The TARDIS materialiSes in England in the year 1912, a time of great social change. The Suffragette movement is lobbying for votes for women, and the skull of the so-called ‘missing link’ has been discovered in Piltdown.


While Vicki falls victim to a strange influence, the Doctor and Steven investigate the fossiliSed remains.


The Suffering has been unleashed. Can the travellers survive its rage?




The Suffering












The Suffering is something of a cornerstone for the Companion Chronicles. For the first time, Big Finish have put together two companions whose Doctor is no longer with us, providing us with a sound that is as close to the relevant television serials as we’re ever likely to get. But, as if this weren’t an enticing enough gimmick in itself, the release is made up of four episodes spread across two discs instead of just two crammed onto one, giving subscribers of the range more bang for their buck whilst again bringing us closer to the feel of the generally-longer television serials.


The opening of the first episode sets the stall for what’s to come. Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki and Peter Purves’ Steven have decided to orally document the events of their most recent adventure, for reasons that will be revealed at the end of the story. The trouble is, they can’t agree on how to go about doing it. As script editor of the range, author Jacqueline Rayner knows better than anybody the pros and cons of each of the framing devices and narrative styles that a Companion Chronicle writer might employ, and through Vicki and Steven’s rampant bickering she mirrors the creative and critical debates that talking books inevitably provoke. Should characters always narrate in the first person? If so, doesn’t it betray the fact that they’ll survive the story, killing much of the drama? Vicki is hilarious as she initially tries to recount the story omnisciently, spouting Targety prose about how “plucky orphan Vicki” and “handsome space pilot Steven Taylor” blundered into a plot concerning the suffragette movement and the skull of the so-called “missing link,” the infamous “Piltdown Man”, before realising that she’d only experienced part of the story, and has to turn to Steven to fill in the blanks. In itself, this freedom allows Rayner to tell a much broader and deeper tale than the usual deluge of “I did this” and “I felt that”, offering us two narrative threads, as the television series invariably would.


Things soon settle down as Steven narrates the preponderance of the first two episodes in typical Companion Chronicle style, and Vicki the latter two. Throughout, however, Steven deals with his own dialogue, as does Vicki hers, although every once in a while (more often than not after a cliffhanger), Rayner brings us back to the present to have Vicki gently mock Steven “screaming like a girl” (an amusing jibe, given the themes of sexism explored here), or to have Steven ask Vicki plot-related questions.


Steven’s half of the story rattles along at a feverish pace, and is punctuated with some incredibly animated set pieces that I would have loved to have seen on the telly. The sequence where the erstwhile space pilot is pursued through the streets by a 1912 bobby (as people have complained that he has human bones hanging out of his bag!) would normally have been the highlight of any tale, particularly when it concludes with a skeleton being dressed in a suit and hidden on a bus, but Rayner tops even this with a delightful ‘Doctor does Mr Toad’ automobile sequence. The first Doctor – goggles, flat cap and all – careering about wildly in an old-school motor, acquiring chickens, branches, and all manner of debris as he goes is utterly priceless, and is made even more so thanks to Purves’ pitch-perfect William Hartnell impression.


However, it’s Vicki’s thread that contains the real meat of The Suffering. Given the delicate subject matter traversed here, I half-expected to find a preachy, feminist manifesto masked by an alien skull, but Rayner’s script is anything but. In fact, it’s one of the most objective and brutally forthright first Doctor stories that you’re likely to find anywhere. The scenes dealing with the plight of the suffragettes are handled with harrowing elegance, O’Brien and Purves’ deliberately flat, defeated narration conspiring to create haunting images in the mind of the listener that aren’t easily shaken. These are then beautifully interwoven with Rayner’s main narrative, which pushes the envelope ever further still with its gross scenes of torture and beheading, culminating in one blazingly ironic revelation. As I listened to the play, I found myself thinking that The Suffering was about as apt a title as one could imagine, but by its end, I’d decided that it was a definite understatement.


On balance, The Suffering is certainly one of the most outstanding Companion Chronicles, not because of its gimmicks but because of its heart. It is, without question, ‘The’ Vicki story, and plenty more besides. The performances are exquisite, the production is first-rate, and the story itself is one of Rayner’s finest to date. After a few years scrabbling about on Amazon, eBay and Play playing Companion Chronicle catch-up, it’s made a subscriber out of me.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010


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

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





Before the review, a little autobiographical information: I live in Haywards Heath in Sussex, a mere nine miles from Piltdown. Since my early days, I’ve had a fascination with fossils and prehistory, and I can also admire the audacity and cleverness of a well-planned hoax. It will be of no surprise then when I say that I’ve always loved the story of the Piltdown Man - the celebrated missing link between man and beast that turned out to be nothing more than a cobbled together chimaera; a human skull affixed to the jawbone of an orangutan. Of course, the forgery wasn’t discovered - or rather, wasn’t accepted - until forty years after the original discovery of the ‘fossil,’ after much scientific debate about humanity’s evolutionary history. Altogether, it’s a bit of an embarrassment.


So, the prospect of a Doctor Who story concerning the Piltdown Man is, to my mind, long overdue. In fairness, I was expecting a wholly predictable ‘revelation’ that the skull was not a fake at all, but instead belonged to the body of an alien life form. It’s obvious route to follow when tying the tale into the Doctor Who universe. In effect, that’s what we got, although it was done with far more panache, intelligence and creativity than that might imply. For one thing, we learn that the original Piltdown skull was a psychically-active alien relic (shades of The Hand of Fear), but that the one that was studied down the years was indeed a fake, cobbled together by the Doctor to preserve the path of history. Secondly, this was no Piltdown Man, but a Piltdown Woman!


© Big Finish Productions 2010. No copyright infringement is intended.This is the crucial matter, for the whole Piltdown plot is dressing for an extremely worthwhile, powerfully told treatise on feminism, misogyny and equality. Since the skull was discovered in 1912, the very year that the Suffragette movement reached its height, a link isn’t as contrived as it might seem. The very fact that the skull was taken seriously for so long has much to do with the patriarchal scientific establishment and its reluctance to admit error - it wouldn’t do for the great men of natural philosophy to admit they’d been duped and lose face. The Suffering, however, takes these politics as its starting point but then moves on to the visceral real life consequences. Events in London are shown for how they were - rallies turning to violence and appalling police brutality, although no doubt some members of the authorities acted far worse than was permissible to illustrate in the production. The story’s title is entirely appropriate, particularly during the last episode, The Sharing, as Vicki and Steven, through the psychic power of the alien, experience memories of women who were imprisoned, brutalised and force-fed as punishment for their protests. Genuinely shocking and uncomfortable to listen to, this a powerful portrayal of a critical period of history that led to women gaining rights that many now take for granted. It’s all the more affecting for having not only Vicki relate these scenes, but Steven too, driving home the point that everyone deserves rights and respect regardless of their sex.



The great strength of the production is that, throughout its attack on the established order of the time, it never loses sight of the need for equality. Jacqueline Rayner takes great pains to portray the outright hatred of men as just as abhorrent as a man’s hatred of women. Clearly illustrating the fine line between feminism and misandrony, The Suffering takes a mature and balanced approach to the subject matter. It’s made clear throughout that the villain, the disembodied alien exile, is completely in the wrong for wishing to destroy all males, despite her beliefs stemming from her own abusive treatment on her homeworld. While the alien may share some beliefs and experiences with the human Suffragettes, it is abundantly clear that her anger and her actions have taken her too far.


This isn’t to say that The Suffering is a dry, preachy piece. Far from it, the play is peppered with action and scenes of humour that break up the heavier aspects of the drama, supported by pitch perfect performances by Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves, both recreating their roles in the series with precision. Rayner is well-known as a fan of the Hartnell era, and this is clear in her writing here. She’s also not averse for dropping the occasional fan-pleasing reference. Amongst the powerful, terrible events occurring throughout this play, there’s the inescapable hint that we’ve heard a sneaky hint at the origins of a Hartnell-era alien race. Having overthrown men on her planet, creating an all-female society with a handful of men kept only for reproduction, has the Piltdown Woman revealed herself to be the creator of… the dreaded Drahvins?


Copyright © Daniel Tesier 2011


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

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



According to its blurb, this story takes place between The Time Meddler and Galaxy 4. As the events of its final scene segue directly into Galaxy 4 (the story concludes with Vicki preparing to give Steven a haircut, which we see in the opening episode of Galaxy 4), we have placed it after all the other stories that purport to take place during the same gap.


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