FOR THE 'OLD' EIGHTH
DOCTOR, THIS EPISODE
TAKES PLACE EITHER
REFERRED TO IN THE TV
EPISODE "THE END OF THE
WORLD" AND ONWARDS.
BIG FINISH CD#123
RELEASED IN JULY 2009.
at the Villa Diodati,
Lord Byron's guests
tell each other tales
to curdle the blood.
With a monster on the
loose outside, young
Mary Shelley isn't
short of inspiration...
It is the final episode of The Company of Friends that I feel will be talked about the most. Even before listening to it, I had the distinct feeling that Mary’s Story was going
to be ‘the odd one out’ as it were – since when was Mary Shelley a bona fide companion, hmm? - but even so I didn’t expect it to depart from the tone of the release as markedly as
it does. Benny’s, Fitz’s and Izzy’s episodes were each trivial, diverting little jaunts; a joyous celebration of the eighth Doctor’s life, if you will. The story of how Mary came to travel with the Doctor, on the other hand, is a dark and morose affair; the spectre of the eighth Doctor’s inevitable demise looming large throughout.
“As he drew closer, I saw that he was suffering the most terrible injuries.
His skin was charred a glistening black, and his features contorted…”
How Morris managed to pack so much plot into just thirty-one minutes is a complete mystery to me, and it’s certainly a challenge to try and summarise the same here! Mary’s Story is the complex tale of how a mortally-wounded eighth Doctor is drawn to the Villa Diodati in 1816, where the TARDIS knows that a laudanum-laced Percy Shelly will “re-animate” him by using a machine that doubtless inspires his wife to pen Frankenstein. And how does the TARDIS know that the Villa Diodati in 1816 is where the Doctor can be “re-animated”? Because it remembers as much from when it experienced these events before, when a ‘young’ eighth Doctor (pre-Storm Warning) was drawn to the Villa to answer the distress call of another (well, the same) TARDIS…
However, though the plot
is as complicated as they
come, the characters are
not overshadowed. In fact,
the temporal conundrum
proves a delightful way in
which to inaugurate the
into the fantastic world of
the Doctor, as the character has no choice but to employ her sharp wits and fortitude right
from her first encounter with the monstrous, moribund Time Lord. Julie Cox does a superb
job with the character too, single-handedly forcing the narrative forward for at least two thirds
of the episode’s running time.
“And the corpse you re-animated was me?”
either. In fact, this episode is one that I think eighth Doctor fans will be talking about for a very long time to come. Morris’ story has a gorgeous
symmetry to it; the ‘young’ Doctor is full of verve of enthusiasm, the very
embodiment of McGann’s TV Movie persona; whilst the ‘old’ Doctor
is much more irascible, not to mention burned and scarred and with a TARDIS to match. Nonetheless, the Frankenstein-esque “re-animation”
of the ‘old’ Doctor brings the events of the TV Movie just as much to mind as the ‘young’ Doctor’s vigour does, really helping to square the circle of the eighth Doctor’s long life.
“On my own this time. Something to be thankful for.
So long ago, so many companions, all gone. And now so sad.
Trix. Charley. Lucie, Alex…you. We travelled together for years, don’t you remember?”
Mary’s Story also explicitly ties together the eighth Doctor’s timeline in a way that has never been attempted before. Hearing Charley, Trix and Destrii being mentioned in the same story actually gave me goosebumps – I still can’t believe Big Finish have actually done it, particul-arly after their whole Zagreus ‘multiverse’ swerve. Filtering whole ranges of stories into par-allel universes simply to appease a few continuity blunders never sat right with me – after all, isn’t a man the sum of his memories, and a Time Lord even more so? Well now the history
of eighth Doctor is unified, and isn’t it much more fun that way?
What’s more, Morris has just as much fun with what he does not say as with what he does. Exactly how the ‘old’ Doctor and his burnt-out wreck of a TARDIS came to be in such a sorry state is only hazily elucidated upon, but the implications of a “temporal storm” and “vitreous time infection” together with the ‘old’ Doctor’s hostile disposition might imply that a certain conflict has begun…
And so The Company of Friends ends on a high note, satisfying many a pent-up appetite and even whetting a fresh one. A Doctor and Mary series? Now that I would like to hear…
If not the best, then The Company of Friends is without a doubt the most exciting of Big Finish’s four Doctor Who anthology-style releases to date, and I hope that its success is enough to persuade them to commission some equally audacious projects in the future.
Who knows, with thirteen slots to fill each year and four three-story ‘seasons’, perhaps an annual dip into Doctor Who’s many manifold ranges will become something of a summer tradition? Fingers crossed…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
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 final instalment of the audio is perhaps the one I was most intrigued to learn
about – our first glimpse of a hitherto hidden era of the eighth’s Doctor’s life. In fact, we get a glimpse of two eras of his life. After hints about the Doctor’s meeting with Mary Shelley back in Storm Warning nine years ago (blimey!) we finally get to hear it.
Mary’s Story has an appropriately spooky, gothic romance feel to it; for best effect, it should be listened to after dark. All the actor’s involved are on top form here, but it’s Julie Cox who really impresses as Mary herself, a controlled but passionate woman of great intelligence mired in an unsatisfying lifestyle. You can easily understand why the Doctor immediately asks her to join him on his travels.
“Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not the name of the Doctor.”
The star of the show is, quite rightly, Paul McGann, giving one of his best performances as the Doctor in this unique adventure. I love hearing the more anguished, sorrowful Doctor that McGann rarely gets the chance to portray. Here, we get a wonderful contrast – the hideously burned, temporally scarred Doctor, unable to regenerate and half-crazed, versus the healthy, care-free version that comes to his rescue. Even after he’s healed, the older version is a world apart from his earlier self – sarky and aggressive, as opposed to the earlier version’s more happy-go-lucky persona. He has just had a very trying experience of course, but one wonders just how far into the Doctor’s eighth life he has come from. I can’t have been the only listener who wondered, just for a moment, we were to get a regeneration. At the very least, the TARDIS regenerates – into the coral-like version of the new series perhaps?
Such intriguing hints aside, this is a bold, evocative horror story that puts our hero through the wringer, and the undoubted highlight of the release.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The Company of Friends concludes with an episode featuring a ‘companion’ who’s been mentioned in passing as far back as the eighth Doctor’s first Big Finish scene and
as recently as this year’s Beast of Orlok - the author herself, Mary Shelley. In this Jonathan Morris-penned episode, we are made guests of the Villa Diodati in 1816 Switzerland where Mary, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Claremont (Mary’s step-sister) are each writing their own ghost stories until they are interrupted by a man who
claims that his name is Doctor Frankenstein......
Unlike the first three episodes,
Mary’s Story chronicles Mary’s
first encounter with the Doctor
(rather than being a ‘missing adventure’ as it were). And it
has to be said, particularly
given that it’s her inaugural
adventure, Mary absolutely dominates this episode; Julie Cox’s portrayal is nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, Mary’s dialogue beautifully conveys Morris’ skill with words; her description of the TARDIS console room is as perfect a summation as you’ll ever get.
More than any of the previous stories though, this one really rotates around the companion, with the Doctor taking something of a back seat for chunks of the play. That said, we are treated to a meeting between two eighth Doctors – a pre-Storm Warning one, who is travelling with Samson and Gemma; and an older one, who has knowledge of companions like Destrii, Trix, Compassion, Anji, not to mention Charley and Lucie. On his way to the Time War, I reckon…
The supporting cast are impressive too. Anthony Glennon delivers a great performance as the adulterous Percy Shelley, Robert Forknall’s Lord Byron is downright superb, as is Katarina Cooke’s Claire. Ian Hallard gives a fantastic portrayal of Polidori too, especially when wanting to bring a “monster” to life!
The Verdict? Mary’s Story is a dark and wonderful tale which helps round off The Company of Friends in real style. Filled with references to Frankenstein and the Doctor’s murky future, this episode is definitely a winner for me.
And so ends The Company of Friends, a release that ranks right up there with Circular Time, 100, Forty-Five and indeed some of Big Finish’s finest one-part stories. Full of humour, horror and a truck load of references that you won’t hear anywhere else, The Company of Friends is a wonderful way to celebrate the tenth birthday of the Big Finish’s monthly range! Here’s to ten more years of Big Finish Doctor Who Productions!
Copyright © Kory Stephens 2009
Kory Stephens has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This episode makes it explicit that for the ‘young’ eighth Doctor, these events take place prior to the audio drama Storm Warning, whilst his companions Samson and Gemma are waiting for him in Vienna (if indeed ‘'whilst’ is the right word). We have placed them before Shada as in that story, the Doctor mentions Byron
and Shelley in the past tense, referring to an evening spent with them on Lake Geneva (a likely reference to the events of this episode).
Further, it seems evident (from both the tone of the piece, and the multitude of veiled references that litter it) that for the ‘old’ eighth Doctor, these events take place towards the end of his life; perhaps even during the Last Great Time War. The TARDIS even regenerates at the end of the story, potentially signifying a change
to the coral “desktop theme” seen during the ninth and tenth Doctor’s eras. We have therefore placed these events just prior to Rose.
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