01/04/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: Big Finish. 2 CDs 100 minutes. Price: CD/Download: £12.99 (UK. ISBN: 978-1-84435-463-4. Cast: Peter Purves and Maureen O'Brien.
check out web site www.BigFinish.com
Steven and Vicki are squabbling again. They are trying to set down the record of their recent adventure on Earth. For some reason, they need to make sure it is there for posterity. Each decides to tell their own time-line of the story, agreeing to take it in turns. After some hesitation, it begins.
It's 1912 when the companions and their Doctor arrive. Edwardian England is on the cusp of change. It just doesn't know it. Soon the Great War will wipe away the certainties of the upper classes comfortable lives. There is already change in the air. The discovery of the 'missing link' at Piltdown seems to reinforce the writings of Darwin and its science not religion that will rule the 20th Century. Women are raising their skirt lengths and their voices. They are even raising their arms in protest and a shower of glass in London streets marks the suffragettes demand for the vote. Into this come Vicki and Steven, both from the future, who cannot comprehend a world without equality for women.
There are some nice touches to this 'Companion Chronicle' and Steven's remark that they appear to have landed in a gravel pit and therefore it must be Earth will make all long-term fans to chuckle. In fact, they are on the site of the Piltdown dig and as soon as Vicki touches the skull fragment she collapses into Steven's arms. The Doctor and Steven have to find someone to look after Vicki as they try to get to the bottom of her mysterious infection.
In places, the audio feels a little overstretched to fit into the require episodes but overall it presents a story that should be more familiar than it is. The Suffragettes receive scant attention even though they were a significant moment in history. Jacqueline Rayner has twisted a tale around this and the hoax of the Piltdown man to create an amazingly inventive plot. It sees the three companions move from quarry to London and back again as they deal with the extra-terrestrial threat that manifests in a novel way. Steven also gets the chance to drive in a motor-car and he's not impressed, whilst Vicki finds out how much this world differs from her own enlightened future. Some of the descriptions about what happened to the suffragettes when force-fed in prison are truly horrific. The method by which this is brought into people's minds is clever and listening to it is an emotional experience. I like the way Science Fiction is used here to highlight a historical social ill.
When I was little, Peter Purves used to be the presenter of 'Blue Peter'. I was too young for his stint on 'Doctor Who' but he introduced me to Science Fiction when he read the story of 'Bleep And Booster'. I'd like to thank him for that but consequently I found it initially difficult to accept him as a companion. He wore me down, though, especially with his interpretation of William Hartnell's Doctor. Eventually I was able to accept him as Steven, 'the handsome space pilot'. Maureen O'Brien is easier to cope with and falls right back into her role as the teenager Vicki. She has previous performed in 'Frostfire', the first Companion Chronicles as an older and sadder Vicki relating a story in ancient Troy where she had chosen to stay with Troilus at the end of the TV episodes 'The Myth Makers'. This younger version is full of life and the joy of the great adventures she is having, an embodiment of the freedom of women in direct opposition to the straitened lives of women in Edwardian England.
Having this as a two-hander, I found it almost felt like a full-on audio play. With the sound effects and music, it has the richness of the full audio without the extra actors. It's worth listening to again, as ever with Big Finish, and I enjoyed the two characters together, it even felt as if the Doctor was there, too.
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