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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
The Alchemists


Author: Ian Potter
Performed by: Carole Ann Ford
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £7.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 946 2
Release Date: 31 August 2013

The TARDIS lands in Berlin in the 1930s, where Hitler and his National Socialist party are in the ascendant. Some of the greatest scientific minds are due to gather here – Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Schrödinger, Wigner – the people who will build the future of planet Earth. But the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan have brought something with them – something apparently harmless, something quite common. Yet it is something that could threaten the course of history...

The harmless something that the Doctor and Susan have brought with them is gold, in the form of Roman coins, which they exchange for some local currency – cash for gold. I just thought I’d clarify that, because the TARDIS is also carrying something that is far from harmless and far from common, but very exciting for a Doctor Who fan in this anniversary year. Though the device goes unnamed, it is clear that the Doctor is looking for a hiding place for the Hand of Omega, the Gallifreyan remote stellar manipulator that he would ultimately leave behind on Earth in 1963, as revealed in Remembrance of the Daleks (which is 25 years old this year – I told you this was an anniversary year). Like Quinnis before it, this Companion Chronicle takes place during the Doctor and Susan’s travels before they took up residence at 76 Totter’s Lane in An Unearthly Child.

Aside from the TARDIS and its occupants, this is a purely historical story, with no science fiction elements whatsoever. Writer Ian Potter quite rightly avoids trivialising the birth of Nazism, and so there is no alien intervention here. The social and economic circumstances that led to Hitler’s rise to power are all the fault of human beings. We see this troubled nation through Susan’s eyes. She doesn’t fully understand the significance of the political posters on the walls, or the graffiti on a woman’s shop window, but the listener does.

Carole Ann Ford sounds remarkably youthful as she recaptures the teenage Susan, and there is a good range of secondary voices from supporting actor Wayne Forester – he doesn’t just play Pollitt as credited on the cover.

The Alchemists is a rather grim story, but there are a few lighter moments, including an excellent Heisenberg joke! The ending is a bit of a damp squib, though. In fact, I had to listen to it twice to make sure that I hadn’t overlooked some subtle nuance about the conclusion the first time around. But then, any kind of spectacular whiz-bang solution to the fate awaiting Berlin would have been a betrayal of the gritty reality that the writer has set up.

There is a little extra thrill before the CD finishes, however. The eight minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews include tantalising talk of another, even earlier adventure for the Doctor and Susan, coming soon to the Companion Chronicles range: The Beginning...


Richard McGinlay

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