LANCE PARKIN (1),
STEPHEN COLE (2),
ALAN BARNES (3)
& JONATHAN MORRIS (4)
BIG FINISH CD#123
RELEASED IN JULY 2009.
Deep in the mines
of Epsilon Minima,
Summerfield is up
to her neck in it - as
usual. The Countess
Venhella has hired
her to recover a lost
Time Lord artefact:
A TARDIS key. Guess
On the planet Entusso,
the Doctor and Fitz
investigate ADI - A
one-stop shop for
invasion! But which is
the greatest menace:
the hideous Vermin
Queens or ADI itself?
THE DOCTOR RECKONS
THAT TARDIS travel
opens one's eyes to
aN ENTIRE universe of
possibilities. For geek
girl Izzy, it's also
a fantastic way to
track down ultra-
rare back copies of
Aggrotron!, the most
dangerous comic in
at the Villa Diodati,
Lord Byron's guests
tell each other tales
to curdle the blood.
With a monster on the
loose outside, young
Mary Shelley isn't
short of inspiration...
1. BENNY'S STORY 2. FITZ'S STORY
3. IZZY'S STORY 4. MARY'S STORY
because of, rather than in spite of, his dramatically curtailed tenure on TV, Paul McGann’s Doctor has enjoyed the longest and certainly the most eventful life of all the Time Lord’s incarnations. Until this release though, Big Finish had focused on carving out their own distinctive series of contained adventures for the eighth Doctor, allowing them to push the character in all manner of interesting directions without having to worry about tying into (or indeed contradicting) ongoing story arcs in the books or comics.
And in fact, save for an odd reference to a ‘Sam’ in Minuet in Hell and a flood of references
to various comic strips and novels in Zagreus (designed to set the audios apart from them, as opposed to tie into them), the eighth Doctor’s Big Finish adventures have been entirely divorced from the character’s larger story. But now, at long last, we have The Company of Friends; a monumental release that not only celebrates the diverse threads of the eighth Doctor’s “most extraordinary and confusing life,” but ties them all together marvellously.
The first episode of the release, quite naturally, features Big Finish’s own Professor Bernice Summerfield, formerly of the Virgin New Adventures’ fame. Noted Doctor Who scribe Lance Parkin (Just War, The Infinity Doctors, The Eyeless) is charged with the task of penning the second of what we learn have been “a few” meetings between the Doctor’s eighth self and the 27th century archaeologist and, though his script lacks the weight usually commensurate with his work, this energetic and lightweight romp entertains throughout.
The inglorious, continuity-laden monologue sets the tone for the illicit feel of the release; this really is fan service taken to a whole new level! Even the contentious ending to Parkin’s own novel The Dying Days is played with mischievously by the author.
“I couldn’t lose a key without it turning into an epic adventure.”
throughout. There is a real spark between them that flows effortlessly
from the pages of The Dying Days, thinned only slightly by the passage of time for both and the fact that Benny is now, by her own admission, “all
grown up”. As the tale progressed and this wonderful combination faced
up to lions, IMC mining robots, time bubbles and even villains with very
strange ideas about TARDISes’ rights, I really didn’t want their advent-ures together to end. And who knows, perhaps they won’t for a while?
Parkin’s ending does provide for a few short trips and side steps on the way back to Brax…
However, of the four episodes that comprise The Company of Friends, like many I was looking forward to Fitz Kreiner’s unimaginatively-titled instalment the most. The beating
heart of BBC Books’ long-running eighth Doctor series, this chain-smoking, womanising
out-and-out bloke quickly endeared himself to the range’s devoted readership, ensuring
that he remained by the eighth Doctor’s side until The Gallifrey Chronicles, the final book
in the series, clocking up over fifty appearances in all.
And right from his pre-title soliloquy, Matt di Angelo (EastEnders, Hustle) nails Fitz flaw-lessly. Aided and abetted by some truly redolent cockney dialogue (“…how a skinny little ‘erbert like me could make a difference. Plus, what a fantastic way of impressing the birds”) courtesy of the character’s co-creator Stephen Cole, di Angelo really manages to capture the comedy of the character. A few of Fitz’s less laudable (but wholly relatable!) traits are also quite prominent here, but they are presented in such a way as to flow from the humour, and will doubtless serve only to further endear him to listeners.
As was the case with Benny’s Story, the plot of this twenty-five skit is light and frivolous –
but tremendous fun. Having discovered that his likeness is being used as the face of Alien Defence Incorporated (essentially the planet Entusso’s tawdry, “rapid response helpline” version of UNIT) the Doctor asks Fitz to discredit him in front of the populous – something that Fitz seems to take undue pleasure in doing…
McGann and di Angelo work very together in the scenes that they share, however the story does see the pair separated for the most part; Fitz’s thread of the plot mainly seeing him do what he does best, chasing Fenella Woolgar’s (The Unicorn and the Wasp) Commander Hellan Femor, Su Douglas’ Gem Weston and indeed anything else in a skirt, albeit to no avail.
throne” as he claims, Matt di Angelo’s Fitz Kreiner is certainly
a welcome addition to the eighth Doctor’s audio adventures,
and I really hope that we haven’t heard the last of him. I have no
doubt that Big Finish could go on indefinitely creating new and
wonderful companions like Charley Pollard, C’rizz and Lucie
Miller, but even so I think it’s fair to say that many listeners (me
included) would be just as happy if they were to dip into the
existing canon of companions every once in a while. If their
output can stretch to producing unmade television scripts and
even adapting stage plays, I can see no reason why Big Finish
can’t turn to Doctor Who’s vast literature store for inspiration.
For me though, it is Izzy’s Story that typifies what The Company of Friends is all about. Going into this episode with virtually no prior knowledge of the “funky geek-queen”, Alan Barnes’ enchanting Stockbridge caper has finally inducted me into the world of Doctor
Who comics and in particular the world of Izzy Sinclair.
Izzy is played here by Jemima Rooper of Hex fame, who according to her interview in the CD Extras narrowly missed out on the part of Rose in 2005. Whether Rooper would have made a good Rose or not I really couldn’t say, but she certainly convinces as Izzy. I love
the illimitable zeal and obsessive compulsion of the character; it’s the perfect counterpoint
to Paul McGann’s chilaxed cool.
“How are we going to stop the squads of fictional android henchlings who are
engaged in a hugely illegal covert intervention in the events of planet Earth?”
Izzy’s Story itself is every bit as quirky and comedic as the first two episodes of the release, if not a little more so. Barnes seems to have relished the opportunity to gently rip the piss
out of the comics that he so clearly loves, fusing a full-on nostalgia fest with a typically Who “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” plot. There is something inordinately appealing about travel-ling back in time to your youth to beat yourself to the last issue of a rare publication…
The episode doesn’t shy away from wallowing in the blatant fannishness of The Company
of Friends, either. The play is littered with in-jokes and metafictional gags - Barnes must have had his tongue squarely planted in his cheek, for instance, when he wrote the scene where Izzy tries to convince the disparaging Doctor of the merits of the ostensibly-lame ‘Aggrotron!’ comic and engage him as regards the mystery of Courtmaster Cruel’s true identity. This episode has certainly “got subtext”, as Izzy might say.
I’m also fond of this episode as Izzy’s life before meeting the Doctor brings to mind many aspects of my own in the mid-1990s. The Trainspotting homage dates the piece perfectly, as do references to “The Next Generation on VHS” and such like. In fact, the only thing missing was a bit of Britpop! If only they could’ve got the rights to use Common People…
It is the final episode of The Company of Friends though that I feel will be talked about the most. Even before listening to it, I had the distinct feeling that Mary’s Story was going to be ‘the odd one out’ as it were – since when was Mary Shelley a bona fide companion, hmm? - but even so I didn’t expect it to depart from the general tone of the release as markedly as
it does. Benny’s, Fitz’s and Izzy’s episodes were each trivial, diverting little jaunts; a joyous celebration of the eighth Doctor’s life, if you will. The story of how Mary came to travel with the Doctor, on the other hand, is a dark and morose affair; the spectre of the eighth Doctor’s inevitable demise looming large throughout.
“As he drew closer, I saw that he was suffering the most terrible injuries.
His skin was charred a glistening black, and his features contorted…”
How Morris managed to pack so much plot into just thirty-one minutes is a complete mystery to me, and it’s certainly a challenge to try and summarise the same here! Mary’s Story is the complex tale of how a mortally-wounded eighth Doctor is drawn to the Villa Diodati in 1816, where the TARDIS knows that a laudanum-laced Percy Shelly will “re-animate” him by using a machine that doubtless inspires his wife to pen Frankenstein. And how does the TARDIS know that the Villa Diodati in 1816 is where the Doctor can be “re-animated”? Because it remembers as much from when it experienced these events before, when a ‘young’ eighth Doctor (pre-Storm Warning) was drawn to the Villa to answer the distress call of another (well, the same) TARDIS…
However, though the plot
is as complicated as they
come, the characters are
not overshadowed. In fact,
the temporal conundrum
proves a delightful way in
which to inaugurate the
into the fantastic world of
the Doctor, as the character has no choice but to employ her sharp wits and fortitude right
from her first encounter with the monstrous, moribund Time Lord. Julie Cox does a superb
job with the character too, single-handedly forcing the narrative forward for at least two thirds
of the episode’s running time.
“And the corpse you re-animated was me?”
either. In fact, this episode is one that I think eighth Doctor fans will be talking about for a very long time to come. Morris’ story has a gorgeous
symmetry to it; the ‘young’ Doctor is full of verve of enthusiasm, the very
embodiment of McGann’s TV Movie persona; whilst the ‘old’ Doctor
is much more irascible, not to mention burned and scarred and with a TARDIS to match. Nonetheless, the Frankenstein-esque “re-animation”
of the ‘old’ Doctor brings the events of the TV Movie just as much to mind as the ‘young’ Doctor’s vigour does, really helping to square the circle of the eighth Doctor’s long life.
“On my own this time. Something to be thankful for.
So long ago, so many companions, all gone. And now so sad.
Trix. Charley. Lucie, Alex…you. We travelled together for years, don’t you remember?”
Mary’s Story also explicitly ties together the eighth Doctor’s timeline in a way that has never been attempted before. Hearing Charley, Trix and Destrii being mentioned in the same story actually gave me goosebumps – I still can’t believe Big Finish have actually done it, particul-arly after their whole Zagreus ‘multiverse’ swerve. Filtering whole ranges of stories into par-allel universes simply to appease a few continuity blunders never sat right with me – after all, isn’t a man the sum of his memories, and a Time Lord even more so? Well now the history
of eighth Doctor is unified, and isn’t it much more fun that way?
What’s more, Morris has just as much fun with what he does not say as with what he does. Exactly how the ‘old’ Doctor and his burnt-out wreck of a TARDIS came to be in such a sorry state is only hazily elucidated upon, but the implications of a “temporal storm” and “vitreous time infection” together with the ‘old’ Doctor’s hostile disposition might imply that a certain conflict has begun…
“Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not the name of the Doctor.”
And so The Company of Friends ends on a high note, satisfying many a pent-up appetite and even whetting a fresh one. A Doctor and Mary series? Now that I would like to hear…
If not the best, then The Company of Friends is without a doubt the most exciting of Big Finish’s four Doctor Who anthology-style releases to date, and I hope that its success is enough to persuade them to commission some equally audacious projects in the future.
Who knows, with thirteen slots to fill each year and four three-story ‘seasons’, perhaps an annual dip into Doctor Who’s many manifold ranges will become something of a summer tradition? Fingers crossed…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
It’s appropriate that the eighth Doctor’s first ‘expanded universe’ companion should open this anthology, as is the choice of Lance Parkin, the author of that original adventure The Dying Days, to write this tale. Benny has been a fixture of the Whoniverse
for many years now, but it’s still a treat to have a real, full-cast adventure with both her and the Doctor – a rare occurrence with any Doctor, and unprecedented with number eight.
Benny is both perfectly written by Parkin and perfectly performed by Lisa Bowerman. Both have many years’ experience in bringing these characters to life. It’s great to hear the older, more mature, more settled Benny thrust into an adventure with her old travelling buddy once more; there’s a genuine feeling here of friends reunited after years apart.
The story itself involves some clever manipulation of time, but remains straightforward and easy to follow. It love the concept of someone campaigning for equal rights for TARDISes, and interesting questions are raised regarding the nature of the relationship between the Time Lords and their craft. There are some lovely moments here; Benny embarrassedly skirting over the nature of her previous farewell with the Doctor, and the Doctor’s almost-defence of the Time Lords, as if he isn’t sure whether he should be backing them or not, stick out for me. This is a fine example of a short, one-episode story structured well, with
just enough incident and amusement to create a fine adventure without overburdening the running time. Great stuff.
As an enthusiastic reader of the eighth Doctor BBC Books, I’ve always had a soft spot
for Fitz. He’s a perfect example of how most of us would be in the world of time travel and intergalactic adventure: flawed, often careless and concerned with the smaller points of life, rather than living solely for the TARDIS life. Yet he’s the sort of man who does what he can, and most of the time, comes through. Fitz’s Story captures him well, not too surprisingly, since it’s written by his creator, Stephen Cole. There’s always a strange moment of adjust-ment when you see or hear a character brought to life when you’ve only previously read their exploits in books; the voice in your head will never be what makes it into the dramatisations. That said, Matt diAngelo gets Fitz pretty much spot on. He’s perhaps a bit more Cocker-
nee than I expected, but the lazy, roguish charm is all there. He sparks off McGann very
well indeed, and his scenes with Fenella Woolgar’s character Hellan Femor also sparkle.
Sadly, the story itself is pretty flimsy, but there are some fine comedy moments – especially as he convinces a world that the Doctor is nothing more than his overexcited mate John – and the performances and characters make up for the limited plot to form a good listening experience.
Oh dear. Izzy’s Story. Everyone seems to really like this episode, but me. Perhaps I had too high hopes for it.
The eighth Doctor’s run of Doctor
Who Magazine comic strips is
one of my favourite eras of the
whole canon, and fangirl Izzy is
one of my favourite companions.
As such I was expecting something rather special from this one; perhaps something in the vein of the comical one-offs that the comic strip did so well during this period. Instead, we got a dreadfully unfunny pisstake of 2000AD.
OK, there are some good points – Jemima Rooper makes for a very
good Izzy. She’s not quite how I’d imagined her, but it’s an excellent
performance nonetheless. But she’s a caricature of Izzy, and she was
a bit of a caricature to start with. All she does is say ‘Top!’ and go
on about how much she loves her comic; there’s no hint of the great,
resourceful companion she is. It’s a shame, because the interplay
between Rooper and McGann here is great. The Trainspotting-style
opening is a lovely touch, and the general idea of aliens working on a
sci-fi comic has potential, but it’s thrown away on an unfunny runaround.
As Izzy might say: pants.
The final instalment of the audio is perhaps the one I was most intrigued to learn about – our first glimpse of a hitherto hidden era of the eighth’s Doctor’s life. In fact, we get a glimpse of two eras of his life. After hints about the Doctor’s meeting with Mary Shelley back in Storm Warning nine years ago (blimey!) we finally get to hear it.
Mary’s Story has an appropriately spooky, gothic romance feel to it; for best effect, it should be listened to after dark. All the actor’s involved are on top form here, but it’s Julie Cox who really impresses as Mary herself, a controlled but passionate woman of great intelligence mired in an unsatisfying lifestyle. You can easily understand why the Doctor immediately asks her to join him on his travels.
The star of the show is, quite rightly, Paul McGann, giving one of his best performances as the Doctor in this unique adventure. I love hearing the more anguished, sorrowful Doctor that McGann rarely gets the chance to portray. Here, we get a wonderful contrast – the hideously burned, temporally scarred Doctor, unable to regenerate and half-crazed, versus the healthy, care-free version that comes to his rescue. Even after he’s healed, the older version is a world apart from his earlier self – sarky and aggressive, as opposed to the earlier version’s more happy-go-lucky persona. He has just had a very trying experience of course, but one wonders just how far into the Doctor’s eighth life he has come from. I can’t have been the only listener who wondered, just for a moment, we were to get a regeneration. At the very least, the TARDIS regenerates – into the coral-like version of the new series perhaps?
Such intriguing hints aside, this is a bold, evocative horror story that puts our hero through the wringer, and the undoubted highlight of the release.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For almost ten years, Big Finish Productions have produced Doctor Who audio plays, and for most of this time they have steered clear of using companions and arcs from other publisher’s ranges. Here, however, The Company of Friends sees the eighth Doctor (enjoying his first release in the monthly series since 2007’s Girl Who Never Was) teams
up with four different companions from each of his main ranges for an episode each. We have one who started off in the Virgin New Adventures and who played a pivotal role in Big Finish’s humble beginnings; one from the Doctor Who Magazine comic-strips; some scruffy git from BBC Books’ eighth Doctor adventures; and an author who’s often been mentioned since Storm Warning. That’s right - I mean Bernice Summerfield, Izzy Sinclair, Fitz Kreiner, and Mary Shelley!
The Company of Friends kicks off with Benny’s Story, written by Lance Parkin. Set during Benny’s freelancing days, Parkin’s story sees our favourite Archaeologist being summoned to the mines of Epsilon Minima by a Countess who has hired her to recover a lost Time Lord artefact: a TARDIS key.....
As you might expect, Benny’s Story is full of continuity. The introduction alone mentions the seventh’s Doctor, the Hoothi (from Benny’s debut story, Love and War), and – of course! – the events of The Dying Days.
“...At the end of that, he dropped me off back in my native time zone
and we… erm…. shook hands and said goodbye!”
- Benny on "that scene" in The Dying Days
Paul McGann and Lisa Bowerman are absolutely fantastic together; the pair have a great rapport from start to finish. They are particularly impressive together as they go up against the Countess Venhella (portrayed by Su Douglas), who wants the TARDIS key for her own fiendish gain, and her villainous right-hand man Klarner (Richard Earl). Encore, I say!
All told, Benny’s Story is my favourite episode from The Company of Friends, ranking right up there with another Doctor / Benny audio favourite of mine, The Shadow of the Scourge.
I sincerely hope that we get to hear more eighth Doctor and Benny tales in the future.
The second episode in The Company of Friends is Stephen Cole’s Fitz’s Story. The tale starts off with a television advertisement featuring what sounds like the eighth Doctor for Alien Defence Incorporated; a one-stop shop for protection against extra-terrestrial invasion. The question is, which is the greatest menace - the hideous Vermin Queens or ADI itself?
Fitz Kreiner, who first appeared in Michael Collier’s 1999 novel Doctor Who and the Taint
is possibly the best remembered companion of the Doctor Who novels (save for Bernice, obviously). Portraying the beloved scruffy git here is Matt di Angelo, best known for his roles as Sean Kennedy in the BBC series Hustle and as Deano Wicks in the long-running soap opera EastEnders. And I’m pleased to say that his portrayal of Fitz is marvellous, right from his “Kreiner... Fitz Kreiner” intro to his delusions about being a ladies’ man (which he most certainly is not). He and Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor make an excellent combination on audio and this reviewer really wouldn’t mind hearing more of the pairing in the future. Sound designer David Darlington says it best in the CD Extras when he says that a character who likes to lounge around and look at women’s butts rings a lot truer than a certain Samantha Jones ever did. Ironically though, Sam is mentioned in the episode, together with Anji, who
it seems was asleep throughout the entire story!
The rest of the cast is superb with Fenella Woolgar (The Unicorn and the Wasp) as Hellan Femor, a character who fools the listener into thinking that she’s a bad guy but really isn’t once the monsters appear. Su Douglas and Paul Thornley also fare well as Gem Weston and Michael Rond.
Filled with an excellent cast and marvellous dialogue, Fitz’s Story is an absolute must.
The second disc of The Company of Friends takes us back to the eighth Doctor’s nine-
year comic strip reign in Doctor Who Magazine, featuring the most beloved comic strip companion from that era - Izzy Sinclair (or Izzy Somebody…)
For those not familiar with Izzy, she first met the Doctor when she and Stockbridge’s UFO enthusiast Maxwell Edison stole an artefact that was being sought by his old enemy, the Celestial Toymaker, in the eighth Doctor’s inaugural comic strip End Game. Following the events of that story, Izzy joined the Doctor as his constant companion throughout his first two years’ of comic strips adventures. She has also appeared in a couple of Big Finish’s Short Trips anthologies, first in 2004 and again more recently in 2008.
Izzy’s Story, written by Alan Barnes, begins with a perfectly-pitched Trainspotting sequence before the opening music. It’s cool, self-assured, and funny, and the story only continues to impress from there. The story sees Izzy and the Doctor land in Stockbridge looking for a lost issue of Aggrotron!, the most dangerous comic in history. Barnes (who wrote Izzy’s debut some five years before he did the same for Charley Pollard) succeeds in bringing the feel
of the comic strip into this wonderful episode. If this story were ever to be animated, the episode ought to be accompanied by the artwork of Roger Landridge; that’d be a dream come true!
Onto the cast. Jemima Rooper (of Hex fame) is incredible as Izzy. From the Trainspotting intro mentioned above to the determination employed to find out about what has happened in the lost issue of Aggrotron!, Rooper really convinces the listener that she is Izzy!
Rooper’s interaction with Paul McGann’s Doctor is amazing; the Doctor’s amusing dislike of comics and the scene in the shop are both particularly well done. Steve Hansell pulls double duty as both old man Grubb and the comic book character “the Man” and it work wonders!
Furthermore, Teddy Kempner’s Grakk almost steals the show with his performance, and Courtmaster Cruel (Anthony Glennan) is actually quite scary at first (until we find out that
he’s actually a fan-boy, that is!)
Overall, Izzy’s Story is a great addition to The Company of Friends. Its mid-1990s dialogue, as well as Rooper’s wonderful performance, is sure to have you begging for more. Here’s to Big Finish using more of Izzy in the future!
The Company of Friends concludes with an episode featuring a ‘companion’ who has
been mentioned in passing as far back as the eighth Doctor’s first Big Finish scene and
as recently as this year’s Beast of Orlok - the author herself, Mary Shelley. In this Jonathan Morris-penned episode, we are made guests of the Villa Diodati in Switzerland in 1816, where Mary, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Claremont (Mary’s step-sister) are each writing their own ghost stories until they are interrupted by a man who claims that his name is Doctor Frankenstein......
Unlike the first three episodes,
Mary’s Story chronicles Mary’s
first encounter with the Doctor
(rather than being a ‘missing adventure’ as it were). And it
has to be said, particularly
given that it’s her inaugural
adventure, Mary absolutely dominates this episode; Julie Cox’s portrayal is nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, Mary’s dialogue beautifully conveys Morris’ skill with words; her description of the TARDIS console room is as perfect a summation as you’ll ever get.
More than any of the previous stories though, this one really rotates around the companion, with the Doctor taking something of a back seat for chunks of the play. That said, we are treated to a meeting between two eighth Doctors – a pre-Storm Warning one, who is trav-elling with Samson and Gemma; and an older one, who has knowledge of companions like Destrii, Trix, Compassion, Anji, not to mention Charley and Lucie. On his way to the Time War, I reckon…
The supporting cast are impressive too. Anthony Glennon delivers a great performance
as the adulterous Percy Shelley, Robert Forknall’s Lord Byron is downright superb, as is Katarina Cooke’s Claire. Ian Hallard gives a fantastic portrayal of Polidori too, especially when wanting to bring a “monster” to life!
The Verdict? Mary’s Story is a dark and wonderful tale which helps round off The Company of Friends in real style. Filled with references to Frankenstein and the Doctor’s murky future, this episode is definitely a winner for me.
And so ends The Company of Friends, a release that ranks right up there with 100, Forty-Five, Circular Time and some of Big Finish’s finest one-part stories. Full of humour, horror and a truck load of continuity references that you won’t hear anywhere else, The Company of Friends is a wonderful way to celebrate the tenth birthday of Big Finish’s monthly range. Here’s to ten more years of Big Finish Doctor Who Productions!
Copyright © Kory Stephens 2009
Kory Stephens has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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