Vicki has a tale to tell. But where does it start and when does it end?

Ancient Carthage.

1164 BC.

Lady Cressida has a secret. She keeps it deep in the cisterns below the Temple of Astarte with only one flame for warmth. And it must never get out.

Regency London, 1814 AD.

The first Doctor, Steven and Vicki go to the fair and meet the fiery Dragon, the novelist Miss Austen and the deadliest weather you ever did see.

But which comes first? The Future or the Past? The Phoenix or the Egg? The Fire or the Frost? Or will Time freeze over forever?











The first of Big Finish’s new Companion Chronicles range, Frostfire, has an important job to do. This new format is one that Who fans aren’t used to – most of the talking books released in the past have gone down fairly poorly with many fans, so this new range has to do a good job convincing us. However, it does have a significant plus point – the range’s main attraction is, naturally, the chance for fans to enjoy some full-length adventures featuring the first four Doctors for the first time since the BBC’s novel range was cancelled in 2005.


The use of a first person narrative is an effective one. Naturally, we’ll never have a new performance by Hartnell; Troughton; or Pertwee, and one from Tom Baker seems unlikely now. Using the Doctor’s companions to tell the stories, reminiscing from their own experiences, is an excellent and effective choice. However, trying to work the storytelling into its own narrative is far trickier.


Frostfire is a case in point. Vicki is a tough character to start the range out with; her exit story – marrying a Trojan prince over a millennium in the past – makes a follow up an interesting challenge to say the least. Maureen O’Brien certainly convinces here, giving a good performance as an older Vicki. Marc Platt makes the sensible decision to set this part of the story much later in Vicki’s life (although O’Brien doesn’t sound nearly as old as one might expect her too). Now living in Carthage, Vicki recounts her tale to a mysterious being called the Cinder - a sort of living candlewick. She’s been keeping this oddity alive for some time, and it’s true identity remains a mystery until the end of the story (although it doesn’t take a genius to work it out). Keith Drinkel, the guest voice for this release, plays the Cinder. The use of one extra actor in the story is a good one, adding a little variety to the proceedings; however, Drinkel’s performance is a little bland, and I’d question the wisdom of using him in the framing story, rather than the main tale, with considerably more characters requiring a distinctive voice.


The main storyline, set shortly after Steven’s joining of the TARDIS crew, takes place in London, 1814, at the time of the final Frost Fair. It’s an evocative setting, with numerous peculiar characters peddling their wares on the frozen Thames. O’Brien makes a good attempt to bring the characters to life, but it’s occasionally difficult to tell the males apart. Her impression of the first Doctor doesn’t sound much like him vocally, though one wouldn’t really expect it too; however, O’Brien and Platt capture the essential character well. Where O’Brien excels is in her portrayal of Vicki herself. She beautifully puts across the emotions of the young girl, illustrating well the amusement at the Frost Fair, her familial affection for Steven and the Doctor, and her peculiar horror at the mysterious MacGuffin: the Phoenix’s egg.


While the cold spell worsens to life-threatening degrees, the time-travellers team up with the head of the Mint and none other than up-and-coming author Jane Austin (nicely portrayed by O’Brien, and leading to a charming character moment as the Doctor finds himself a little awestruck upon meeting her). At sixty minutes, the plot is resolved fairly rapidly, but the telling of the story is sedate, like a mid-afternoon programme on Radio 4. Nevertheless, events are resolved in a highly satisfactory way, especially for those of us who enjoy a little temporal trickery.


Altogether, a tad slow but very promising start to the range, and one that bodes well for upcoming releases.


Copyright © Daniel Tesier 2008


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.





I have never been a great fan of audio books. At least, not since the days of Funnybones and Burglar Bill, but we’re going back a good few years there. As such I wasn’t very excited when Big Finish announced their forthcoming series of Companion Chronicles because they are, essentially, just a jazzed-up series of talking books. Even when the initial batch of stories were released to rave reviews, I never bothered with them; it is only now, eighteen months later, that I’ve come to realise that I’ve been cutting myself off from a potentially wonderful and enchanting sector of the Whoniverse.


Earlier this year I reluctantly purchased the tenth Doctor audio book Pest Control, and to my surprise found it to be rather enjoyable. Afterwards I reasoned that, with the greatest respect to BBC Audio, if they could produce an audio book capable of entertaining me for two hours or so, then Big Finish were sure to be able to top that.


Autism prevailing, I decided to begin with the first Companion Chronicle released, Frostfire by Marc Platt. The first thing that struck me about it was how unlike an audio book it felt - not only does the story benefit from a guest star (Keith Drinkel); occasional sound effects; and some charming incidental music, but it also adheres rigidly to the Doctor Who episodic format, cliffhangers and all. Even the apposite theme music, sans howl-out, is present and correct. The result positively reeks of the William Hartnell era – something which is without a doubt this production’s greatest strength, particularly given how long it’s been since we last had a new and original, full-length first Doctor story on the market.


The story itself is told by Vicki, played as ever by Maureen O’Brien, as she narrates her story to the Cinder. I suppose that it could be argued that Frostfire is an audio drama as opposed to audio book, as technically it’s a two-hand play in which one character reads a book to another. One really has to admire the conceit. Unfortunately though, the story that Vicki tells is nothing special by any means, especially by Platt’s soaring standards, but it is quite compelling nonetheless and held my attention most of the way through. It’s interesting to get inside Vicki’s head and find out what she really thinks of both Steven and the Doctor, and it’s also fascinating to see what becomes of her when she’s cut adrift in ancient Carthage.


Ultimately, my only major grievance with Frostfire stems back to my general dislike of audio books – I find it painful listening to narrators struggling to do the right voices. Whilst O’Brien’s reading of Jane Austin and the other female characters works reasonably well, her Doctor and Steven really make me cringe. Deep down, part of me thinks that I might have enjoyed Frostfire more had it been published in print as a novella, but then again, had it been I doubt that I could have whizzed through it in an hour on my way to work.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.



This story’s blurb places its events between the television serials The Time Meddler and Galaxy 4. Within this gap, we have placed them shortly after The Time Meddler as Vicki’s narration suggests that the events she is recounting took place soon after Steven Taylor had joined the TARDIS crew.


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