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.