THE EVENTS OF THIS
story take place
BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO BOOK
"OLD SOLDIERS" AND
THE TV STORY "THE
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 4.09
RELEASED IN APRIL
There's a secret
locked up in UNIT's
Vault. Dr Elizabeth
Shaw is the only one
left who knows what
that secret is.
Returning to UNIT for
the first time in MANY
YEARS, she slowly
unravels the past.
The vault contains
the remains of a ship
that crashed in the
Pennines in the 1970S.
For the young Liz
Shaw, the priority is
to ensure the thing's
safe. But the Doctor
is more concerned
about the alien pilot.
And the chance for
escape. Can he resist
the temptation, or
will the Doctor turn
on his friends?
Shadow of the Past
The Companion Chronicles’ remit seems to get wider by the month, with the range now boasting a sundry mix of later-Doctor companion pieces and loose-fitting acquaintance adventures. But for me, its primary hook of being able to offer new stories with the first four Doctors still holds the greatest appeal, and there’s no period that I like to see revisited more than the early UNIT era, which is exactly where Simon Guerrier takes us to with his Shadow of the Past.
Guerrier has now contributed several Companion Chronicles to the range, each of which has proven extremely popular amongst listeners, and I’m confident that Shadow of the Past will be no different. It’s certainly less abstract than his brace of Sara Kingdom stories, and
its definitely more direct than The Prisoner’s Dilemma, yet it still manages to be every bit
as memorable because it does such a glorious job of capturing the feel of the early Jon Pertwee serials, right down to the Quatermass-style plot and unusually grisly, adult tone.
The production is as polished as ever, with Lex Shrapnel and predominantly Caroline John each putting in charismatic performances. John does extremely well with the multitude of characters that she’s required to voice here. As was the case with The Blue Tooth, she – probably quite wisely - doesn’t try to impersonate her former co-stars, instead electing to try and capture the spirit of their characters, rather than the sound.
What’s more, Guerrier’s story itself is very appealing. Liz Shaw (John) narrates the events many years after they have occurred from inside the wonderfully moody location of a UNIT vault in Whitehall. This vault contains the remains of a spaceship that we learn crashed on Earth in the 1970s, not to mention a young UNIT soldier named Marshall (Shrapnel), who’s ostensibly guarding the thing, and inevitably about to get his ear bent…
The tale that Liz relays to Marshall is remarkable in a lot of ways. Guerrier’s portrayal of the straight-arrow third Doctor is alluring, as he plays upon the doubts of Liz, the Brigadier, and even to a certain extent the listener. The audience knows that the Doctor can’t really have thrown his lot in with the invaders as he appears to have done, but Liz and the Brig can’t be so sure - after all, they’ve known him all of five minutes. And even for us, it’s not much of a leap to imagine that the Doctor would use the alien ship to escape his exile - it’s not as if he hasn’t tried to do a runner before. Naturally though, as the second episode of the production reveals, we aren’t actually dealing with the Doctor but a sponge-like, shape-shifting meme who has taken his form.
The real flavour of the story though is to be found in the detail, not the broad strokes. Much like The Blue Tooth before it, Shadow of the Past offers up a fresh explanation as to why
Liz may have decided to leave her job at UNIT. Here a young soldier, Robin, is killed saving Liz’s life. As one would expect, this has a profound effect on her, which Guerrier fleshes out marvellously through her delightfully dour observations on how Robin’s colleagues deal with his passing. There’s no big hero’s funeral for him; just a coffee toast to another fallen grunt, and a few jokes about spam in cans.
That’s most certainly not to say that
Shadow of the Past is completely
without cheer, however. The script
is littered with wry one-liners worthy
of Bernice Summerfield (“we can’t
drop a H-bomb on Kent! Think what
it would do to the house prices…”),
and Guerrier even throws a very apt,
bowler-hat donning Time Lord into
the mix. Most importantly though,
the final moments of the production
are surprisingly heartening, Guerrier
concluding his story with a trademark twist of the framing device. I won’t give too much away,
but I will say that the last-minute swerve put me very much in mind of what Heroes did with
Sylar and Nathan Petrelli during that show’s final run. Here, it serves as an incredibly fitting
coda because it neither retcons nor negates the grave consequences of the story that Liz
has just narrated, but it does leave the listener with the impression that, in the end, some good has come of them.
In the end then, Shadow of the Past is another fine UNIT Companion Chronicle, deliciously dark and malodorous, as betrayed by Iain Robertson’s dramatic cover art. Whilst its trauma might not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back so far as Liz’s UNIT career goes, I think it will have been one of the larger bricks in her wall.
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’s blurb places it between Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death. Within this gap, we have placed it after to the audio book Old Soldiers, which was released earlier.
Liz Shaw refers to Mike Yates as ‘Captain Yates’ here, which is at odds with his rank as given in both The Eye of the Giant and The Scales of Injustice, but in accord with The Blue Tooth. It seems to reasonable to suppose that in the two Companion Chronicles, Liz was referring to Mike as a ‘Captain’ as that was his rank when she last encountered him (these things tend to stick, “Brigadier” Lethbridge Stewart being something
of a case in point), and she is of course narrating the tales with many years hindsight.
Also of note, this story sees John Benton promoted to Sergeant following Sergeant Marshall’s death.
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