The Companion Chronicles – ‘The Wanderer’
Written By: Richard Dinnick, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Release Date: 30 April, 2012
“No one should know everything, the Doctor said and I saw a twinkle in his eye. He meant anyone but him.”
The Doctor and his companions arrive in Siberia at the close of the 19th Century. The TARDIS picked up some interference from an alien device and the Doctor is determined to find it. Ian, Barbara and Susan brave the biting winds of the Siberian landscape in search of an alien artifact and in the course of their travels they encounter one of the most unique personalities in history.
The era of the First Doctor is one of my many favorites, especially the Verity Lambert era as the quality of the scripts and production value was so lavish. This story is set during that era, before Susan left the TARDIS to start a new life on Earth (albeit reluctantly). As William Russell narrates this adventure, the prime character is of course Ian, a character who began as a reluctant traveler and transformed into a dashing hero (he was even knighted!). This story draws from the tapestry of history as well as an evocative environment, brought to life by the stunning soundsmiths at Big Finish.
When the Doctor and his companions meet the travelling Grigory who identifies himself as a strannik or a pilgrim on a holy journey, their search takes a turn for the better… and worse. Grigory claims to have strange abilities and the villagers that they encounter treat him with reverence. A wise and perceptive person, Grigory can tell that Ian is not just a stranger to the land but in other ways as well. He seems to glean something from just talking to Ian and Ian sees something of a kindred spirit in Grigory as well. The two men bond and find strength in each other as their quest for the artifact takes them on a decidedly horrific path.
Everyone who has come into contact with the device has fallen into a deep trance of some kind almost like a coma. When the Doctor touches the tiny alien object he is seized with pain and confusion and lapses into silence. Before he does so, he attempts to pass on some information in his notebook and mutters something about chronon particles.
The device is a transceiver of alien design that has become faulty. Intended to record and transmit data, it is instead recording future events in the timestream. When the Doctor touched the thing, it put him into a stupor as his brain attempted to absorb and make sense of the flood of images and information. In order to free the others, Grigory sacrifices himself by taking on all of the information and begins to scream in agony. He sees all of history at once, complete with repeated images of the Doctor and then he starts to go mad.
The other who have touched the device are no longer in a coma-like state, they are dead, their minds burnt out by the massive overload of information. The Doctor fears for Grigory’s life but he meets the old man’s intense gaze and matches it. Grigory is no longer a simple peasant, he is enlightened by touching the time stream and gaining all that it has to offer. He also has plans for what he can do with that knowledge, plans that cannot come to fruition.
I had mentioned how Ian had developed on screen and that continues in these audio adventures. In Farewell, Great Macedon, The Rocketmen and more, we get a deeper look at the schoolteacher and his strong moral character. His conversations with Grigory about the importance of knowledge, the fragile state of the web of time (long before it became a cosmic game of Candyland as we have seen in the BBC Wales program) is very intelligently written and shows that Ian is very aware of the serioys implications his actions could have.
The Wanderer is a gripping tale full of drama and sweeping action as well. Russell is an accomplished actor gifted with one of the most astounding voices. His impersonation of Hartnell’s Doctor is charming and full of character, at once brave and ostentatious as well as being rather humorous and humble. Acting as Grigory is Tim Chipping, an actor from film and TV. the story goes that The Wanderer went through a few rewrites as the initial plot involved Nostradamus before it was realized that the Doomsday Quatrain was already in production. Richard Dinnick had to transform his script in a few ways very quickly to make it instead about a Russian seer of famous personage.
(I had realized who Grigory was almost at once, but the revelation that came in the story was more tragic than anything else so I certainly didn’t miss out on anything.)