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 penultimate story in the set, The Bonfires of The Vanities.
When the Doctor, Polly, and Ben arrive in Lewes in the late 1950s, they’re just in time to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night. But there’s no fun on the streets tonight – the town is in the grip of fear. There are imps on the loose in Lewes, the Bonfire Boys are on the march, and nobody is safe from the fire.
We’re back with Polly and Ben, who seemingly have finally found themselves where they most want to be; home. It does seem however, that the “threat” that was established in the previous story, Across The Darkened City, is present in The Bonfires of The Vanities.
Then, we learn that the TARDIS trio have arrived on Bonfire Night, and they’re soon finding themselves in the midst of yet another adventure. We get a great little history lesson too; an insight into why we celebrate Bonfire Night as a nation. I know that a lot of people already know, but to any younger listeners, or anyone who occasionally needs their memory jogging (myself included), this little lesson penned by Una McCormack was very well written and informative.
After a fairly slow, solemn start, the story quickly gets a kick up the bum and we’re straight into a greater mystery; and yet again, it seems to have a horror element to it. It seems that the Bonfire Boys really are a group of unruly teens, aren’t they..?
Now, if you’re like me, you’ll have vivid memories of the Tenth Doctor episodes Silence In The Library and Forest of The Dead, and I have to admit that the First Doctor gets a speech reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor’s (isn’t time travel confusing? A past Doctor can be reminiscent of a future Doctor even though the future Doctor the past Doctor sounds like wasn’t born when the past Doctor was having adventures) in regards to the importance of libraries. Just to reiterate, libraries are important. Go support them before it’s too late.
The revelations of the opening episode really do set the tone for the second, and this episode truly felt like a rollercoaster; there were peaks and troughs, there were high moments of action and lower moments of character development; the music gives you the same sense of unease as if you’re lurching to a fall on a ride. Una McCormack perfectly knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat without giving anything away. After the entire first episode, I’m no closer to understanding what the hell is going on, and I love it.
This might seem irrelevant; but it needs saying, I love Una McCormack. She’s an absolutely brilliant writer, and to see her transpose herself (in a guise of course) into this story is absolutely brilliant. When it comes to science fiction, and that does include Doctor Who, I believe that we need to hear more female voices. Luckily for us, Una writes for Big Finish on a semi-regular basis, so we get to hear her voice, but it’s still a predominately male endeavour. Before anyone says anything, yes, I’m aware I am a male, and yes, I would love to be a scriptwriter (still waiting for you to get in touch Big Finish, I have so many ideas), so I could been seen as contributing to the problem, but at the moment that I heard Una’s message in the story about there being more female sci-fi writers, I was elated. Una, if you’re reading this, keep kicking ass.
It takes a brave and competent writer to not reveal the true menace until there’s only ten minutes of a story left; yet Una does it brilliantly. Una manages to capture the torment of being different, and the cruelty of humanity; reminding listeners that humans aren’t always the good guys. You might have thought that the Bonfire Boys would get a redeeming arc, but you might be surprised by their stories resolution.
The conclusion of The Bonfires of The Vanities is one of hope, redemption and understanding; three core themes in Doctor Who. Una McCormack has managed to create a brilliantly told story, that made the hour feel as if it flew by. There’s intrigue added by the opening moments, and I can’t wait see if there’s a resolution in the final story in the set, The Plague of Dreams.
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.