THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMA "THE FOUR
DOCTORS" AND THE
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 3.8
RELEASED IN FEBRUARY
Two prisoners meet
in a prison cell. Zara
is searching for the
segments of the Key
to Time; she was only
born yesterday but
already she’s killed
hundreds of people.
Ace's more ambitious:
she was going to kill
every SINGLE PERSON
on thE planet.
What have they got
against the people of
Erratoon? They go
their simple assign-
ments, beneath their
artificial sky. They
share their meals
and leisure time and
never ask questions.
Are they even real?
Ace and Zara will
only survive if they
can trust each other.
Or perhaps if they
sell each other out...
If not their awful
punishment is to
become just like
The Prisoner's Dilemma
The Prisoner’s Dilemma is one of the most intriguing Companion Chronicles released to date. Not only is it a prequel and a sequel (concurrently!) to Big Finish’s own
Key 2 Time trilogy, but it also features a companion from an era of the series where all the necessary regulars would have been available to star in a full cast audio drama. In a first for the range, this isn’t a Companion Chronicle of necessity - it’s a Companion Chronicle of choice.
Listening to this production a year or so
after its release, it put me very much in
mind of BBC Audio’s recent Hornets’
Nest series in terms of its layout and
style. Whilst the preponderance of the
tale is evenly narrated by either Laura
Doddington’s Zara or Sophie Aldred’s
Ace (a significant departure from the set-up of previous releases in itself), it is punctuated with frequent scenes between the two characters that really inject the proceedings with a vigour that most talking books lack. One of the pair – I’m not sure which – even doubles up as Erratoon’s modulated robot constables, pushing the production even closer to full-blown audio drama.
Furthermore, Simon Guerrier’s story is a thoroughly absorbing one. The concept of the titular Prisoner’s Dilemma lends the story its framework: Ace and (the as-yet nameless) Zara are thrown into a cell together, and each has to decide whether she is going to trust the other, or sell her out. And if they are caught trying to escape, they will forfeit their right to trial and have their respective memories erased in punishment. But if they don’t, they’ll be tried and found guilty anyway and have their memories erased in punishment. It’s a bit of a pickle, to say the least.
The first episode tells us Zara’s side of the story. Opening with a dazzling, pre-title hook
(“...killed thousands, maybe millions of people without a second thought. And this girl Ace, she was one of the first to die…”), we are introduced to Zara before she meets the Doctor and Amy in The Judgement of Isskar, as she searches for the first segment of the Key to Time on Erratoon – a delectably described moon, completely encased in an impenetrable geodesic sphere. Buoyed by a format which allows us direct access to her thoughts and feelings, Guerrier does a marvellous job of fleshing out Zara’s formative days. It’s a real credit to him and to Doddington that at times Zara is almost sympathetic, even when she’s stealing husbands, lying, stealing and even killing.
After undergoing “cerebral erasure” at the end of the first episode, Ace then narrates the events that led up to her incarceration. Much to my delight, the bullish Ace of this story is palpably the “New Ace” of the Virgin New Adventures books. Even though her memories
are indistinct, she makes veiled references to Lisa Bowerman’s Benny (who, in a peculiar twist of fate, directed this production) as well as a flood of early New Adventures, most notably Timewyrm: Revelation. It’s terrifically exciting to see Big Finish finally revelling in
the richness of other media, particularly when it allows them to use a much more grizzled version of a familiar character to tell a story that would not have been half as effective otherwise.
Similarly, the seventh Doctor of The Prisoner’s Dilemma is most definitely the ten-steps-ahead, master manipulator of the Virgin era. The very fact that he’s cleaning up after a past self harks back to the height of his meddling New Adventures days, but what I think really makes Guerrier’s interpretation so remarkable is that there is clearly much more going on than the evident scheming that we are privy to. The closing moments of the adventure are particularly disquieting, as through Ace’s foreboding narration Guerrier sews the seeds of lingering doubt in the listener’s mind. The final line is particularly penetrating.
On a final note, The Prisoner’s Dilemma conjures up some astonishing imagery. Zara’s turning an entire lake into a segment of the Key with just a touch of her fingertip stands out especially, as do images of Erratoon’s broken sky.
Altogether then, the sixteenth Companion Chronicle is a bold and brilliant delight. It’s been
a long time since I came across a new seventh Doctor story that made me wary of him and his manoeuvrings, but on the strength of how much I’ve enjoyed this one, I hope it won’t be long before I find another.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story has been placed during the New Adventures as a number of veiled references are made to Bernice Summerfield travelling with the Doctor and Ace, the Doctor is wearing his plain white suit commensurate with the median New Adventures, a number of early New Adventures are indirectly referred to, and The Dark Flame opens with the Doctor and Ace picking up Bernice from Deep Space Research Centre Orbos. Accordingly, we
have placed it shortly prior to the Telos novella Citadel of Dreams, which we posit occurs between the Doctor
and Ace being reunited at the end of this story and their reunion with Bernice in The Dark Flame.
It is also worthy of note that this story implies that the Doctor does not restore all of Ace’s lost memories, though we are not privy to which might have been discarded. This might help to explain (within the fiction)
why their travels with Hex were never mentioned in subsequent New Adventures.
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