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.