Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Susan remembers a time before Coal Hill School when she and her grandfather arrived on the mysterious planet Quinnis which needs a new rainmaker.
“That’s where we nearly lost the TARDIS when our journey started.”
Way back in Edge of Destruction, Susan mentions that the TARDIS stores information on every place it visits. One of the places that appeared on the visualizer during the TARDIS malfunctions was the planet Quinnis. Susan gives a brief reference to Quinnis, in much the same way Sherlock Holmes and Watson would reference an adventure that hasn’t been written. Big Finish and Marc Platt have decided, nearly 50 years later, to tell us the story of Quinnis.
Like all titles in the Companion Chronicle range, this one is narrated by one of the companions and has one additional actor providing the voice of another character. Obviously, it is narrated by Carol Anne Ford, who reprises her role as Susan. The character of Meedla, who becomes Susan’s friend, is voiced by Ford’s daughter Tara Louise-Kay. Both actresses do a marvelous job, with the exception of Ford’s portrayal of The Doctor. As the action focuses primarily on Susan, this isn’t much of a distraction. What impressed me about Ford’s performance is how she effectively recaptures Susan’s mannerisms, yet makes her less grating than they were back in the 1960s.
Marc Platt is one of my favorite Doctor Who writers. Oddly enough, however, I have not seen his only contribution to the show. I have not seen Ghost Light. I’m familiar with Platt primarily due to his work on Big Finish, all of which I have loved. He creates striking images and concepts. He wrote the much beloved Spare Parts about the origin of the Cybermen, and has written many of the First Doctor Companion Chronicles. He has a pretty good feel for The Hartnell Era. As this story takes place just before An Unearthly Child, Platt doesn’t have to completely capture the feel of the era. Instead, he focuses on what it is about this planet that would have stuck in Susan’s mind and why it would be memorable.
The concept designer for the original Star Wars movies was a painter named Ralph McQuarrie. If you have ever seen his designs for the movies, you will be struck by two things. First, how other-worldly they are. Second, how much they do not look like the Star Wars we would eventually see in theaters. Yes, there is a thematic connection, but many of the landscapes and designs McQuarrie created were either not used or significantly tweaked. I remember being in high school collecting the Star Wars Galaxy Trading Cards and being struck by the paintings of McQuarrie. There were no stories accompanying the pictures, but I wanted the stories that seemed to be taking place. They seemed to have more potential than what was realized on screen.
Quinnis reminds me of the feeling I had when looking at McQuarrie’s paintings. Some of his work had vast fields of grass, much like the Serengeti. Platt deliberately drew images from vacations he had in Africa and other exotic locations. From the fields outside the town, to the woman carrying a piglet everywhere, to a vast marketplace, the images in this story are rooted in our world. What he adds, which makes the planet more alien, are bridges and arches that move up and up into the mountains, but none of the stone structures are complete. They are half-finished. Additionally, all the market kiosks are chained to the ground. The reason for this becomes evident when the rains come.
As for the story, The Doctor and Susan arrive on Quinnis. After a bit of exploring the town, The Doctor decides to find another scientist. The people in the town interpret this to mean he is trying to find a rainmaker. Quinnis is suffering from a severe drought, and the last rainmaker was literally thrown out of town due to his inability to create rain. The Doctor is soon set-up as the new rainmaker, against his will, I might add. Throughout, Susan becomes friends with a young woman named Meedla. Susan is quite devoted to the young girl, who is just a bit cruel, spending much time laughing at other people and making mischief.
The people live in fear of the Bad Luck Birds. These are creatures that are birdlike but can take on a humanoid appearance and blend in. They feed off the misery and pain of others. They aren’t so much bringers of bad luck as they are trickster creatures. Hunters pursue and kill the birds to try to keep them out of the towns. It turns out Meedla is one such bird, and she has taken quite the shining to Susan.
But the birds are not the only threat. When the finally comes, it arrives in torrents, flooding the town and washing away any building that isn’t chained down, which includes the TARDIS. All debris is washed to the fields below. However, the grass is ravenous, and as it soaks more water, it grows taller and taller, it become more violent.
I really enjoyed this story. Again, I’m a fan of Marc Platt. The performances are good, and the story is unpredictable, despite some reference to it in the classic series. One thing I especially like is that this story is placed just before The Doctor and Susan arrive on Totter’s Lane in London. The Doctor is understandably unnerved by how easily Susan befriended this creature, and how easily she was manipulated by it. He decides that Susan needs a bit of stability and the chance to make friends in a safer environment. In essence, she needs to be around people so she can learn to interact. Thus, Coal Hill School.
So, a great story, fun, suspenseful, and just a bit creepy in places. If you like the Hartnell era, or are a fan of the Companion Chronicles, check this one out.