ian, sound like Banks is reading aloud a diary entry containing information about the future. A few days later, Banks and Ian are on the ship’s deck, and Ian becomes fearful of Banks and even believes Banks pushed him overboard. Banks rescues Ian and states that he became disoriented on the ship and fell. As a result of his dunking in the ocean – Ian becomes quite sick, contracting a fever, and is cabin-bound. Ian has additional strange experiences on the ship, especially when near Banks.

Finally, the Endeavoour reaches the place in Australia where Ian knows they will land. And he sees Susan and Barbara on the shore. Barbara explains briefly what happened to them, how they survived, and even tells him that since they knew they would have a long wait – she had, as a history teacher, filled Susan in on the history of Captain Cook’s voyage, even telling Susan about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and later that she had sung “Botany Bay” to her. Susan, after her experiences on the Sensesphere, it turns out, still had latent telepathic abilities. It was Susan who had unwittingly transferred information to Banks that Ian picked up. Information that Banks himself was unaware of, but that because of his familiarity with Susan, Ian was able to hear as a ghostly voice. This is a bit of a science fiction element – but The Transit of Venus is not a story where Joseph Banks is secretly an alien or time traveler as Ian at first suspects. Also, Ian is actually experiencing something outside his normal experience even as, by this point in the First Doctor Era, he is a seasoned time traveler himself. Playing with Ian’s emotions could have come off as cruel, but instead, it suits the story and the characters – and everything works out. After being reunited the TARDIS crew leaves in the TARDIS.

I enjoyed The Transit of Venus as a purely historical Doctor Who story for the most part. Ian’s suspicions are played more as paranoia than something really going on – which is novel for a Doctor Who story. Yes, in the Doctor Who universe if a character thinks someone is an alien and up to no good – they usually are. So for the accused to not be an alien is actually a surprise. Plus, Ian is a practical man and a man of science. Before meeting the Doctor he would have dismissed aliens, time travel, and the like. Now, dropped into a purely normal situation (albeit in 1770), Ian leaps to the opposite conclusion – based on his last couple of years of personal experience. That is pure Ian.

I did miss having Barbara in the story. I’ve always liked the Ian-Barbara dynamic, and the two had great chemistry as a couple. It is no wonder that in fan canon they are not only a couple but a married one. And this long-standing fan theory was even made canon in an episode of, The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, even though I would have liked to see Barbara in the story – if she had been on the ship with Ian, there would have been no conflict. The two, plus the Doctor, would have simply had a nice sea cruise. Enjoyable for them, but probably a bit boring for the audience. And Ian’s concerns and fears were played particularly well – playing off the audience’s expectations for a Doctor Who story, without making the character look like an idiot.

Overall, this is an excellent historical Doctor Who adventure. The CD version includes a panel interview with the cast, director, and producer as well as a trailer for the next Big Finish Companion Chronicles adventure. Recommended.

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

Click here to order The Transit of Venus on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Library of Alexandria

  • Title: The Library of Alexandria
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterson, First Doctor, Barbara, Susan
  • Cast: William Russell, Susan Franklyn
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/15/2015

Doctor Who – The Library of Alexandria is from the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. The Companion Chronicles started with one person reading or telling the story (and sometimes a second guest reader), however, this play, as a more recent one (it’s from Season 7), though it still only has two people playing the parts, also has music and sound effects. One thing I like about all the Companion Chronicles is that they really do feel like Missing Adventures. I enjoy that.

This First Doctor story features William Russell telling the story of the time he, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor spent a few weeks enjoying Alexandria. Susan Franklyn plays the part of Hypatia, a Greek Philosopher, but I’m pretty sure she’s also playing the parts of Barbara and Susan. (One critique I had was at times it was difficult to tell which character was speaking – Hypatia or Barbara.)

Of course, it’s a Doctor Who story, so of course, our characters’ vacation cannot last long. And it’s the Doctor who urges they all leave in the TARDIS before the Great Library is destroyed.

One problem with this story is the lack of surprise – we know the Library is going to be destroyed – and Ian, the Doctor, and Barbara all know it’s going to be destroyed. Ian and Barbara even know they can’t change anything, Barbara’s tried that before and it’s been a disaster.

The story does, however, supply a typical Doctor Who-style explanation for what really happened to the Library, but for some reason, it just seemed very, very predictable.

On the other hand, William Russell read and acted the story well. The Library of Alexandria really felt like Hartnell-Era Doctor Who. And other than occasionally having trouble figuring out if the speaker was Barbara or Hypatia – all the voices and characters were distinct.

I give this audio a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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

Click this link to order The Library of Alexandria on CD or download.

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