BLURBThe year is

1770, and daring explorer Captain James Cook and his crew on the Endeavour are navigating the Pacific Ocean.
Into their midst come strangers: the Doctor and Ian Chesterton, who are believed to have come from Venus. But the TARDIS is lost to them - along with both Susan and Barbara - and Ian makes an enemy of the ship's chief scientist, Joseph Banks.
Why is Banks acting strangely? Could it be that the travellers are not the only visitors from the stars?







The Transit

of Venus










I’m very surprised that fourteen Companion Chronicles came and went before Big Finish Productions turned to the stalwart William Russell – the original hero of Doctor Who - to narrate one of Ian Chesterton’s unseen adventures. With a number of very highly regarded audio books already under his belt, not to mention an impressive turn in the 2005 audio drama, The Game, he seemed an obvious choice. Happily though, he was well worth waiting for.


The Transit of Venus is a real gem of a tale; one that manages to recreate the distinguishing spirit of Doctor Who’s first season, whilst at the same time telling a modern, compelling and relatively fast-paced story. As script editor of the range, Jacqueline Rayner was better placed than anyone to cut straight to the heart of what these Companion Chronicles are all about; something that I feel is reflected by her succinct bookends. Rayner does not waste words painting a future for Ian that we already know about anyway – she simply presents us with an old man telling a story; a story that left a mark on him.


Furthermore, this two-part adventure is incredibly evocative. I got the firm impression from listening to it that Rayner had put a tremendous amount of thought into the feel of the piece, as opposed to just the nuts and bolts of it. It would have been simple for her to just tack on a couple of individual episode titles and a throw in a reference or two to The Sensorites and be done with it, but every facet of The Transit of Venus seems to have been borne out of a desire to recreate the show’s early magic. Even the title fulfils the series’ original remit of educating and informing – I don’t know about you, but I breathed a sigh of relief when Ian explained what a “Transit of Venus” is just a few lines into the production.


However, the heavy (and I dare say fanciful) continuity is sure to inflame a few listeners, but for me the direct positioning of this tale between The Sensorites and The Reign of Terror only made it feel all the more redolent – after all, each story in the first season bled straight into the next – and in any event it’s a necessary conceit here as Rayner’s plot hangs on the propinquity of the events on the Sense-Sphere.


The plot itself is suitably claustrophobic and tense. Stranded on board Captain Cook’s Endeavour on its legendary voyage of discovery, and having lost both the TARDIS and the girls, poor Ian finds himself with only a pricklier than usual Doctor and a crew that think he’s from Venus for company. As the weeks pass by, Ian becomes obsessed with ship’s chief scientist Joseph Banks, who appears to possess snippets of knowledge from the future. Bill Russell gives a sterling performance as his character is pushed to the very brink of madness, only to be saved by the two people that drove him to despair in the first place. What’s more, Ian Hallard seems to have been given more lines than is usual for the ‘guest voice’, affording the scenes between Chesterton and Banks a certain vitality that really make The Transit of Venus stand out from its peers.


What I particularly like about this story though is that it doesn’t just limit itself to being about Ian. Though naturally Ian is at the heart of the tale and carries the responsibility of driving the narrative forward, Rayner also takes the time to explore interesting new aspects of the first Doctor’s personality (he even sheds a tear, at one point, when he believes that Susan is lost to him) and she manages to say so much about Barbara (and, indeed, Barbara and Ian as a double-act) without ever really using her.


Altogether then, The Transit of Venus is a standout release; one that showcases all of the range’s most laudable qualities and makes light of its intrinsic pitfalls. Rayner’s script is well-researched, educational and engaging and, of course, Russell was never going to go wrong with material like that.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010


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