Big Finishâ€™s latest Companions Chronicle is The Drowned World, a second instalment in the unusual adventures and recollections of a wish-granting house in Ely, starring Jean Marsh as former companion Sara Kingdom.
The concept is intriguing â€“ Sara Kingdomâ€™s soul was somehow recorded by a mysterious house during a visit there with the Doctor and Steven Taylor, related in the characterâ€™s previous appearance in Home Truths.
Of course many long-term Doctor Who fans know that Sara Kingdom is dead, aged to death as the Doctor defeated the Daleksâ€™ most audacious plan. However The Daleksâ€™ Master Plan takes place over 12 episodes and the novelisation suggests that there is a considerable gap of months between the 7th and 8th episodes of the serial, lending opportunities for the cloning of Saraâ€™s soul.
What really brings the tale together is the double salvo of an excellent musical soundtrack and the return of Niall MacGregor (Monarch of the Glen, Party Animals) as Robert. No prior knowledge of their previous encounter is required however â€“ my own experience of The Companion Chronicles prior to this extended to The Mahogany Murderers, and Simon Guerrier has crafted The Drowned World in such a way that Saraâ€™s bizarre existence is conveyed intelligently and without unnecessary exposition.
This isnâ€™t by any means a rip-roaring adventure however, although the details of a near death experience with the Doctor and Steven form the main hub of this drama. The continuing disembodied existence of Sara Kingdom in a remote future time in which floods bring sickness and wishes can be granted is the real meat here, with Marsh and McGregorâ€™s exchanges as Sara and Robert utterly engaging.
Thanks to the Companion Chronicles series, Sara Kingdom is no longer a slightly two dimensional, easily-lead space security agent. The years she has spent existing without a body in the remote house in Ely have given both the writer and the lead an opportunity to take the character in a new direction that is only slightly governed by what we know of the original Sara.
With her home â€“ and potentially by extension her very existence â€“ threatened with destruction by the small-minded Elders of this future, flooded world Sara Kingdom is forced to prove that she has a right to exist, and does so by regaling stories to her champion Robert for him to record on a rudimentary wax recording device.
An atmosphere of loneliness, loss and terrible sadness trickles through The Drowned World. Saraâ€™s telling of her adventure with Steven and the Doctor on the asteroid mine takes second place to her present struggle â€“ despite the huge distance and difference of the locations however the threat of death, evaporation or something worse exists in both times, as does the strong presence of water (a common theme throughout 2009 it would seem).
Jean Marsh is an actress of obvious pedigree and her continued relationship with the Doctor Who world could be seen by some as something of a surprise. Running at around 70 minutes, there is considerable depth, intrigue and emotion to The Drowned World, a work that succeeds in telling at least 4 stories at once that rich in mood, tone and dialogue and thoroughly enjoyable.
The Drowned World was released in July 2009 and can be purchased on CD or for download at www.bigfinish.com.