THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "HEART OF
TARDIS" AND THE TV
STORY "THE ANDROIDS
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 5.11
RELEASED IN MAY 2011.
The search for the
fourth segment of the
Key to Time brings the
Doctor and Romana
back to Earth in the
In a NORFOLK village,
Lady Millicent Ferril
has established an
observatory, AND IS
tracking a meteorite
from the Cronquist
System that almost
killed her SEVERAL
years before – and
perhaps left her not
As Ferril’s power
grows, so does her
influence. She can
control metal. And
SO anything metal –
from a suit of SHINY
armour to a bicycle –
is now lethal…
Back in 2007, Peter Anghelides’ Ferril’s Folly was one of the first few Companion Chronicles to be commissioned by incoming producer David Richardson. It was worked into the Big Finish recording schedules, and its impending release was even reported by Doctor Who Magazine before it vanished into the ether without any explanation as to why. Rumours abounded – was the script not up to measure? Had Anghelides and Richardson fallen out over the merits (or otherwise) of Richardson’s beloved Sound of Music? Had Anghelides tried to blow up Gallifrey again?
As is often the case with such things, fact is much more mundane than rumour. Anghelides was reportedly too busy with other projects, such as his decisive Key 2 Time script for the flagship range, to be able to do his Companion Chronicle idea justice, and so Nigel Fairs stepped into the beach with his experimental Mary Tamm one-hander, The Stealers from Saiph. Ferril’s Folly was never forgotten about, however; as soon Anghelides was free, he turned his attentions back towards it – and I for one am glad that he did.
Anghelides’ script is both a love song for Season 16 and a rally against its absurd tidiness; against the notion that the Doctor and Romana’s illustrious quest for the six segments of the Key to Time simply involved them arriving in six different locations and finding six different segments. It’s not an original thought, as a number of noted authors have niftily shoe-horned fruitless novels in between the six fruit-bearing Key to Time stories, but I would argue that none of those authors were able to resurrect the sights and sounds of that popular season with as much success as Anghelides does here.
Having Mary Tamm on hand to deliver half of the tale helps, of course, but the story is also incredibly redolent of the era. Its contemporary Earth setting and strong, female antagonist evoke memories of The Stones of Blood, while the suits of armour conjure images of The Androids of Tara. More importantly though, Anghelides nails that rock-strewn fourth Doctor / Romana #I relationship, highlighting and even exaggerating the Tom Baker Doctor’s more cartoonish traits, and then juxtaposing him with Romana at her supercilious, bookworm best.
In some ways though, Ferril’s
Folly is actually more gripping
than many of the serials that
comprised the 1978 season.
It’s faster, for one thing, and
greyer for another. Take his
baddie, for instance: the Lady
Millicent Ferril. She’s as much
a casualty as anybody. Once
a prominent astronaut, the erstwhile Millicent Drake lost both her hands, not to mention her
dazzling career, in a meteorite collision. Some time later she married into the landed gentry,
inherited her husband’s estate upon his death, and then built herself an observatory to track
the meteorite that ruined her. But “Metal Milly” isn’t pursuing some twisted, “Ahab” vendetta – she is being controlled by the Cronquist, who are using her as their conduit to invade Earth.
The resulting adventure is an agreeable blend of glorious gothic horror and drama. Milly’s ability to control anything made of metal gives rise to some delectably capricious, only-in-Who scenes - such as a skirmish between some possessed suits of armour and a peeved historical re-enactment society - together with some truly terrifying ones too, such as the one found right at the end of the first instalment. Despite its reputation for milking genre cliché, I can’t actually think of another classic Doctor Who episode that concludes with the line “chop off her head”, but if there is one out there that I’ve forgotten, then I’d lay odds that it isn’t as horrifying as this one. The fact that I’ve forgotten is testament to that in of itself.
The structure of the production is also effective. Much like The Stealers from Saiph, Ferril’s Folly doesn’t have a framing device – it simply opens with Tamm’s Romana narrating events in the past tense. Once Lady Ferril enters the narrative, Cradle of the Snake star Madeleine Potter then joins the fray, taking over the narration recurrently thereafter. As well as allowing Potter to contribute a suitably sinister voice for Milly, these frequent changes in storyteller do wonders for the story’s pace; barely a brace of a scenes go by without some sort of retuning. The trade-off, of course, is that the listener is left pondering how and why Romana and Milly could possibly be sat down together narrating this story after the event – it’s more an audio book in the traditional sense than a Companion Chronicle per se.
Altogether Ferril’s Folly is an attractive adventure that was worth the long wait. Anghelides’ script does justice to both Mary Tamm and Season 16, taking us right back into the heart of the search for the Key to Time, but without falling foul of the same expedient pitfalls that the televised stories did.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
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 cover notes place this story between The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara. Within this gap, we have placed it after both the novels The Shadow of Weng-Chiang and Heart of TARDIS, which were released earlier.
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