FROM THE DOCTOR'S
POINT OF VIEW, THESE
EVENTS TAKE PLACE
SOME TIME BETWEEN
THE TV STORIES "THE
SEA DEVILS" AND "THE
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 5.03
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
Christmas 2010, and
Jo Grant finds herself
stuck in a department
store elevator with
a FIVE-LEGGED alien
Huxley is a nOVELIZOR
from Verbatim 6, and
he is here to let Jo
revisit the best time
of her life – when she
was the companion to
that eccentric Space/
Time traveller known
memories she knew
nothing about, Jo
agrees to a meeting
with Iris inside her
bus, and together
the three of them
take a trip back
in time. Back to the
1970s, to UNIT HQ,
and a meeting with
the only person who
knows the truth...
Find and Replace
From time to time, a writer will come up with an idea that seems so spellbindingly obvious that it beggars belief nobody else came up with it first, and Find and Replace is a case in point. Amongst the myriad miscellaneous personalities that bubble away inside Katy Manning are two of the Whoniverse’s most dearly cherished characters: the third Doctor’s faithful assistant, Josephine Grant; and his lascivious old flame and transtemporal advent-uress, Iris Wildthyme. Put the two characters together in a Paul Magrs-penned audio script and what have you got? Probably the most enjoyable Companion Chronicle that Big Finish have ever released or ever will, and one most weary little actress.
I had high hopes for Find and Replace long before I’d listened to it. Lee Johnson’s stunning reversible cover is a veritable love song to the Jon Pertwee era in itself, its dull green logo and muted red howl-around framing anonymised images of the Doctor and Iris, a gorgeous photograph of Jo resting between them. It’s astonishing how much difference something so small as the logo or font used on the cover makes to the listener; how it can instantly set a scene or whet an appetite. I suppose that we have Magrs to thank for this too, as his Tom Baker Hornets’ Nest series was the first classic series spin-off in nearly fifteen years to be emblazoned with anything other than the standardised TV Movie logo, no doubt prompting Big Finish to follow suit insofar as their licence would allow.
my lofty expectations, Magrs telling a tale that
flies in the face of the archetypal Companion
Chronicle set-up, yet manages to embody the
very spirit of it. This time around, when we meet
Jo in 2010, we don’t sit comfortably by the fire
as she recalls a tale from long ago. Instead,
we are swept up in an adventure in the here
and now; an adventure that sees our plucky
heroine jump a time track and take her with us
to visit a world that’s gone. It’s so much more
gripping and dynamic than the range’s standard
fare, and infinitely more affecting as it isn’t just
Jo confronted with the pain of memory; it’s us
Find and Replace is also unusual in that there
isn’t a monster or villain to fight per se. Magrs’
antagonist is none other than Huxley, the exas-
perating five-legged Novelizor from Verbatim
Six played by Alex Lowe whom wet first met in
last year’s romp Ringpullworld. For reasons
that become clear in the production’s second
episode, Huxley is trying to convince Jo that
she didn’t spend the 1970s working for UNIT
and assisting the Doctor; according to him,
she was working for MIAOW and assisting Iris!
I instantly fell in love with this idea because it took me right back to Iris’s earliest adventures; those in which she’d often claim the Doctor’s adventures as her own, and Find and Replace is pushing this lovely conceit to its far end. Much to Huxley’s consternation, however, neither Jo nor even Iris is willing to accept such a barmy notion, and so to get to the bottom of the matter Iris takes the lot of them back to the 1970s in her transdimensional red bus…
The first episode, set entirely on
Christmas Eve 2010, is satiated
with the mirthful madness that
we’ve come to expect from Iris
and the dogged determination
that Jo incessantly embodies.
What really sells the episode is
the energetic interplay between the three characters: Manning is so very convincing as both Jo and Iris, flitting between the two with such consummate ease that, had I not known better,
I would have assumed that the production was a three-hand play, rather than another illusory offering from the master of the multi-voice adventure. And for his part, Alex Lowe is superb. Not only is Huxley an ideal character to make use of in a Companion Chronicle, given his propensity to convert everything that is happening around him into flowery past-tense prose, but he’s a charismatic fellow too, all slippery and sly. He may not be all that threatening, but he’s bloody entertaining.
It is the story’s second episode, however, that really packs the punch. Listening to the first episode’s tête à tête à tête, I was curious as to how Magrs would incorporate characters such as the Doctor and Sergeant Benton without making it feel like a different production altogether. Well, with the notable exception of the Doctor, whom Manning portrays sincerely, the dialogue is limited almost entirely to Jo, Iris and Huxley. Benton is gifted with a couple of wistful lines that are delivered with suitable softness by Manning, but other than that Magrs
is reliant on his three central characters to drive his plot forwards. Impressively, Huxley isn’t overburdened with exposition; if anything, the Novelizor’s contributions seem uncharacter-istically laconic as Manning’s dominating double-performance pushes into first gear.
The production’s conclusion is a thing of real beauty. Magrs’ script – hell, his very premise – captures both the Doctor’s overriding sense of altruism and his complete ignorance when it comes to matters of the heart. The scene in the UNIT lab that sees Jo encounter the Doctor is wrought with as much righteous anger as it is sentiment, affording Jo a chance to say the goodbye that the Doctor so neatly avoided in The Green Death, but not in the way that most people would expect. The way that Magrs couches it, the goodbye feels unwaveringly real and incredibly moving. Never mind Manning, I was fighting back the tears listening to it. It’s not too overwrought though - Magrs’ dialogue is carefully offset by the comedy stemming from an irate Iris trying to defend her beloved red bus from the unwanted attention of UNIT soldiers, and a couple of last-minute twists that are sure to earn Magrs at least a brace of Big Finish commissions in 2011.
It’s hard to criticise Find and Replace at all, really; it’s one of those rare productions where everything slots together so very perfectly. It’s a shame that in order to tell the story that he wanted to Magrs had to eschew the continuity of one of his own Doctor Who novels, but it’s
a small price to pay for a treat such as this one. Besides, a reference to The Devil Goblins from Neptune should appease the book lovers amongst us, though I strongly suspect that Magrs included that particular reference more because it sounds nice and lyrical than as an attempt to make amends for his cheerfully overwriting Verdigris.
In sum, then, Find and Replace is a sharp, affecting and unconscionably nostalgic bus ride down memory lane. It’s thoroughly entertaining from end to end, and awash with more “ecky thumps”, “flibbertigibbets” and even “Dimension Xs” (go Ninja Turtles!) then you can shake
a stick at. The performances are bravura, the production is sublime, and the script is a real work of art. If you’re not sold by now, then I give up on you. Sometimes you just have to stand up and applaud.
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.
The CD’s blurb suggests that from the Doctor’s point of view, this story takes place between the television serials Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death. However, the dialogue makes it explicit that the Doctor
is still exiled on Earth, indicating that (at the latest) these events take place prior to the official lifting of his exile in The Three Doctors.
The dialogue also suggests that the events of The Claws of Axos and Day of the Daleks have both happened by this point in the Doctor’s life, and as it also refers to the Doctor constructing a device to track the Master, who is apparently still at large on Earth, we feel that these events are best placed at some point between the television stories The Sea Devils and The Time Monster. Within this gap, we have placed them between The Sea Devils and The Mutants, as no doubt at that point the Master’s escape from prison was weighing heavy on the Doctor’s mind.
There is no doubt a perfectly reasonable, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey explanation as to why Jo isn't able to remember meeting Iris in Verdigris and vice-versa. Perhaps Huxley’s manipulation of Jo’s memories and the Doctor's hypnotising Iris was at least a partial success...
Thanks to Jason Robbins and Chris McKeon
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