What a thought—because our collection is almost a complete one, Jamie and I have taken up to listening to the Companion Chronicles in order, hopefully a ritual we can keep going for awhile. Therefore, in the scheme of things, Mother Russia, another play by Marc Platt and starring Peter Purves as Steven Taylor. I was very much taken aback by the setting, considering Marc Platt’s last play, the first one in this range, Frostfire, was set in almost exactly the same time period; however, instead of London, this one took place near Moscow, in 1812. Steven is one of my favorite companions, and I can agree up to a point about the driving force behind this story, as communicated by Platt in the liner notes: he felt that Steven was a bit of a loner, never quite fitting in with either the Doctor and Vicki team or with Dodo. I did write an article about Steven for Shooty Dog Thing when I wondered about the psychological ramifications of having been trapped on the planet Mechanus for years without having had companionship, so in that sense, I can understand upon him being extremely self-reliant. But would he really have cause to feel he was an outsider, in the way the alien/Interrogator in Mother Russia contends, attempting to worm his way into Steven’s consciousness for control?
Mother Russia is a bit of timey-wimey, in that it telescopes a moment in time, which is a similar device to my own radio play The Trial of Madame Tussaud. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel its narrative brilliance in the same way I did for Frostfire, Ringpullworld, Find and Replace, and even The Glorious Revolution. There’s no rule that the Companion Chronicles have to give a plot reason for the companion to be telling his or her story, and yet as I’ve said before, I really admire it when the author manages to work it into the plot. Certainly they can work as plain narration, as in Transit of Venus and Resistance. Perhaps there was just too much “telling” in Mother Russia; to me it felt much closer to an audiobook than a play. Tony Millan held his own as the Interrogator, and while Dodo playing snatches of the Moonlight Sonata (not on a piano forte!) was jarring, the music and sound effects were used to good effect.
Without a doubt, it was beautifully written, with many of the same accomplished visuals that made Frostfire so arresting. Platt admits in the liner notes that he loves the Russia of the serfs and the czars, and that love and research mastery comes through. It’s a very different tone for Doctor Who. Even though there is the presence of an alien, it doesn’t really feel like a pseudo-historical. There are some funny moments, the companions are well-evoked, and Purves does a good First Doctor. This was unusual, but not one of my favorites.