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.

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