THE EVENTS OF THIS
STORY TAKE PLACE
TAKE PLACE BETWEEN
THE NOVEL "THE WAGES
OF SIN" AND THE TV
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES SPECIALS' CD BOX SET (ISBN 1-84435-551-8) RELEASED IN AUGUST 2011.
When Jo finds herself
on a distant planet in
the far future, she's
greeted by an
Calder, who is
marooned on the
deserted world. With
no memory of how she
reminds her that
they've met before -
and she starts to
recall a tale of
ghosts and murders
and a terrible Time
The Mists of Time
As an exclusive downloadable freebie, The Mists of Time is a first for both Big Finish Productions and Doctor Who Magazine. All readers of DWM have to do to access this full-length Companion Chronicle is to input the code found in their August 2009 issue and hey presto – they can download three free episodes in mp3 format. And as DWM freebies go, The Mists of Time is certainly a munificent offering. Clocking in at just over eighty minutes (once you’ve excised the superfluous trailers and adverts, that is), it outstretches even last year’s hour-long Cuddlesome.
Jonathan Morris’ story is a fairly typical Companion Chronicle, for the most part. Katy Manning’s Jo Grant is the companion narrating the tale and, as is the custom for the range, we also have a guest star (Andrew Whipp) to lend the proceedings a little bit of aural diversity and to cloak what is essentially a talking book as audio drama.
Now although at the time of writing I’ve only listened to the first two seasons of The Companion Chronicles, already I’ve discovered that these stories live and die by the quality of the narration, and thankfully Manning (now as familiar to many Big Finish listeners as Iris Wildthyme as she is as Jo Grant) has the necessary range to make her reading of the story’s various characters engaging enough to hold the listener’s interest throughout. Even her throaty Jon Pertwee impression is memorable, though he does sound like he’s had a dose of helium.
At times, however, Morris seems to forget who he’s writing for, as Jo’s narration sounds suspiciously like the writer’s own luscious prose – I certainly don’t recall Jo ever using adjectives like ‘telescopic’ before (even in the context of trying to describe the legs of a gigantic armour-plated beetle), or being gifted enough with words to be able to conjure up a vivid picture of a ruinous alien vista. Were this Liz Shaw or Zoe Herriot narrating the tale, then perhaps I could forgive the writer’s indulgence… but dizzy Jo?
Nonetheless, this release is really set apart from those that I’ve heard to date as Whipp’s character, Calder, is allowed to take over the narration from Jo in certain places; filling in the blanks for her, as it were. This allows Morris to split the narrative in the traditional Doctor Who sense, with Jo’s thread of the plot taking one route and the Doctor’s and Calder’s another, lending the whole story a much more dynamic and less manufactured feel than most Companion Chronicles.
For me though, the start of the story borders on the prosaic – it’s almost as if Big Finish wanted to clearly show off the nuts and bolts of their Companion Chronicles format (“Tell it as though you were telling me a story, and I was one of the characters...”) at the expense of the drama. As a result, when compared to some of the inspired framing devices used in other Companion Chronicles, The Mists of Time initially comes across as being unimaginative. This feeling is only exacerbated by a workmanlike first episode, which begins with the Doctor and Jo ghost hunting (again!) on the planet Zyton 8 and ends with Jo hanging from a cliff face (“meta-textual”, as Rob Shearman might say).
As the story progresses, however, The Mists of Time improves massively, Morris even taking the time to expand upon the ancient Time Lords’ already-rich mythology. Here we learn that the ‘former’ inhabitants of Zyton 8, a race called the Memosians, were erased from the timeline by the Time Lords in the last of their ancient Time Wars, and it was the Time Lords’ collective guilt over this atrocity that set them on their path of non-interference. Furthermore, the final twist in the tale is very satisfying indeed – not entirely unexpected, I have to say, but very satisfying nonetheless - and Manning plays it so very well. A truly sobering end.
And so on balance, if The Mists of Time was intended to whet my appetite for or rekindle my interest in The Companion Chronicles range, then it succeeded commendably. Despite the contrivances and limitations of the format, these stories have one overriding advantage that is best summarised by Big Finish’s own marketing maxim: Classic Doctors, brand new adventures. The death of BBC Books’ past Doctor Adventures, coupled with the recent loss of Big Finish’s own Short Trips range, means that fans are now hungrier than ever for stories featuring the non-Big Finish Doctors - well the first three anyway, now that BBC Audio have snaffled the fourth! - and, though twelve releases per year is over-egging the pudding in my view (or, at least, my wallet’s view), The Companion Chronicles are the only current means of sating this hunger.
As an advertisement for Big Finish’s download service, however, The Mists of Time leaves a lot to be desired. When you purchase a download through the Big Finish website, you are instantly able to download a zip file containing the story purchased. This zip file contains the story and any extras in mp3 format, helpfully divided up into tracks (exactly as they would appear on the CD release, usually) and complete with tags and even an embedded image of the corresponding CD’s cover illustration. The Mists of Time, however, is just one long mp3 file completely devoid of any such accoutrements. If I hadn’t used the Big Finish download service before, then I’d have assumed that The Mists of Time download was par for the course, which of course it most certainly is not.
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 story’s initial release (as a free download available through Doctor Who Magazine) was not accompanied by any guidance pertaining to placement. However, the dialogue suggests a placement soon after The Doll of Death, though this doesn’t sit right given that the Doctor was still exiled on Earth at that point in his life and this adventure sees him succesfully pilot the TARDIS to an alien world without any (apparent) influence from the Time Lords. We have therefore placed this story between the novel The Wages of Sin and the television story Carnival of Monsters – as soon as we reasonably could after the Doctor’s exile was lifted.
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