As Jamie contributes to my ever-expanding Big Finish collection (and has recently started re-listening to them himself, after 10 years), you get to enjoy the reviews!
I’m becoming a big fan of the Companion Chronicles. In a way they’re like Doctor Who full-cast plays-lite, but in that way they become a challenge for the writers and the actors to entertain and divert within the limits of the genre. The Glorious Revolution did that extremely well, thanks in part to Frazer Hines’ performance(s). Transit of Venus was beautifully written and, again, as a pure historical, it surmounted the limitations of the brief quite well. Ringpullworld by Paul Magrs was likewise extremely clever in its conceit and possibly the most sophisticated of the range to date. It was very Magrs-like, as you can guess from the title, unconventional, a bit bonkers, and surprisingly well-suited to a Turlough play. Both writer and director (Neil Roberts) zeroed in on the heart of the conflict—Turlough’s feelings on incarceration and the play’s overall dilemma in regards to freedom—which is, rather bafflingly and charmingly, centered around a universe in a tin of beans. Magrs brings out hidden depths in Turlough and makes him funny and sympathetic, with Mark Strickson’s help, of course. Alex Lowe is also wonderful as Huxley . . . I won’t give away his role but I will say it makes a wonderfully meta-fictional tale. Strickson’s Davison is quite good but his Tegan is pretty hammy.
The Company of Friends is four short plays for four of the Eight Doctor’s companions who haven’t been exclusively in his range before (like Charley and Lucie). I was cautiously thrilled at the foursome and the plays surpassed my expectations, for the most part. The first one stars Lisa Bowerman as Benny Summerfield. This was, to be quite correct, my first experience with Benny ever—I’ve never read any of the books with her or listened to any of her solo audios. I thought the play started out quite slowly, especially regarding her opening monologue, but I quickly warmed to Bowerman. Lance Parkin’s story was well-plotted and full of danger as well as revelation; Venhella’s misplaced activism to free TARDIS-es from Time Lord oppression was amusing. However, I felt it ran out of steam slightly in the last ten minutes.
Fitz is one of my friend Lori’s favorite companions, and while I thought he was okay in the handful of books I’ve read with him as a companion, I never really got it. By contrast, Fitz, as played by Matt DiAngelo and written by Stephen Cole, lives up to all his potential in his play. I think this was probably my favorite play of the four; it really used the audio medium superbly and was hilarious. It showed Fitz’s weaknesses as well as his strengths and gave him a lot to do, almost more than the skeptical and disapproving Doctor (though Paul McGann is clearly having fun playing “The Construct”). Fenella Woolgar has a wonderful part and plays it for all it’s worth; the story’s twists and surprises make it perfect for the time slot.
I fell asleep during Izzy’s play. This shouldn’t necessarily be a comment on the quality since I was tired and listening to it on a coach; nevertheless, it feels like the weakest of the four to me. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with Jemima Rooper’s characterization (though, as others have said, it didn’t quite tally with the one I had from reading the comics—and I’m hardly an expert!). The beginning of Alan Barnes’ play is superb and, like Fitz’s before it, quite funny and full of actors who are relishing their parts. Again it’s quite meta-fictional and reminiscent of “By Hook or By Crook,” sort of; yet it feels a bit lightweight in comparison to the others.
I was really quite perplexed by the inclusion of Mary Shelley as a companion, though apparently it was written or said elsewhere that the Eighth Doctor travelled with her for an extended period of time. At first I found Jonathan Morris’ play quite disappointing. While Mary herself is obvious companion material, being the beauty to the Doctor/monster’s beast (in a manner of speaking), the other writers/groupies hanging around Lake Geneva in the famous year that produced a lot of the world’s extraordinary art (1816) seem rather cardboard and not terribly well-researched. (Though the Doctor telling Byron that his clothes are Byronic is amusing.) The upside of Mary’s story is its atmosphere and the interactions between the Doctor and Mary. Mary essentially meets two versions of the Doctor, and Paul McGann is acting his socks off as both of them. It all ties together rather nicely when you think of the Doctor in the TV Movie seeing Frankenstein on the morgue TV (and as Lance Parkin points out, the Doctor doesn’t react to the monster but to the woman’s scream).
I hope they do more of these. They weren’t 100% perfect but they were really enjoyable.