THIS STORY TAKES
BOOK "THE GLORIOUS
REVOLUTION" AND THE
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 5.02
RELEASED IN AUGUST
Zoe Heriot has Total
recall. But when it
comes to the years
she spent travelling
in time and space, all
she can remember is
that she'S forgotten.
Years after she was
returned to the Wheel
in Space by the Time
Lords, Zoe meets Ali,
a young woman who
claims to have met
Zoe before, when she
was with the Doctor
and Jamie. Suddenly,
part of the hidden
past is exposed, as
memories return of a
visit to the Whitaker
Institute in Central
are uncovered. And
the mystery of the
Achromatics is about
to be unleashed…
Echoes of Grey
John Dorney’s Solitaire had one of the warmest receptions of all the Companion Chronicles. Interestingly though, his second Big Finish release was actually his first script, Solitaire having appeared on the shelves early following a scheduling shake-up. In fact, it
had been on the strength of Dorney’s Echoes of Grey script that his Solitaire commission came about, and so inevitably, like many listeners, I went into Echoes of Grey harbouring
the highest of hopes for it.
One of the first things to strike me about this production was the tautness of the script, and the elegance of its framing. Since the Companion Chronicles series began back in 2007, bookending devices seem to have become less and less pronounced, and in many cases they’ve been dispensed with altogether. When writing for Zoe Heriot though, one can’t just have her narrate an exciting escapade long after the event because her memories of her TARDIS travels were blocked by the Time Lords at the end of The War Games. In Zoe’s previous Companion Chronicle, the writer unconvincingly fudged his way around the issue, and in the recent audio drama Legend of the Cybermen, he really went to town and tackled the issue head-on. Dorney’s solution is subtler and gentler, a suitable shade of grey for a story best seen through a monochromatic mind’s eye.
The story opens with the ‘old’ Zoe encountering a woman named Ali, who recognises her from a time when she visited Australia with the Doctor and Jamie. As Ali just happens to be an expert in memory-retrieval and what have you, she offers to help Zoe uncover her buried recollections, and thus the stage is set: Wendy Padbury narrates the events of the story in the present tense as they appear before Zoe in her head, whilst Emily Pithon’s Ali interjects with past-tense parenthesis as and when she feels it appropriate.
It’s an appealing set-up, particularly as having Zoe describe events as if they’re happening now lends the production an immediacy that most Companion Chronicles lack. I’m a huge fan of present tense prose at any rate, but it has to be said that Dorney wields it particularly well here, drawing the listener right into the heart of the adventure. What’s more, as Zoe is much brighter than most companions, Dorney doesn’t have to neuter his lexical choices, as he would do were he writing for, say, Jamie McCrimmon. Accordingly the script is chock-full of sharp, almost autistic turns of phrase that say so very much about Zoe and her view of the world, my favourite being “his laugh was like a karate chop” (or words to that effect). So Zoe.
For her part, Wendy Padbury does a wonderful job of resurrecting Zoe once again, as well as the Doctor and companion with whom she served. Her Patrick Troughton impression is much more persuasive than I’d remembered from Fear of the Daleks, and she has a pretty impressive stab at Jamie’s cod Scotch too.
The story itself is gloriously redolent, Dorney’s nimble characterisation having been fused with a textbook Season 6-style plot. Even the name
of the story’s monsters, the Achro-
matics, is somehow evocative of
the time, subconsciously putting the
listener in mind of The Invasion’s
International Electromatics whilst also
pandering to the author’s greyscale theme. Indeed, the titular hue pervades all aspects of this release - even Tony Lamb’s salient cover illustration is a beautifully-scented synthesis
of greys and nearly-blues.
However, with the two episodes so long-lasting that they usurp the CD Extras’ disc space and even threaten to spill over onto two discs, at times I found the story a bit sluggish. Whilst Dorney does a tremendous job of nailing the Season 6 atmosphere, at times the piece feels a little too wordy; a little too measured. What’s more, the nature of the Achromatics, whilst fascinating, has been done at least once before, albeit not quite as well. Dorney’s basically just taken the creature from The X-Files episode The Gift, multiplied it, and then given it a suitably-stylised 1960s science fiction spin.
Yet, even when the listener thinks it’s all over, Echoes of Grey has a final trick up its sleeve; one last twist to really hammer home the author’s conceit that, even in the days of black and white television, villains weren’t always black and good guys didn’t always wear white.
In the end, Echoes of Grey is a thoughtful and reminiscent saunter in one of Doctor Who’s most popular eras. It’s not perfect by any means, and it’s certainly no Solitaire. In fact, as Companion Chronicles go, Echoes of Grey sits comfortably mid-table… in the grey.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story’s blurb places its events between the television serials The Seeds of Death and The Space Pirates. Within this gap, we have placed them after those of the Big Finish audio book The Glorious Revolution, which was released earlier.
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