Doctor Who – The Beginning (The Companion Chronicles)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Marc Platt

Directed by

Lisa Bowerman

What’s It About?

Ad copy: When the First Doctor and his grand-daughter Susan escape through the cloisters of Gallifrey to an old Type 40 Time Travel capsule, little do they realize the adventures that lie ahead… And little do they know, as the TARDIS dematerializes and they leave their home world behind, there is someone else aboard the ship. He is Quadrigger Stoyn, and he is very unhappy…

Cover for The Beginning

I was playing with a chair which should have been housebroken

Marc Platt seems to be Big Finish’s go to writer for major revisitations of classic series stories. He wrote the origin of the Cybermen (Spare Parts), the return of the Mara (The Cradle of the Snake), the origin of Magnus Greel (The Butcher of Brisbane), and with The Beginning he visits a pre-Unearthly Child time period for the second time (the first being Quinnis). And while Big Finish has many excellent writers, Platt is one of my favorites. I enjoy the way he layers concepts in his stories, weaving together ideas that reflect one another. The Beginning is no different as the title is a clever play on words and expectations.

On one level, the most obvious one, The Beginning refers to the Doctor and Susan’s flee from Gallifrey. The audio hits the ground running, with the Doctor, Susan, and a mysterious trunk making their way through the bowels of the Citadel. They arrive at a bank of time capsules and pick one in haste. While I didn’t particularly care for The Name of the Doctor, there is a nice reference to that story, and then the adventure begins in earnest. With the stolen TARDIS, however, comes Quadrigger Stoyn (played by Terry Molloy), a TARDIS mechanic who was doing repairs on the damaged ship. Stoyn has never left Gallifrey, and he is horrified at his predicament. And so, The Beginning refers to where all this started, but graciously leaves certain details—such as the reason for the Doctor and Susan’s escape—in mystery. I appreciate this discretion.

On another level, The Beginning refers to beginnings in a more cosmological sense. The Doctor, Susan, and Stoyn arrive on Earth before the emergence of human life. It is here where Platt’s layering becomes truly fascinating to the Religious Studies side of my interests. At the beginning of human life is the ancient cosmological idea of Order and Chaos. Many ancient near eastern texts have this duality at the core of their worldview. Even passages of the Old Testament are probably best understood as Order and Chaos rather than retro-fitting Platonic or Enlightenment ideas onto the interpretation of texts. And these ancient texts are clear in the view that Order is benevolent and Chaos is malicious. Order is embodied in divine beings who keep the weather clear and the crops growing (order in nature) and society at peace (order in humans). Chaos, on the other hand, is embodied in divine beings who create storms and natural disasters (disorder in nature) and society at war or ridden with crime (disorder in humans). And at the heart of The Beginning is an alien race seeding order into the cosmos, taking the disorder of creation and bringing it into a peaceful alignment. But as this function is somewhat mechanistic (for what is more orderly than pure logic and no emotions), the ordered existence of life has no growth, no struggles and perseverance, no free will.

Into this ordering process steps our chaotic-good-aligned Doctor. The experiment by which the alien race attempts to bring order is interrupted and humanity is created. Disordered life rises on Earth. The aliens decide the experiment has failed and the only option left is to destroy the Earth. The Doctor and Susan intervene. In a way, Marc Platt upends the ancient near east duality by making our hero a god of chaos who, with the best of intentions, introduces chaos into humanity before they emerge. Put another way, he puts an aspect of himself into humanity which subsumes the aspect of Order. By doing so, the Doctor has created, in this moment, every human-involved battle he has ever fought. He has bound himself up with the destiny of humanity. He has created humanity, not in a physical sense, but in a psychological/spiritual sense. The price of free will becomes the ability to choose evil. The price of struggle and perseverance is pain and suffering. The Doctor, then, is god but also Satan. And the great irony of this act of creation is that the First Doctor, at this point in his career, is probably the most selfish, least moral of all his incarnations (until the Sixth).

Quadrigger Stoyn becomes the other villain of this piece. He wants to get home and he realizes the Doctor has no intention of returning him there. Thus, Stoyn is willing to use whatever methods necessary to get control of the TARDIS, to get home. Stoyn is memorably played by Terry Molloy, but I don’t think we get enough of him in this story to really understand his motivations. All we know is that he is a mechanic who is experiencing his first trip off Gallifrey, and that it is against his will. And the other threat Stoyn brings is his willingness to turn the Doctor in to the authorities, to the Fetches. Since this story is also the first in a trilogy involving Stoyn, these details may be fleshed out later.

It is probably good to go in to this story knowing that the reasons the Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey are not revealed. Apart from Stoyn, the Gallifreyan elements are minimal and The Beginning could just be another pre-series adventure. But by tying the beginning of the Doctor’s life to the origin of human life, Marc Platt has given us something we never knew we wanted (or at least I never knew that I wanted): a reason why the Doctor’s life is tied up with humanity.

Doctor Who: Hunters of Earth (Destiny of the Doctor)

Written by Nigel Robinson

Directed by John Ainsworth

Susan Foreman is finding her place at Coal Hill School. She is growing close to a young man named Cedric. But suspicion falls on Susan and her grandfather as teenagers begin hunting anyone different . . .or alien.

Cover for Hunters of Earth

“It’s all in the beat.”

Note: Even though this is a First Doctor story, this review contains spoilers for series seven’s “The Name of the Doctor.” If you don’t want to be spoiled, read until the paragraph with the 50th anniversary logo next to it.

I go in to pre-“An Unearthly Child” stories with a large amount of skepticism. The inherent logic involved in story telling is that the story begins at the most-interesting starting point. Anything prior to this point may be relevant to the plot, but if it were essential to it, the story would have started earlier. Based on the basic premise of Doctor Who, we aren’t supposed to start with his origin. There would be no mystery if we did. As a result, any story taking place prior to the show’s beginning is filtered through 50 years of mythology, and these stories must walk a fine line, holding in tension the mystery of the character at this point without revealing too much later mythology that developed.

And it needs to be good, something special. I am personally in favor of visiting this period as little as possible and reserving such visits for writers who can tell exceptional stories. Many of the stories from this period of the show do not really contribute much to the Doctor Who mythology, nor are they distinctly Hartnell in feel. So far, “Quinnis” is my favorite because Marc Platt is able to capture the feel of the First Doctor while providing some great world-building and character moments.

“Hunters of Earth” is set during the Coal Hill days of Doctor Who—a period of the Doctor’s life that the show only covers in one episode. The problem with setting a story here is that it gives the Doctor too much to do, risks him exposing his presence when he is explicitly trying to remain anonymous. And so, in order to give us a story in which the Doctor keeps a low profile but still has a mystery to solve, Nigel Robinson gives us a story that isn’t terribly compelling. I tend to find Robinson hit or miss, but I admit I haven’t read anything of his work in over ten years. Of recent experience I have this story and “Farewell Great Macedon,” which was an adaptation he did for Big Finish of Moris Farhi’s unfilmed script. That story was excellent, but how much can be attributed to Farhi and how much to Robinson?

the Coal Hill announcement board“Hunters of Earth” is in the style of The Companion Chronicles line, but it is in the third person rather than the first. It is narrated by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), and deals with her attempts to integrate into Coal Hill. We are given nice moments between her and the Doctor in which she is able to influence him to be more considerate. I especially appreciate that the story is has a couple of science fiction elements, but is largely historical. We don’t have an alien invasion at Coal Hill or anything like that. Everything is kept low key, and even the characters who suspect Susan and the Doctor are not of Earth are few and willing to keep the secret. It is an interesting story which attempts to not overshadow the beginning of Doctor Who. It keeps things quiet. Unfortunately, it is this unassuming nature which is both a blessing and a curse. It doesn’t insist that the Doctor’s story begins here, but neither does it capture you and make you think it was a great experience.

Of course, I suppose the same could be said of any of Doctor Who’s secondary canon. Why bother? If it was so important, we would have got it already. Fair enough. Many Doctor Who fans only want to look forward, not back. They don’t want or need new stories with previous Doctors. They are happy with what the show gave them. For my part, I like the Companion Chronicles, and I am particularly drawn to the First Doctor stories because this era gives me something no other era does—straight historicals. It is a part of the First Doctor era, one that I would love to see brought back just because I love history and love learning about “real history” (i.e. aliens were not behind historical events). But I also like the different approach to science fiction in the 1960s. It was a time of optimism and anything could happen. In the First Doctor’s era you truly didn’t know where you would be transported to from story to story (in some cases, from week to week). And so, while “Hunters of Earth” isn’t a particularly compelling story, I’m happy it was made and I will listen to it again.

Two more points of contention. First, I didn’t particularly enjoy the in-jokes, primarily the “my dear Doctor, you have been naïve” joke. This line is particularly associated with the Master, and having a character utter this completely misleads the plot development. For a moment I was ecstatic as I contemplated a confrontation between the First Doctor and the Master. (And really, how awesome would that be? Harnell’s crotchety, irritable Doctor against a Delgado-style Master would have been wonderful. Think of the insults! The witticisms!) When I discovered this was merely a joke, I was completely taken out of the story.

50th Anniversary LogoSecond, “Hunters of Earth” is part of the larger Destiny of the Doctor line, which is a series of eleven audiobooks commissioned for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. As such, they attempt to weave an arc through the eleven stories that will pay off with the Eleventh Doctor. I like this idea. I think it is an interesting opportunity. I can’t speak for whether or not it works because I haven’t listened to all of them yet (indeed, I only have the first three), but so far the extent seems to be the Eleventh Doctor contacting his former selves and offering a clue for their current crisis. I’m not sure this is the opportunity I wanted to see. I think what I wanted, but never saw, was what Steven Moffat implied (and failed to deliver in a satisfying way) in “The Name of the Doctor,” namely an Eleventh Doctor villain who is attempting to destroy the Doctor in different time periods. Sure, this would be difficult to accomplish in eleven stories, but I think it could be done by coming up with a compelling villain with a distinct method for operating, then placing symbols or symbolic plots throughout the different stories (which also serve to fill in the back story), culminating with the Eleventh Doctor being victorious. It would be complex; it would need a lot of coordination, but it would be a lot of fun.

Instead, I fear these will turn out to be standalone stories that may be loosely connected rather than essentially connected. Granted, anyone who has kept current with the releases may see if I am completely wrong.

On another note, how cool would it have been if Destiny of the Doctor set up something in The Day of the Doctor? Or of Clara’s splintering through time happened in these stories and the Great Intelligence took different guises in the Doctor’s past as Clara did. Missed opportunities.

Bottom line, “Hunters of Earth” may prove forgettable, but if you are a First Doctor nut (as I am) it is a perfectly average story. Nothing amazing, but nothing horrible. Since there are a lot of 50th anniversary releases to get this year, pick it up through digital download to save yourself some money.