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One of Big Finish's popular Doctor Who audio ranges is The Companion Chronicles, which focuses primarily on the adventures of the first three Doctors, as these Doctors are no longer with us. Rather than full-cast audio dramas, these adventures take the form of a two-person performance, with one of the Doctor's companions narrating an "unseen" adventure with a second supporting character taking part. They tend to be shorter than the Big Finish's full cast audios, with two half hour episodes on one CD.
This release, The Magician's Oath, is narrated by Richard Franklin, who played Captain Mike Yates, one of the companions from the Third Doctor's era in the 1970's. The second voice actor is Michael Chance, who plays Diamond Jack, the villain of the piece. This story takes place during the present day with Yates reflecting on past events that occurred during the Doctor's exile on Earth when he was enlisted as UNIT's scientific advisor. As well as voicing Mike Yates, Franklin also manages to portray the Third Doctor, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Jo Grant - each with their own vocal style. I particularly liked his Lethbridge-Stewart, which managed to sound like the original actor.
The story begins when UNIT are called in to a bizarre scene - during a July heat-wave, scores of people in Hyde Park are instantly frozen to death under the summer sun. The only lead that the Doctor and UNIT have is that of a street magician who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy. The Doctor dismisses this as a credible theory, leaving Jo Grant and Mike Yates to disobey orders and investigate him alone, but what they discover is far more terrifying than they could have expected...
The concept of people being frozen alive during a summer's day was very intriguing and drew me towards buying this audio. I'm currently watching the Third Doctor's adventures on DVD, so this "lost adventure" manages to slot neatly within the televised adventures of that time, although I suspect 1970's visual effects would struggle with the visual effects of my imagination as I listened to this story. One of the better elements of these audio adventures is that it allows the user to fill in the blanks with your own imagination.
The Doctor, himself, doesn't get too much 'air-time' in this story, as it focuses on Jo and Mike predominantly, but it is fun to see the B-story to the adventure. If this had been made into a televised story, the plot would have followed the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart and how their part of the investigation into the mystery unfolded, but with this approach, we get to see the behind-the-scenes element to the storyline, which gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters without the confidence and intelligence of the Doctor to back them up. It reminds me of an episode from Season 3 of Buffy, The Zeppo, which focuses on Xander for the episode, with the traditional A-story forced to the background.
The two-hander approach to the story was well done and I liked the interview-style that the narrative took. We managed to get a dual insight into the Mike Yates of the past and how he has changed and matured to the current day. They never explicitly mention who the person is that Mike is relating his story to, but I imagined it to be someone like Martha Jones, who is in the current incarnation of UNIT.
This would make a great introduction to the Big Finish range as it is a stand-alone storyline that doesn't require great knowledge of either the Doctor Who universe, or the Big-Finish chronology. Some of their storylines reference earlier releases, making it hard to follow mid-way through a long running plot. One of the benefits of the Companion Chronicles range is that the majority of them are fairly self-contained and simplified. I will certainly be picking up more from this range!
I bought my copy directly from Big Finish's website where they offer a CD or Download option. If you buy the CD (as I did), you get a Download copy for free. This is great value for money, although it does make you less likely to purchase the Download-only option, as you are paying three quarters of the prices of the CD version, and not getting a physical copy. It's also available from other Retailers, minus the Download options, although most home computers should allow you to 'rip' the tracks in a MP3 format for any portable players.
[This Review also appears on my blog, PopCultureBandit.blogspot.co.uk & Amazon.co.uk]