‘The Three Companions’
The planet Earth appears to be dying in a massive global disaster. In the midst of the turmoil, a former companion of the Doctor’s named Polly finds an intriguing article by Jo Jones. It contains several interest elements and information regarding someone named the Brigadier. As the current cataclysm brings back memories of an old adventure that Polly had with the Doctor, Jamie and Ben, Polly starts to correspond with the Brigadier. The two soon find that they have indeed seen this situation before and it relates to horrific creatures called coffin loaders and a man with the initials G.L.
Described as a ‘fun romp’ in the vein of The Three Doctors, The Three Companions was given to Marc Platt with very little bullet points. It needed to feature three companions and be separated into twelve ten-minute mini-episodes that would be included with the year’s monthly releases. Platt weaves a magnificent adventure that incorporates three distinct eras of Doctor Who where the travelers encounter bizarre mind-bending landscapes along with a mysterious G.L. (sometimes Gerry Lenz, sometimes Garry Lendler).
In ten minute chunks, Platt attempted to keep the pacing string with action and drama, but many listeners grew frustrated trying to keep the details straight. Re-released in three discs and re-edited, the Three Companions was compiled into a box set along with two special releases ‘Freak Show’ with Mark Strickson as Turlough and ‘The Mists of Time’ with Katy Manning as Jo Grant. This works better, but I must admit that the major stumbling block for me was the narrative structure.
The story is essentially split into three parts; Polly’s story, The Brigadier’s story and finally they all come together in Thomas Brewster’s story. It’s a neat idea and when it works its absolutely wonderful, but there are some odd impediments that are unfortunately built into the structure of the twelve-part adventure.
Polly’s story is told through a series of correspondences with the retired Brigadier, Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s a great story, but feels like a mash-up between the stage play Love Letters and a choose your own adventure novel. The two narrators also interrupt each other which I just could not figure out. I decided that they must be chatting over instant messenger, but later there is reference to letters being received and intercepted… so I’m still confused.
When Polly’s story finally gets going, it’s a real corker. The TARDIS has landed on a planet in its last stages of life. A sickly mold sticks to everything and weird robotic creatures are scavenging what is left for salvage. A tannoy system repeatedly announces an impending explosion, but it appears to be stuck at 50 minutes. The travelers also discover a railway carriage full of passengers that do not move or speak. Of course as soon as the device is tampered with, the operation goes into full swing and its a battle against the clock as a planet-destroying bomb nears detonation and a robot starts hunting down stray humans, including the Doctor and his companions!
The planet is a corporate structure that has been abandoned, its employees frozen and packaged for use on another world. The scrap dealer operating the small robotic critters, Gerry Lenz, reveals all of the pertinent details to the Doctor and sees hardly troubled by the situation. When Ben and Jamie become capture by one of the robotic drones rounding up workers, it gets personal, and the Doctor takes action.
Polly’s story feels very much in the vein of the old Doctor Who comic strips from the 1960’s, full of robotic creations, weird alien worlds and off the wall concepts. It’s far too wild to be mounted for the small screen by the BBC, but a fascinating tale nonetheless. The Doctor angrily recognizes that the Corporation is treating planets like paper cups, using what they like then discarding it when they are done. But just because the planet is no longer suitable for human life doesn’t mean it has lived out its purpose!
As the Doctor and Polly attempt to defuse the automatic bomb, Gerry Lenz is much more interested in getting away from it all, much to Polly’s chagrin. It’s odd, but the initials G.L., strike a memory for the Brigadier…
The only real drawback for me as a listener was the constant shift in narration. The addition of Thomas Pickard as Brewster somehow intercepting the letter had me scratching my head and I just decided to let it go. When he emails both Polly and the Brig and Polly remarks that they should ignore it as if the Brigadier can hear her… never mind.
The Brigadier’s story is much more straight forward and fitting with the standard companion chronicles structure. Set just between the Green Death and the Time Warrior, the Doctor appears moody and distraught, often taking to the confines of his TARDIS rather than talking with U.N.I.T. staff. When the Brig confronts the Doctor with some questionable expense accounts, he ends getting whisked away into time ans space, on a mission to answer an interplanetary distress call.
They land in what appears to be Waterloo Station, but everything is wrong. There is a non-stop downpour and eels wriggling along the gutters, the citizens appear unmoved by the situation and are stuck in an endless routine of boarding and disembarking a local transit train. They are also dressed in somewhat random attire, not from the same period at all.
When the Doctor and Brigadier finally see the skyline, such as it is, they realize that they are not on Earth at all, but a simulacrum of the Earth built from a simple child-like point of view. The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty are within spitting distance of each other and a marching military band is completely out of scale with the commuters. It’s all so mad that when a monster emerges from the river, tongues lashing from its enormous mouth, it seems to fit.
The Doctor grimly recognizes the creature as a coffin loader, something that only appears during a planet’s final hours. The station public address system begs the Doctor for help and, in time, they find G.L. stuck in the workings of the machinery running the affair. Calling himself Garry Lendler, G.L. is again eager to skedaddle, but the Doctor is determined to sort out the mess that he’s made. As the coffin loader assaults the small building they are holed up in, the Doctor and the Brigadier are abandoned by G.L. who makes a quick get away via a teleport module.
The Brigadier’s story is so bizarre and wonderful that I recommend this set just for this part alone! Not to put down the other two parts at all, but the strange setting and the spot-on characterization of the Third Doctor made this a stand out prize for me.
Sadly this was the last performance by Nic Courtney as the Brigadier as he passed away on February 2011. The production staff adored (rightly so) and it is painful to hear them discuss further plans for the Brig in other adventures. In the behind-the-scenes material, Courtney humbly acknowledged the importance of Doctor Who to his career and happily discussed details of his favorite stories in the old (surprisingly her name-checked Ghost Light as a high point and grumbled a little that it was far better than Battlefield) and new program (he enjoyed The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and School Reunion). A sterling actor and a recognized member of ‘Doctor Who royalty’ his contribution to the legacy of Doctor Who is unsurpassed.
Of course the final part involves the artful dodger Thomas Brewster who is working for G.L. as a lure to bring the Brigadier and Polly together with hopes that one of them has a key to the Doctor’s TARDIS, now among G.L.’s scavenged parcels. G.L. is working with Professor Jones (the Welsh guy obsessed with mushrooms from the Green Death) on solving the deathly rain and killer mold that is eating the ozone, but it soon becomes clear that he and Brewster caused all of this themselves by unleashing the coffin loader from G.L.’s space-borne warehouse.
The conclusion is a non-stop action-based slog through a decaying London as a coffin loader grown fat on sewer rats engages in a bit of sport with an alien Hunter who has paid G.L. for the convenience. It gets a bit ropy at times, but all of the beats are there and the action gets so heady that I got caught up in it all.
Thomas Brewster is one of the odder companions of the Big Finish line, a Victorian urchin who smuggled himself aboard the TARDIS and encountered the Fifth Doctor then was discovered imitating the cricketing incarnation when he was found out by the Sixth Doctor. His character combines the intentions of Adric (he was initially viewed as a street kid in the vein of Oliver) and Turlough as you can never get a bead on what his intentions are, but you can’t help but feel compassion for him. John Pickard holds his own against the two established luminaries of Doctor Who and comes out sounding like just another great companion… just one that you never saw on the telly.
The Three Companions is a bit too ambitious and must be listened to in as close to one sitting as possible to really be enjoyed (yes, close to three hours). But as it set out to be a bit of fun in the first case, it achieved that in cart loads.
Coming soon from Big Finish:
Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles 7.01 ‘The Time Museum’
Written by: James Goss
Starring William Russell (Ian Chesterton) and Philip Pope (Pendolin)
Release date: July 2012