‘The Rocket Men’
The companion chronicles series from Big Finish is sadly going away shortly. The program is primarily about the Doctor, of course (tell that to Davies and Moffat), but each of the supporting cast members have made an indelible mark on the legacy of Doctor Who (aside from Adric, apparently, who has yet to return… kinda). The companion chronicles explores the deeper characterization of the companions as well as recreating the feel and atmosphere indicative to each era. The 1960’s was a period of intense experimentation and high quality drama. This was back when the program still had Verity Lambert holding the reigns and a stress on sophisticated storytelling.
There are so many wonderful previous companions and some incredibly talented actors and actresses, but for my money, Ian Chesterton played by William Russell is the best of the lot. To add to to potential, the romantic relationship between Ian and Barbara is played up. Ian of course has strong feelings for her, but his proper English stature and the awkwardness of their situation makes it impossible for him to make a move, as it were. In the Rocket Men, Ian questions his adoration of Barbara and his own courage to risk shaking up the status quot and revealing his true feelings.
John Dorney’s script is razor sharp and split between cause and effect throughout, providing listeners with glimpses into the future then switching back to the past when one moment is reflected by another. Arriving on Platform Five, it appears at first that the Doctor and his companions have found a much needed respite from their adventuring. A pleasures spot, there seems to be no bug-eyed monsters or mad scientists in sight, leaving the travelers at ease to simply enjoy the breathtaking vista of an alien world.
The Doctor becomes involved in some intense scientific experimentation while Barbara falls slightly ill, leaving Ian somewhat frustrated as he can neither use his brain as a scientist nor his heart by accompanying Barbara. He tries to make the best of things, but there is a pang of dread in the back of his mind.
Ian and Vicki are keen to explore the milky skies of Jobis in the spacecraft answer to a glass bottomed boat where they see diamond-like insects and massive manta-ray-like creatures floating in serene peace. That peace is broken by the arrival of mercenary Rocket Men. Seeking to control the entire platform, the Rocket Men are led by the brutal Ashman (played by Gus Brown), a kind of pulp villain complete with a tooth-gnashingly cruel kind of blood lust Ashman is after the diamond insects which tantalizingly hover in the air all around them, but stealing them would greatly upset the natural way of things. The Doctor’s clever mind must work at record speed and from remote (as he is on another platform) to assist, but will he be in time? It is only Ian’s bravery, his willingness to throw caution to the wind and risk it all that saves them all.
One of the most brilliant scripts that I have had the pleasure of hearing, the Rocket Men is a gripping drama with plenty of action, lots of emotion and heaping amounts of nostalgia. I was also quite impressed by the way in which the story switched tenses so easily, something that would appear to be gimmick in a lesser writer’s hands. It’s a truly magnificent story that makes me quite sad that this spinoff will soon come to an end (Nicholas Briggs has since stated that the Companion Chronicles may continue as specials or box sets, so maybe I shouldn’t weep into my flannel too much).
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