THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
THE DARKNESS" AND
"THE TIME OF THE
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 4.12
RELEASED IN JUNE 2010.
arrives in a toyshop,
but she doesn’t know
where she is – or who
she is. The mysterious
owner wants to play
games. He’s already
defeated the Doctor,
whose essence is NOW
hidden inside a vent-
The Doctor is gone.
The TARDIS is lost.
But the game is only
The latest Companion Chronicle is, at a first glance, the antithesis of the first. The range was conceived as a medium through which Big Finish could tell stories featuring the first four Doctors, and so the first release was essentially just a first Doctor talking book, narrated by one of his companions and punctuated with occasional injections from a second voice. Solitaire, conversely, is a fully-fledged eighth Doctor audio drama. The only things that immediately seem to set it apart from releases in the main range are its condensed running time and the absence of the actor playing the Doctor.
The production is presented as two traditional episodes, in which david bailie reprises his role as the Celestial Toymaker and India Fisher returns to voice the ever-popular Charlotte Pollard. The Doctor does feature, though in a deliciously ironic masterstroke, as the story begins “his essence” has already been hidden inside a ventriloquist’s doll, through which
he speaks using Charley’s voice. Accordingly his role in the narrative is peripheral, serving only as a distressing reminder of what will happen to Charley, should she lose the game in which she’s found herself. And with the Doctor impotent, Charley quite naturally has to take centre stage, assuming his mantle and being forced to outwit the Toymaker using her wits alone. It is here that Solitaire earns its Companion Chronicle stripes - it doesn’t matter whether it’s an audio book, an audio drama, or a sausage on a stick; if it is fundamentally about a companion, then it’s a Companion Chronicle.
Above: “Too creepy for words...” - Alex Mallison’s eighth Doctor doll
The story itself is straightforward, but inspired. Penned by Gallifrey star John Dorney, who has performed alongside India Fisher in a couple of her Doctor Who audio adventures, this script absolutely nails Charley’s character as she was during her second run of stories. Even when rendered amnesiac, that unrelenting Edward Adventuress spirit really shines through
in spates. And her celebrated photographer co-star is even better served by Dorney as the whole narrative is constructed around one of the Toymaker’s games, evoking the playful feel of the original Celestial Toymaker serial, only this time with a decidedly more sinister edge.
Fuelled by some sublime scripted banter, Fisher and bailie are relentlessly engrossing to listen to. Indeed, so spellbinding are their performances that I don’t think I’d have noticed I was listening to a Scherzo-style two-hander, had I found myself listening to this production with no prior knowledge of it. Their duologue is admittedly buoyed by some sterling sound design, however, as Toby Hrycek-Robinson captures the eerie claustrophobia of the ever-diminishing Celestial Toyroom sublimely through his creeping score and foley work.
Above: Alex Mallison’s alternative CD cover
On a final note, I must applaud
what might well be the greatest
piece of Big Finish cover art to
date. There is something that’s
inherently frightening about dolls,
and a ventriloquist’s even more
so, but Alex Mallinson’s home-
made eighth Doctor doll prop is
too creepy for words. Oddly, it’s
even more unsettling when seen in the studio with the cast and crew than it is within the
fiction on the CD’s front cover!
Altogether then, Solitaire is a resounding success, providing as it does a refreshingly arc-free, stand-alone story for our soon-to-be spin-off heroine. One thing I still don’t understand though is why everyone, myself included, has started to write david bailie’s name entirely in lower case. Another Toymaker word game, or something even more sinister…?
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.
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