The twist. The reversal. The revelation. The moment every great story has that takes everything you thought you knew about the plot and turns it on its head. It’s the Professor Yana moment (or the River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter moment, if you prefer and didn’t know it was coming). The best stories use these sparingly and effectively. Otherwise, it becomes clichéd and runs the risk of becoming nonsensical. One of the latest installments in Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles, The Sleeping City, takes its shot at the “I didn’t see that coming” moment and nails it.
The story finds Ian Chesterton, voiced by original actor William Russell, answering tough questions by an interrogator named Gerrard. Ian and Barbara are being detained for questions surrounding their 1963 disappearance with Susan and the Doctor. This Ian Chesterton is a confident and faithful companion, in contrast to the often brash and argumentative man who first barged his way into the TARDIS. In an effort to appease Gerrard, Ian tells him of his travels with the Doctor, Barbara, and Vicki to the city of Hisk.
One of the most rewarding parts of the audio story is the sound framing of the actual city. The effort put into creating the sonic atmosphere succeeds in transporting the listener to the city, almost as easily as walking out the front door into your world. Exciting as that may be, the city has its own dangers in the form of the dreaded Harbringers, reaper-esque creatures that promise death to those they encounter in Limbus. Limbus itself is an interesting concept, as all the citizens of Hisk share a collective dream state. While the other members of the TARDIS team brave the mysterious Limbus, the Doctor declines and in doing so discovers that perhaps the danger isn’t from within the dream itself, but in the real world while the people of the city slumber. As the story rushes towards its climax, the interrogation intensifies as well. The story rushes to an ending you will not expect; there’s no way we’re spoiling it here.
The voice work is primarily completed by William Russell and John Banks. Of particular note is Russell’s uncanny take on Hartnell’s First Doctor. In a lot of ways, it is preferable to David Bradley’s take in An Adventure in Time and Space. While I would have preferred female actors filling the roles of Barbara and Vicki, having Russell act as a narrator for the story works in its own way. Banks is formidable as the voice of Gerrard as well as other citizens of Hisk. His performance is seething with the possibility that there may be quite a bit more the Ian’s interrogation than he is letting on.
The story itself was penned by Ian Potter and very accurately feels like it could have existed on the program itself back in the early days of Doctor Who. Indeed, Potter’s Doctor Who is much more subdued in nature compared to modern day Who and finds the Doctor as much more of an organizer of the action than actually being in the thick of things. This is a trait I speculate that we may see return a bit with our new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Only time will tell for sure.
Big Finish’s The Sleeping City is highly recommendable, especially to those who are fans of the First Doctor and Ian Chesterton. It’s available now from Big Finish in both digital and CD formats.