The Transit of Venus is part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line. These are stories that involve Doctors 1-3 (who are dead) and number 4 (who as yet has not accepted the invitation to work with Big Finish. They are called Companion Chronicles because they are told from the perspective (and narrated by) one of the companions who traveled with The Doctor. In the case of The Transit of Venus, we have a story told by Ian Chesterton, played by William Russell. This story is being told to an unseen listener some time after Ian has returned from his travels with The Doctor.
The Transit of Venus takes place directly after The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan leave The Sense Sphere. We already have a continuity problem here. At the end of The Sensorites, Ian makes a comment about The Doctor not being able to control The TARDIS, which highly irritates The Doctor. As a result, Ian is to be thrown from The TARDIS at their next location. Indeed the following story The Reign of Terror deals with this antagonism on the part of The Doctor. Ian must convince The Doctor to go out for a drink, knowing that if they can convince him they are not in 1960s England, the travels may continue. While Transit does address the conflict, to set an adventure in the middle of these two stories is stretching it a bit where retconning is concerned.
This aside, how is the story. Pretty good, actually. Transit gets points from me already by being an historical and the sci-fi elements are downplayed quite a bit. While the ultimate plot does revolve around psychic phenomena, it doesn’t involve an alien invasion, so I’m satisfied with the writer (Jacqueline Rayner) doing something different yet being true to the historicals of the period. The characters are spot-on, although Barbara and Susan are missing for much of the story.
Fulfilling his promise to eject Ian and Barbara from The TARDIS, they find themselves on an Earth sailing ship from 1770. This is actually Captain James Cook’s ship, The Endeavor. At first the sailors were fearful of the people coming from “the devil box”, but then grow more concerned over the fact a woman is on the ship, which will curse their voyage. Ian is knocked unconscious and awakes to meet a sailor. In his confusion, Ian accidentally leads the sailor to believe he is from Venus and is observing the humans who are observing the transit of Venus. Ian meets Captain Cook and finds that The Doctor is with him. Barbara had managed to get back into The TARDIS and The Doctor took her place on the ship. If not for Susan, The Doctor would have abandoned Ian and Barbara without making sure they were okay. The sailors threw The TARDIS into the ocean in order to get rid of both the devil box, and the woman. The women are trapped in The TARDIS in the ocean and the men are stuck on Cook’s ship in the Southern Hemisphere where they will eventually discover Australia. The Doctor ends up spending his time with Captain Cook while Ian is assigned to helping Joseph Banks, a naturalist and botanist. The majority of the plot involves the difficulties as Ian believes Banks to be an alien with ill-intent.
While this story is a bit slow, it does turn a couple of story-telling conventions on their head. First is the Doctor Who historical. In a previous post I mention that Doctor Who currently does historical stories that involve aliens in some way. The Hartnell Era historicals do not, preferring humans as the antagonists. Thus, Transit returns to the old-style historicals rather than the current form practiced by Doctor Who. The second convention is that of a protagonist suspecting that someone is not who they appear, even when everyone else believes them to be crazy. In this case, Ian believes Banks to be an alien. Cook and even The Doctor, believe Ian to be crazy. What is also fascinating are the scenes where Banks seems to be genuinely hurt by Ian’s suspicions. Typically in these stories, the hero would be proven right in the end. Transit joins the minority of stories where the hero is actually incorrect. Banks is not an alien, but I’ll refrain from giving away the solution here.
In the end, to provide continuity, The Doctor gets mad at Ian and Barbara again, believing all this to be their fault, and threatens once more to throw them from The TARDIS. Yes, this story is shoehorned in to a place where it doesn’t quite fit, but the story itself is entertaining. You are required to have some knowledge of The Sensorites, although the story does attempt give this information at the beginning. Truth be told, I’m not sure this story could have fit anywhere else since it depends so much on continuity from The Sensorites. If you can get past the difficult fit in continuity, the story is a lot of fun, especially if you are a fan of the Hartnell Era or a fan of Ian Chesterton in particular.