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Doctor Who Companion Chronicles: The First Wave by Simon Guerrier

01/02/2012. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Doctor Who Companion Chronicles: The First Wave in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who Companion Chronicles: The First Wave in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 1 CD 60 minute story with extras. Price: CD: GBP 8.99 (UK), Download: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-584-6). cast: Peter Purves and Tom Allen.

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It’s ‘The First Wave’ and the Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) and Oliver (Tom Allen) find out there’s a time for life and there’s a time to die. That’s what Steven’s got stuck in his head anyway. Must have been listening to too many Seekers’ songs. He’s obsessed with death and curiously enough death seems to be stalking the team as they follow their destiny to a planetoid called Grace Alone.

If Steven’s obsessed with death, then the Doctor seems to be spiralling towards destruction as he obstinately insists on taking them to a place where history indicates they get into big trouble. But he insists he can’t change history and, in this case, they must actively help history to take place. Their actions are ‘like a wave rippling out’. No wonder Steven is in such a dark place.

There’s Oliver to consider, too. This refugee from 1960s morality is having a great time. He’s still feeling the love of adventure with yet more new planets and galaxies to experience. He’s almost the polar opposite to the dour Steven who is weighed down with survivor’s guilt.

As the Doctor, Steven and Oliver arrive on Grace Alone, they are aware that bad news might be inevitable but they are not prepared to find a pile of bodies and an alien invasion. This is the first meeting with the Vardans who made their TV debut in 1978 with the Fourth Doctor, when they tried to invade Gallifrey. ‘A race composed of pure energy’, the Vardans are able to move in an instant along Earth’s radio-waves, Grace Alone is their first step to conquering the galaxy.

‘The First Wave’ gets a now trendy two time-line treatment (previously used to excellent effect in ‘The Rocket Men’ by John Dorney) .This time, Simon Guerrier continues to develop the character of Oliver, following directly on from ‘The Cold Equations’, who joined in Guerrier’s ‘The Perpetual Bond’. However, much of the narration is by Steven and occasionally he comes across as Marvin the Paranoid Android. He really is depressed.

Despite the gloomy prognosis, there is a story to be had here as it constantly criss-crosses the time-lines building up suspense and character along the way.

We are treated to a virtual William Hartnell because of the uncanny likeness projected by Peter Purves. I’d be happy for him to do a whole show as the original Doctor although I never really liked the rather aggressive First Doctor.

‘The First Wave’ is based on less action and more time to reflect and develop the characters. There are important plot points but upon which this development hangs but it’s the quality of the language and power of the description that brings us to this cold and lonely place. We are witnesses with a real sense of immediacy. What I find impressive is the amount of information that is conveyed which becomes important later in the story. It’s consummate story-telling with a bit of science O’Level thrown in. There is more time for Steven to reflect on his life with the Doctor and what became of other companions.

You don’t need to listen to all three ‘Companion Chronicles’ with Steven and Oliver and but I recommend them as a group for the completion of this story arc. There is a great internal dynamic in these stories and though we know the ultimate fate of the Doctor and Steven, the drive to these stories makes you want to listen again. The pacing and scope of the episodes seems to emulate the original style of the First Doctor but there is a depth and intensity which can only be created, by necessity, in the audio version. A lot of this is based on repetition of themes and the real and tangible desire of Steven for it all to stop. It is Oliver who saves the day. His fresh eyes and desire for experience and, for it not to end, powers through the play giving us hope in the darkest times.

Bringing back Jean Marsh as a house (‘Companion Chronicle: Home Truths’) on paper might have looked a difficult proposition but this was where the ‘Companion Chronicle’ format blossomed and proved so successful. ‘The Chronicles’ play with the format all the time with some impressive results. This new trilogy is an effective reinterpretation of the First Doctor which broadens and spreads appeal and the mythology of the Doctor. There is no shortage of material about the Time Lord. His travels are well documented. It all works as long as the basics are kept as they were and appeared to be in the original TV version. It is the new insights into the motivations and characters of the companions that make this worthwhile.

The interviews at the end are also insightful with the interaction between Peter Purves, Tom Allen and Simon Guerrier are a delight. They even mention reviewers without swearing about them. Simon Guerrier also reveals he is revising for his science GCSE which helps explain a lot of the plot and shows the true dedication of a writer who is prepared to sit in an exam room with teen-agers.

Sue Davies

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