Monday, October 26, 2015

Review - The GBCCPS Season 1

Just posting my thoughts on the fan-written Companion Chronicles on the interweb. These are all PDF documents, published in 2011, with a mock Big Finish cover on the back page and formatted to be very easy on the eye, giving a decent crack o'the whip to the New Series in the days when BF was off limits.

With the recent demise of Big Finish's beloved Companion Chronicles - which featured every Classic series companion at some point bar Mel - it's no surprise that fans have carried on the tradition. The prose version of these stories is, in a way, closer to the original conception of "talking books" than the nigh-on-full audio dramas like Solitaire or The Jigsaw War. Presented with mock CD covers in neat PDF formats, the GallifreyBase series has gone through four different iterations and proving itself as flexible as its progenitor..

Classic Series Companion Chronicles, worthy of Big Finish...

My 2000-Year Diary by Rory Williams (Plastic) - Al B Dickenson
Exactly what it says on the tin. In the starless Big Bang universe, Auton Rory tells some of his hijinks to Richard Dawkins as they wait for the Pandorica to open. A kind of cheeky cross between Blackadder and Forest Gump as Rory encounters various historical characters, it fits so convincingly into the episode I'm hard-pressed to work out which bits are entirely the author's own imagination - though Rory being a huge fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman is probably one of them.

Right of Passage - Nic Ford
Leela's first trip in the TARDIS brings her to a crucial point in her own childhood and she and the Doctor find themselves caught in a predestination paradox. Interestingly, the Sevateem are portrayed as a bunch of boring stick-in-the-muds rather than the hair-trigger killing machines one would expect - they're more likely to force you to clean the latrines than take the test of the Horda and Leela's apparently been desperate to get some real excitement. I could forgive that given how fun the story is, but it features my pet hate of forgetting that they were using the wooden control room at the time. This isn't exactly complicated stuff!

A Case of Jo - Declan Lynn
An abandoned diary of Jo as she goes undercover in a woman-only business that's been leaving mutated radioactive corpses everywhere. Jo's portrayal as a hysterical screaming feminazi almost works, but it falls into the old Sparacassian trap of being all build up with a villain who barely gets their wikipage entry out before they're all killed. Avoidable.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving - Betawho
Curiously abandoning the idea of the first person narrative, this is a simple character piece as the Sixth Doctor and Peri encounter versions of themselves from a parallel universe - a moustached brunette eyepatched Doctor dressed as Captain Jack and Peri in leather fetish catsuits. I'm not sure if the twist is that they're evil (shock!) or that they have a much healthier relationship than the "real" TARDIS crew.

The Devil's Rock - Samuel Marks
One of Martha's stories told during the year that never was, appropriately enough celebrating the Tenth Doctor. This is a tale of their encounter with an Ace Rimmer like space hero who is clearly better at this thing than the Doctor, but like Jack in The Empty Child the Time Lord soon reminds us all why we prefer him. A great little story with a nice sequel hook.

Internal Monologue - Simon Berian
Intriguingly told entirely through dialogue, this story has Wilf and the Nobles coping with an alien incursion with only a very surly (and very out of character) Second Doctor from Season 6b. The writer can pull off apocalyptic horror (Wilf is infected with a mind parasite) and cheerful romp (amnesiac Donna using psychic paper) but can't really find a balance between them. Uneven and at times exasperating.

Halloween on the Powell Estate - Andrew Wylie
That's Halloween as in the Buffy episode where the costumes turn their wearers into monsters. Cut and paste into Aliens of London and there's not much else to say. The prose fails to make the monsters scary, the logic of the solution doesn't make sense and the idea an elderly Rose would treasure this story because it was the only time the Ninth Doctor was domestic rather undermines the point of The Christmas Invasion.

The Wow Factor - David Hogan
Strongly rooted in Big Finish, this is a Bonfire Night tale of the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard fighting Chameleons on the high street in a sequel to The Faceless Ones that never takes the obvious route. Nonetheless it's very rushed and the main flaw is it's just a story with Charley in it, rather than a story of an event that really mattered to her.

The Tomorrow People - M Roderick Grant
Anyone expecting a Homo Superior will be disappointed. No sooner has Mickey joined the TARDIS than he finds himself trapped in a white void where the Captain "Mary Sue" Jones fighting the Mara. While the initial dreamy Mind Robber-like horror is effective, the plot is an incoherent runaround. When the regulars are more in character when they're evil, you know it's trouble.

The NuWho Companion Chronicles...

Hell In High Heels - Andrew Weston
A reasonably routine and straightforward tale of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy teaming up with River Song to deal with a crashed spaceship, made interesting by being told from River's POV and her quiet despair at the time paradoxes and secrets she has to endure behind her irritatingly smug facade. Enjoyable.

The Boys Upstairs - Al B Dickenson
A mammoth tale of timey-wimey body-swapping alien-ghost stuff that outstays its welcome. Ace as a narrator rapidly becomes wearying, whether it's her just-joined-the-TARDIS self or the cynical post-Doctor self in the future. It stopped making sense long before I stopped caring, probably around the time a character was revealed to be their own mother. The cover's not good either.

Twelve Hungry Men - Nic Ford
A silly little story of the twelve Doctors (the agreed eleven and Peter Cushing) gatecrashing a cake shop and trying to decide what their next incarnation should be. There's a very nasty sting in the tale which still works now Capaldi has been cast. Short and enjoyable, in direct contrast to the previous story.

Amazing Grace - Matt Powell
Grace Holloway lives in a perfect world where she has everything she wants, and the Eighth Doctor tries to snap her out of it - and the methods he uses are shocking to say the least. Like so many of these stories, it involves enemies from the future attacking the Doctor's past and companions being placed in false environments. You could tell Season 6 was on at the time. Even so, it's worth reading.

The Price of Wishes - Andrew Weston
The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa recover from the loss of Tegan and Adric by visiting an alien carnival where a fortune teller gives Nyssa a chance to live in a world where The Keeper of Traken had a happy ending. So far, so Turn Left but the resolution to the story is one of the biggest gut-punches I've read and not seen before. Nyssa continues to bring out the sadist in whoever writes for her. Recommended.

Dust - Meg McDonald
The newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor is caught up in a mine collapse and befriends one of the miners he meets, a young girl called Keegan. Nothing not seen elsewhere, but competently done and the characters are engaging but it's hard to reconcile the contented, easy-going Ninth Doctor with the one we see on TV.

A Ding-Dong Merrily Up High - Steve Fiori
The Tenth Doctor and Donna gatecrash a sophisticated Christmas party at the top of a skyscraper in the year 6000 and then the Daleks attack. The characterization is spot on, with the device of Donna retelling the story to her grandfather, but the plot goes nowhere and resolves itself with such ease it almost seems insulting that the revamped bronze Daleks to be used as generic canon fodder. That aside, another great tale.

Elephant in the Room - Nic Ford
Dodo Chaplet is never a popular choice to be written about and those that have give her particularly unpleasant time. This story is no exception but it also ties in the various nasty fates of the Chaplet girl in this metatextual tale set between episodes two and three of The War Machines. Another story of the Doctor's companions being innocents caught in the crossfire from enemies from the future, it nonetheless postumously gives Dodo a dignity she never had on screen.

The Seven Year Switch - Paul Parncutt
Clearly saving the best till last, this story sees Eleven, Amy and Rory investigating a captured Time Lord weapon that a dictator is using to literally turn back time in seven-year increments. So, as the TARDIS crew try to stop him, they steadily become younger and younger and need to remind themselves of their future with the psychic paper. Clever, funny, heartwarming and surprising, this is a well-written tale.

All things considered, in the final analysis there are more hits and misses even though things are understandably skewed onto NuWho and timey-wimey assassination plots. There's enough variety in tone and prose to keep one interested, but given Companion Chronicles are character pieces it's exasperating how many stories fail to remember their narrators are supposed to have a personality - while Elephant in the Room ironically turns this into a strength, Twelve Hungry Men can't even be bothered to have a companion.

In summary, the standout greats - The Seven Year Switch, The Price of Wishes and The Devil's Rock with honorable mentions to The Elephant in The Room and M2KDBRW(P).

The standout duffers would be - HOTPE, The Tomorrow People, The Boys Upstairs.

Definitely worth taking a look at, or as Twelve would say: google it.

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