It’s not too often that we touch on the First Doctor’s era in Big Finish, but when we do, it tends to be terrific. With the release of the Companion Chronicles box set, The First Doctor: Volume Two, we’re being treated to four new tales from the First Doctor’s time in the TARDIS. Today, I’ll be reviewing the second story in the set, Across The Darkened City.
On the planet Shade, The Chaons, an invading race of strange, amorphous creatures that ravenously absorb energy, have reduced the city there to a desolate ruin. Separated from the Doctor and Vicki, Steven has to join forces with an unexpected ally to find his way back to the TARDIS. Ahead, lies a nightmare journey through the dark – a test of endurance and trust.
Oh god it’s great to have a First Doctor and Dalek story isn’t it? The Daleks back then were at their most terrifying, and within one minute, you’re reminded about how ruthless these robots can be. Saying that though, they’re not perfect, which is exactly what any villain should be; and it’s not long before the Daleks plan goes awry.
It’s a bold move to drop the audience in midway through a story, but that’s exactly what Across The Darkened City does; honestly, I think it works very well, as it leaves you as disconcerted as the characters, it’s a master narrative device from David Bartlett.
The main concept behind the first episode is really interesting, focussing on Steven and an unlikely alliance having to work together, no matter how reluctant either party is. There is an absolutely corker of a conversation though. It seems that nobody wants to find themselves against the Chaons.
For me, like the first episode of Fields of Terror, the first episode of Across The Darkened City is an extremely atmospheric tale, but this time there’s a lot more action. Those Chaons are quickly proving themselves to be an ultimate foe. Even against those pesky Daleks.
I have to give it to David Bartlett, at the end of the first episode of Across The Darkened City, he really made sure he put the ‘Companion’ in the Companion Chronicles. An entire thirty minutes just with Steven and his… “accomplice” is a great way to set the mood; Peter Purves has proven that he’s a perfectly precise narrator.
There’s more and more moments of wonder and terror in the second episode, and there’s an absolutely great tale of morality for Steven, and there’s a moment that is absolutely unexpected, an outburst of passion, that has cemented Steven as one of my favourite companions of all time.
The second episode follows the same themes and ideas as the first, with not much new added; and whilst in some cases, this might have made the second episode feel like a bit of a drag, the pacing of the story and the peppering of revelations makes it one of the most enjoyable Companion Chronicles that I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to.
During the closing ten minutes of the story, there’s an obvious double cross that might actually surprise some. I know that’s an oxymoron, but in the context of the story, it might make more sense.
The conclusion of Across The Darkened City is everything you can want from a Doctor Who story, especially when the Daleks are involved. Half of the duo in this story seemingly gets their comeuppance, and the other party gets to their destination. There’s a lesson on trust, especially in the most dire of circumstances.
At the very end of the story, there’s an odd moment that makes me wonder if it’s going to pay off in a later story, and then there’s that iconic title music. If though, you’re like me, you’ll know to make sure you listen to the bitter end, because the credits aren’t always the time to stop listening…
Overall, Across The Darkened City is an absolutely brilliant Companion Chronicle, focussing on Steven solely, with the Doctor only popping up for a few moments at the very end. If anyone wants a crash course on how to write a Companion Chronicle, this might well just be it.
Should you want to purchase Companion Chronicles- The First Doctor: Volume Two, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 on CD or £15 for a digital download for a limited time.