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Doctor Who: The Company of Friends by Lance Parkin, Stephen Cole, Alan Barnes and Jonathon Morris

01/10/2009. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Doctor Who: The Company of Friends in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Company of Friends in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 120 minutes 2 CDs. Price: download: 12.99; CD: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-411-5)cast: Paul McGannBenny's Story: Lisa Bowerman, Richard Earl and Su DouglasFitz's Story: Matt di Angelo, Fenella Woolgar, Paul Thornley and Su DouglasIzzy's Story: Jemima Rooper, Steve Hansell, Teddy Kempner, Anthony Glennon, Robert Forknall, Katrina Cooke, Robert Forknall and Ian HallardMary's Story: Julie Cox, Anthony Glennon, Robert Forknall, Ian Hallard and Katrina Cooke.

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Doctor Number Eight takes time out from his regular outings with Lucie Miller to make an appearance in the Monthly Subscription Series. He is travelling with four different companions and has four unique adventures.

Benny's Story: Benny Summerfield travelled with Doctor Number 7, mostly in a series of books produced by Virgin before it lost its license to produce them. Doctor Bernice Summerfield then became a fully independent character who had her own adventures and only occasionally mentioned the other traveller, for reasons of copyright.

Now all is well. Benny and the Doctor are both under the auspices of Big Finish. They are free to meet up when the big boss decrees it so.

While Benny is working as an archaeological consultant on location in a coalmine with a client she happens across a TARDIS key. Her client summons a TARDIS and who should step out but the Doctor. It's not her Doctor but his replacement and he recognises Benny from their previous adventures. Benny realise they need a swift exit and before you know they are thrust back into a primeval jungle. The Doctor surmises that the TARDIS is trying to protect itself from attack and has travelled back in time. It seems that Benny's client believes the Time Lords are exploiting all the TARDISes and she is determined to free this one's soul, an action which could have dire consequences for them all.

As is usual with Benny, the dialogue is witty and the story moves along quickly and some running is involved. Scenes are quickly drawn in dialogue, though there is the occasional exposition. Mostly though we are able to get on with it and it wraps itself up well, with just enough for one episode.

Fitz's Story: Accept no substitutes. A company has been set up to repel alien invaders but the Doctor suspects they are trying to create fear amongst the population. The company has even created a fake Doctor to use in their adverts.

When the Doctor is taken prisoner, it is up to Fitz to save the day by revealing to all that the Doctor is not all he seems to be and it is Fitz who is the real hero. That's no problem unless you are worried that there really is an imminent alien invasion.

I was not familiar with this companion but he quickly establishes his persona and the adventure continues apace. This is more of a comedy episode and there never feels like much of a threat.

Izzy's Story: A companion of the Doctor previously only seen in the 'Doctor Who' comic-strip, Izzy gains her voice for the first time in this single episode.

Izzy is a confirmed geek who lives in the village of Stockbridge when not travelling with the Doctor. She's a big comicbook fan and persuades the Doctor to go back to the Stockbridge of her childhood to obtain the missing issue of her favourite 'Aggrotron'. Subsequent events lead them to the offices of Aggrotron to determine just why she has never been able to obtain the fateful issue 56.

Izzy sounds like a teenage version of Lucie Miller and it's hard to imagine how this Doctor would travel with an annoying immature teenager. I found her rather irritating. This episode owes a nod to Douglas Adams and is definitely a knowing wink at the comicbook fan.

Mary's Story: Mary Shelley is in a house at Lake Geneva with her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Doctor Polidori and Claire Clairmont, Mary's step-sister who has the hots for Byron.

It is Byron, bored with his paramour, who suggests they all write a story. Mary has no inspiration at all until a seriously wounded traveller arrives on their doorstep and declares he is Doctor...Frankenstein. Despite her ministrations, the traveller dies and Percy thinks it would be a fine scheme to test the theories of Monsieur Gavlani, especially as a massive storm is raging round the lake. Soon there is a monster on the loose and Mary really needs a Doctor.

Each story has its merits and the final one with Mary is inspired. All of them benefit from the characters having a previous life although I wasn't so familiar with Fitz and Izzy. Overall, it's a good time-out from the on-going story arc for the Eighth Doctor. I assume he has been inserted in the monthly series to get some cross-over fans as he has had his own free-standing series for some time. Out of all the plays, the best were with Mary and Benny because the stories were more interesting. The Mary Shelley plot was superior because it cleverly utilised well known aspects of her life and tied them up to give an intelligent Doctor Who explanation. In the first play, Bernie Summerfield was so familiar from her own stories that she carried a good part of the plot and despite its flimsy nature it seemed to create something that could be picked up in a later story. The two in the middle were amusing but felt a little incidental.

All in all, a bit of a change for the Doctor and a bit of fun for the listener makes half a good package.

Sue Davies

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