BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES SPECIALS' CD BOX SET (ISBN 1-84435-551-8) RELEASED IN AUGUST 2011.
The present day. Polly Wright tracks down BRIGADIER Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart via the Internet. As they chat online, they realise that they have a shared experience - and one that began on a world far away...
The Three Companions
APRIL 2009 - MARCH 2010
(12 10-MINUTE EPISODES)
1. POLLY'S STORY 2. IN MEMORIAM
3. THE GATHERNAUT 4. CREMATION POINT
5. THE BRIGADIER'S STORY 6. COFFIN-LOADERS
7. THE HUNTING GROUND
8. THE BATTLE AT WORLD'S END JUNCTION
9. MANY MEETINGS 10. BREWSTER'S STORY
11. THE HUNTER 12. THE SACRIFICE
I love the idea of The Three Companions. For obvious reasons, Big Finish generally have to reserve such “bonus stories” for their subscribers, however The Three Companions comes as a nice little reward for those who purchase every monthly release, but can’t always afford the hefty up-front disbursement that a subscription requires. Of course, those of a more sceptical disposition might take the view that The Three Companions is nothing but an overblown advertisement for Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range, but if it is, then it’s a very successful one.
Perhaps inspired by the structure of The Trial of a Time Lord, Marc Platt’s overarching narrative is essentially comprised of three four-parters, each episode lasting a little over ten minutes in length. The first two stories see Polly Wright and Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart each recount an adventure featuring their respective Doctors, before meeting up with Thomas Brewster in the final four instalments to tackle the villain of both their tales, GL, who is now up to no good on a decidedly soggy present-day Earth.
The first episode, simply entitled “Polly’s Story”, does a marvellous job of setting up the pieces. After reading Jo Jones’ blog about Mrs Killebrew’s eerie Toy Hospital (The Doll of Death), Polly decides to e-mail the Brigadier on the off-chance that the Doctor of Jo’s story is the same Doctor that she travelled with. Polly and the Brigadier fire off a series of e-mails to one another on the subject, which promptly bleed into what I assume is an online chat on something like MSN Messenger. A chat that a certain “personage” is keeping a close eye on…
The following three episodes adhere to much the same format, with Polly telling her story and the Brigadier occasionally chiming in with a witty aside or “Good grief!” Russell Floyd gives voice to the villain of the piece throughout, as a well as few other bit-part characters, giving this opening story a fairly authentic Companion Chronicle feel. However, the tale that Polly narrates is sadly rather tedious. With his customary world-building skill, Platt does a tremendous job of introducing GL, the Coffin-Loaders, and indeed all of the other rudiments that would take on greater importance later in the story, but at no point did his narrative really grab me. Instead, I found myself listening out for the Brigadier’s sporadic observations, or Brewster’s enlivening interjections.
The Brigadier’s four-part story is a remarkable improvement, however, and for me was the highlight of the whole adventure. Platt writes for the team of the third Doctor and his military paymaster so very well that every line is a positive delight. The script is saturated with lovely little touches such as the Brigadier remonstrating with the Doctor over his expenses claims (how very current), and Doris Lethbridge-Stewart – in the present – shifting from a position of mild disinterest at the start of the story to be being totally rapt in her husband’s tale by its end.
What’s more, the Brigadier’s thread has a much more compelling plot than Polly’s did. The setting is much more stirring for one thing, juxtaposing images of the Statue of Liberty stood in the middle of London with a train rocketing towards the very edge of the world. It’s certainly much more visceral than the preceding tale, not to mention more vibrant as here Nicholas Courtney’s sturdy narration is complemented by the performances of both Russell Floyd and Anneke Wills, who plays a number of Polly facsimiles here. John Pickard has an important part to play too as, in the present, Polly and the Brigadier each receive an e-mail from Thomas Brewster, who claims to be in possession of the Doctor’s TARDIS.
The ninth episode of the serial, “Many Meetings”, kicks off Brewster’s climactic thread of the story - as its Lord of the Rings homage of a handle suggests - by bringing the three eponymous companions together in the flesh. As a result this episode veers heavily towards full-blown audio drama, setting it apart from the vast majority of Companion Chronicles, though Brewster does occasionally burst into narration of inharmoniously varied tenses.
The final three episodes bring matters to an action-packed and thoroughly satisfying close. Platt’s narrative is bold and flagrantly topical - in a world recently ravaged by some of nature’s most unforgiving tirades, what better foundation to build his story upon than an ecological disaster? And the execution is superb too - I found the idea of an alien hunter lurking beneath the flooded streets of London especially unsettling. This intriguing premise also allows Platt to bring back the character of Professor Clifford Jones, the Welsh eco-warrior that Jo Grant left the series to wed at the end of The Green Death. This leads to some particularly amusing scenes where the cast have to try and imitate the Professor’s broad Welsh tones.
Above: The cast and crew of The Three Companions
For me, however, the real joy of the final four episodes is Thomas Brewster, a companion whose trilogy of adventures alongside the fifth Doctor in 2008 was all too brief. As much as I love Polly and the Brigadier, this mischievous rapscallion is the beating heart of these final instalments - his cod-Dickensian dialect, delectably penned by Platt and voiced by Pickard, would have been enough to keep me thoroughly entertained in of itself.
Altogether then, The Three Companions is a treat. Anneke Wills, Nicholas Courtney and particularly John Pickard have magnificent chemistry together and, though it’s a little pedestrian for my tastes in the earlygoing, Marc Platt’s story ultimately blossoms into something very stimulating indeed. One note of caution that I must sound though is that this serial isn’t a fair representation of the Companion Chronicles range – it has twice the running time and double the cast of most productions. This affords it a lot more oomph, and even something of a ‘wow’ factor that most Companion Chronicles lack, but – and it’s a big ‘but’ – it’s a lot more impersonal and far less intimate. To compare it to a ‘regular’ Companion Chronicle story would be akin to comparing The Five Doctors to a ‘regular’ television story which, I suppose, is kind of the point.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Individual Story Placements
The adventure that Polly recounts in the first four episodes of this serial takes place between the Big Finish audio book Resistance and the television story The Faceless Ones. As it was released between Resistance and The Forbidden Time, we have placed it in between the two.
The adventure that the Brigadier recounts in the middle four episodes of this serial takes place shortly after the television story The Green Death.
The adventure set in 2009 featuring all three companions crosses the Doctor’s personal timeline during the Big Finish audio drama The Boy That Time Forgot, whilst Thomas Brewster has possession of the TARDIS.
The Three Companions wreaks havoc with established continuity. “Present” events are unequivocally set in the year 2009, yet here the Brigadier claims not to have seen the Doctor for twenty years contradicting, well, everything really, including some earlier Big Finish productions. The only plausible explanation for this is that the Brigadier has forgotten about his many (and often out-of-synch) meetings with the Doctor’s various incarnations in the years since Battlefield. This is at least feasible given that these events take place just a year before his ‘regeneration’ in Happy Endings, at a time when the character is at the peak of his infirmity. However, this explanation is admittedly at odds with how the Brig is portrayed here – indeed, the Brigadier of The Three Companions is remarkably sharp and sprightly for his advanced years, despite walking with the aid of a cane in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Enemy of the Bane, which is set around the same time. Presumably the Brigadier forgets all about his ailments when duty calls, a bit like Yoda in the Star Wars prequels.
Just as troublesome is Jo. Paul Leonard’s novel Genocide, set in what many assumed was the late 1990s, presented us with a Jo long-since divorced and raising a son. Here she is still married to Professor Clifford Jones, as she would be when we’d meet her in the later audio book Find and Replace and The Sarah Jane Adventures television story The Death of the Doctor. One could surmise that the events of Genocide have yet to happen for Jo, in which case the Doctor would have to keep schtum about them in The Sarah Jane Adventures, but, thanks to Faction Paradox, the eighth Doctor’s biodata is riddled with inconsistencies that could no doubt account for an anomalous adventure or two in print.
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