The Anachronauts by Simon Guerrier reviewed

the anachronauts coverJanuary 2012 and the Companion Chronicles brought as the double-CD of Simon Guerrier’s The Anachronauts. This is a tale that in some ways talks to the heart of the rule of non-interference, dissects the relationship between Sara Kingdom and Steven Taylor and also shows us the harsh nature of the Doctor.

There are a few spoilers I’m afraid.

The story

The Big Finish synopsis for The Anachronauts is terse almost in the extreme:

An experimental timeship smashes into the TARDIS, and the crews of both ships wake up on a desert island. Has the TARDIS been destroyed? And why doesn’t the Doctor want to escape?

Then, Steven and Sara find themselves on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in 1966. And their only way back to the TARDIS is to betray the Doctor.

As I listened to this story it built and built with a change in sense occurring at the start of Parts 2 and 3. To explain:

  • Part 1 feels a bit like a Short Trips story
  • Part 2 repeats the end of Part 1 then extends into an exploration of relationships before revealing (the by now obvious) plot
  • Part 3 suddenly turns into a more orthodox Companion Chronicles adventure and continues through Part 4 slowly dissolving into…

Part 1

Something crashes into the TARDIS and the crew find themselves washed up on a strange beach with the crew of an experimental time ship. As they wander they find refuge and also bits of the TARDIS. They come into conflict; Steven gets shot and Sara gets injured.

Part 2

We switch to Sara’s point of view and get a story line about trying to find medicine to heal Steven. On the journey more conflict erupts. When they return Steven is whole once again and soon Sara’s injuries heal. The TARDIS crew then gets a respite during which Steven and Sara grow close.

It all takes a turn for the mysterious when a time sprite appears, a legendary creature found at the heart of a TARDIS. Shortly we find that it is all an illusion – they are still in the TARDIS which had spun the illusion to isolate them while it repaired itself.

Everyone makes it back to the console room but the crew of the experimental time craft try to seize control and the TARDIS ends up…

Parts 3 & 4

Suddenly we are in cold war Berlin in the 1960s. The TARDIS is in the West; Sara and Steven have landed in No Man’s Land and wander into the East. They get caught and arrested as spies. Steven recognises everything from a school project he once did. They escape and are re-captured. Steven bargains with knowledge of the future for their lives but while they are in custody something awful seems to have appeared to get them for damaging the fabric of history. Having grown closer Sara is now much softer in nature and a life together in the suburbs of East Berlin is a distinct possibility.

Things get darker as Steven rejects Sara and the tension builds with Steven refusing to play along with his captors and rejecting everything! [Here comes the spoiler.]

Of course they are still in the TARDIS, nothing is real and the loving softer Sara is an illusion. The Doctor abandons the crew of the experimental time ship to start a new life much to the disappointment of Steven and Sara. Everyone has much on their minds as the music plays for the end.

The storytelling

[pullquote]Simon Guerrier manages the trick of hiding the major plot twist in plain sight[/pullquote]

This story built well from part one onwards and Simon manages to play the same trick twice in that none of it is real. Of course that is a superficial view – what has happened is the deepening of Steven and Sara’s relationship as well as a very interesting exploration of what it would take to betray the Doctor’s ideals. How many companions would betray the Doctor’s principle of non-interference to avoid torture, incarceration or death?

A good story and I recommend it whole heartedly.

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