At first prospect, a ‘Doctor-lite’ audio story that features First Doctor companions Steven and Dodo may seem a tough sell. While I’m sure they have their own fans, they’re not typically mentioned in anyone’s top list of companions who’ve travelled with the Doctor through time and space. Perhaps that is a strength. Case in point, Big Finish’s Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles – The War to End All Wars gives us an insight into Steven Taylor’s decision to leave the TARDIS, something that his brief time on the television show did not, and it does so in style.
The story picks up several years after Steven, voiced here by original actor Peter Purves, opted to stay and mediate between the Elders and Savages. The Steven featuring in the story is a now deposed king of the world he stayed behind to guide. In his cell, he recalls to a young woman, by the name of Sida (Alice Haig), an adventure on the planet of Comfort – one that saw him and Dodo drafted into a seemingly endless war effort – and how its lasting effects brought Steven to the place where he is now.
Purves’ performance is a seamless transition back to the character we remember from Season 3, but it’s the more weathered performance that this future Steven is given that makes the whole of the story a treat. The structure of the story practically demands this; as mentioned earlier, it is a ‘Doctor-lite’ story. These are either well received or hated when done on the television, so it is a risk for an audio play to take. If not for the well balanced performance from Purves and the well-written script and story by Simon Guerrier, this story could have faltered for that reason. The story works, but this listener wonders if it would have been better to sprinkle a little more of the Doctor throughout the narrative; not to the point that it becomes more of the Doctor’s story than the companions, but it can be a little distracting to continue to find yourself asking, “Where is the Doctor? What could he possibly be doing?” Of course, one might argue that that’s the point of a ‘Doctor-lite’ story, but I’d respond by saying the key to the success of such a story is that it offers breadcrumbs that let the viewer/listener know that the Doctor isn’t sitting idle. This story doesn’t really do that, but the narrative is engaging enough that it doesn’t suffer much from it.
Another welcome part to this story (if hearing Purves’ attempt at voicing both the Hartnell Doctor and Dodo isn’t enough for you!), is that it introduces something you may not see coming in a Companion Chronicles story: a cliffhanger! Granted, it’s not a Moffat style cliffhanger, but it gives the listener the sense that there may very well be more to do in the world that Guerrier is exploring. It would be a welcomed return, as Guerrier has managed to weave political and family subplots into the narrative without taking away from the main plot points that Steven recalls with great detail to his young visitor.
While I’ll not spoil the major twists in the story or the cliffhanger, I will say it does make the audio play worth the purchase!
The Companion Chronicles: The War to End All Wars is available now.