The first of two Jonathan Morris titles for October 2013 is the Companion Chronicles tale The Ghost in the Machine. This is a Third Doctor adventure featuring Katy Manning as Jo Grant alongside Damian Lynch as Benjamin Chikoto. This story is also unusual in that it is directed by Louise Jameson.
The last time Jo featured in a Companion Chronicle was the quirky yet excellent The Scorchies – would this story be as unusual?
Starting with the Big Finish product page we learn the following:
Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went, that lamb was sure to go.
The TARDIS is empty. The Doctor has gone.
Jo Grant steps outside into the darkness and finds the frozen body of her friend, and the ship’s log recorder. On it is attached a simple message – ‘Use Me’.
As she explores this place, recording her every move, Jo discovers the horror that lies in the shadows.
But by then it is too late.
This is a creepy tale in which Jo finds herself effectively alone in an abandoned base. All the staff have died a long time ago and Jo’s only company is a comatose Doctor, various skeletons, a recording device and various recordings stored in the base’s systems. If this weren’t enough she is locked out of the TARDIS and she is sure she hears something.
As she explores the log files of Benjamin Chikoto she learns that experiments were being conducted in the use of recordings to retain an aspect of the soul beyond death. All very spooky and worse as Jo convinces herself that the recordings are changing every time she listens to them! To make things worse they begin to talk to her! Things of course get worse still when Jo finds herself trapped in a recording with the fading remnants of Benjamin. Now things get strange!
Without revealing too much more there is, of course, an evil alien desperate to escape the base in any body it can find. One problem, it can’t get in the TARDIS. We are then treated to much body swapping (both virtual and real) before everything is resolved though not everyone lives happily ever after.
The first part of this story is atmospheric and creepy with Katy Manning hitting the mark with a performance that gets more and more frantic as the plot progresses. I really like the device that once captured in a recording device you can only use words that you actually had recorded. This is clever and Jonathan uses it enough to make the listener think about the situation but doesn’t over use it.
Special mention to Louise’s direction: during various body swaps both Katy and Damian Lynch channelling Jo / Benjamin / the Doctor at various times. Katy also has to play the evil spirit. At no time does this become confusing and this must be down to the talents of the cast and the direction.
I liked this story a lot though the physicist I keep in the back of my mind rails against some of the ‘science’ involved in the archaic use of tapes and other recording means to capture spirits. If you park this plot device you end up with a creepy tale suitable for autumn and another piece of evidence that the Companion Chronicles will be sorely missed.