Big Finish released three Companion Chronicles for the First Doctor and Steven (Peter Purves doing both) and a brand new companion in the form of Oliver Harper (Tom Allen — Pip Bin from Bleak Expectations). The stories are written by Simon Guerrier (author of several other trilogies notably the Sara Kingdom stories).
How well does this series work and did we need a new companion? My thoughts are below…
The first story, Perpetual Bond introduces Oliver Harper, a man with a secret. Oliver is a city trader (hence the cover and the word bond) who is on the run from the police. The Doctor and Steven find themselves back in a certain scrap yard and initially think of finding Ian and Barbara but instead fight a race of aliens trading in human stock with full permission of the government.
This is an atmospheric tale that gives us an intriguing new character and a feel for the 1960s stock exchange. For my tastes it lacked a bit of variation in that it dwelt on the mechanics of contract law and other details but did make good use of the work fungible. The resolution involved some transmat trickery and Oliver takes the chance to come on-board the TARDIS.
Next is Cold Equations which takes Oliver into space for the first time. This is the debris strewn space around the once mighty planet Earth of the far future. Here they encounter the Callians, a race of scavenging aliens intent only on their profit and reluctant to believe that Steven and Oliver are representatives of the once mighty Earth Empire.
The drama kicks up several gears as disaster strikes and the orbiting space station is sent out of control amongst the debris and Steven has to use all his piloting skills to find the TARDIS and send it spinning towards the Doctor’s lifecraft. For him and Oliver the fact is they have not enough air and so Oliver shares his secret with Steven in the bleak expectation [sic!] that they both will die! This despite discovering that at some point in their future they will be arrested on a place called Grace Alone.
I well produced, written and acted story that for me took too much time explaining the mechanics of rocket flight to the detriment of the story (NB we learn that Simon was to study GCSE Astronomy [Update: he passed with flying colours!]). Others loved this (see The Time Scales for example). It avoids a tidy ending with Oliver considering staying on Earth but instead segues into the trip to Grace Alone.
The story starts with Steven and Oliver on the run, the Doctor apparently dead and they have nowhere to go and not even a key to the TARDIS. The story is set on a planetoid out past the orbit of Neptune on a space station. A long time ago the Earth started sending out radio signals to the depths of space. One day these signals were picked up by energy beings, the Vardans, who come to investigate. When they arrive they find out that humanity is not composed of energy beings and inadvertently begin to kill. They question the Doctor and begin to learn his secrets before their energy appears to kill him.
Towards the end the Doctor and Steven have accepted that they will die as it has already been recorded; Oliver refuses to accept his fate and rushes to his death and allows the Doctor and Steven to carry on in the TARDIS. A reflective ending that fits the mood of the story as Oliver’s essence follows the Doctor and Steven through their next adventures and more.
The three stories have a running theme of living on borrowed time (a phrase that gets a bit overused). The stories are spliced into continuity just after The Dalek Masterplan and before The Massacre. Interestingly it was pitched as just the second story and expanded in discussion to a trilogy and it mostly works very well.
Steven is very melancholy and we learn just how much the deaths of others has affected him.
Oliver Harper: did we need a new companion?
I see no harm — the trilogy still gets told from Steven’s point of view so we lose nothing. Instead with gain an intriguing though doomed character in the form of Oliver. I wonder if this gives us some idea of how they will approach The Early Adventures. The character also reminded me of the Eighth Doctor companion Fitz Kreiner from the EDA novels.
As to his great secret, while it gives us a good sense of the 1960s and prejudices of that time once it is revealed it evaporates under the revelation that in the future no one cares about sexuality and I felt that once we knew the trilogy had lost something at its heart. The never went back to explore the 1960s from Oliver’s perspective nor that in the 1960s homosexuals were still being arrested in the UK. Maybe that can be left in the thoughts of the interested listener and is well covered in the CD extras for The Cold Equations. It does give a good drive for Oliver’s need to run in The Perpetual Bond.
Another decent trilogy with some fresh ideas and a measure of how good the Companion Chronicles can be.