April 2013 saw the release of Simon Guerrier’s Companion Chronicle The Library of Alexandria (out of sequence having been swapped for the delayed The Alchemists). This First Doctor story is narrated by William Russell as Ian Chesterton and supported by Susan Franklyn as Hypatia (an actual historical figure). Now my knowledge of ancient history is patchy and I knew a library had been destroyed by fire but wasn’t sure which (it was indeed Alexandria) so I had few expectations about the plot. How was it? Read on and mind the spoilers…
The Big Finish synopsis is:
The port of Alexandria, 5th Century AD.
The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara have taken a break from their travels, and are enjoying a few weeks in the sunshine – and the chance to appreciate the magnificent Library of Alexandria.
Ian also takes the chance to enjoy friendship with the philosopher Hypatia – but things here will not last forever.
The time travellers know that the library will soon be lost to history.
What they are about to discover is the terrifying reason why…
The story starts with Ian commanding soldiers and acting as a customs officer whilst the Doctor, Barbara and Susan enjoy themselves and spend time in the library. Ian though does strike up a relationship with Hypatia an historically important figure – both philosopher and astronomer she is now seen as an important influence in the history of science.
The plot revolves around a book being traded with the library that would if read confirm the heliocentric theory to humanity ahead of time (ie the theory that the sun is at the centre of the solar system). The reason the book exists is that it is the record of an alien scouting party from the Mim (who I understand to be a Big Finish alien featuring in the Bernice Summerfield stories).
The Mim are sponge-like shape-changers (mimics if you will) and attack the library to get the book. Via lots of action the Doctor faces them down and some of the library and staff are saved for posterity.
There is a lovely little touch at the end where the Doctor influences future history as well.
As we expect William Russell is first-rate and we get a good Ian / Doctor story. Barbara has things to do whereas Susan is minimised. A large portion of the second part is from the point of view of Hypatia and Susan Franklyn does a very good job of conveying the First Doctor.
I liked the relationship that developed between Ian and Hypatia and briefly wondered if she might join the TARDIS crew. the story manages to disentangle Ian and leave his relationship with Barbara hinting at new depths.
Sound design is atmospheric and the whole piece is highly enjoyable.
Unlike some historical stories Simon Guerrier’s tale managed to educate a bit, be historical and be sci-fi. A good story and a shame there were no interviews on the CD – maybe a side-effect of it being moved forward in the release order?
Well I enjoyed it – what did you think of it?