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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
The Magician’s Oath


Author: Scott Handcock
Read by: Richard Franklin
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £7.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 379 8
Available 30 April 2009

You must never tell. Not a soul. That’s the magician’s oath...” A heat wave in July, and a tube train is discovered buried in 20 inches of snow. A Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park, and scores of people are instantly frozen to death where they stand, while the sun beats down from the sky. Freak weather conditions across London, and the Doctor and UNIT are called in to find the cause. Meanwhile, a street magician, who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy, entertains crowds in Covent Garden. As Jo Grant and Mike Yates disobey orders and investigate alone, they discover an enemy with terrifying powers. They might not live to share his secrets...

Bizarre weather is of course perfectly in keeping with the era of the television show that this audio release seeks to emulate. The production team famously had to write a line about “freak weather conditions” into The Claws of Axos when snow unexpectedly fell between days of location filming, causing continuity problems. The same serial had an alien spacecraft burying itself on impact, which happens here too. As in The Dæmons, after which story this audio book takes place, catastrophic heat exchange occurs, with sub-zero temperatures resulting from the extraction of energy for “magical” purposes.

There’s also an unfortunate similarity to the recent Christmas episode The Next Doctor, though writer Scott Handcock’s use of a memory drive to store or wipe a person’s recollections must be coincidental, as this production was recorded months before The Next Doctor was broadcast. Fortunately, the plot ultimately takes a very different turn.

More deliberate nods to the new series occur during the frame narrative, in which Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) discusses his days as a UNIT officer with a member of the current set-up. Yates remarks that the organisation has changed its name (from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce to the UNified Intelligence Taskforce) and that the Doctor has recently started reappearing with greater frequency.

Franklin is no stranger to talking books, having previously narrated his own novel, The Killing Stone, another audio exclusive on which director Nigel Fairs also worked (the two recall that 2002 production during an interview at the end of the CD). The performer doesn’t really capture the vocal qualities of his former co-stars - in fact, sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish his Doctor from his Brigadier. However, he is a compelling narrator, and evocatively expresses the pace and mood of the narrative when describing Yates’s observations.

Handcock and Franklin explore an aspect of the character that was never fully developed in the television series: the romantic interest between Yates and Jo Grant. The writer and performer make this a poignant tale of unrequited love.

Meanwhile, Michael Chance provides vocal support as the sinister street magician Diamond Jack.

Now that Franklin has a Companion Chronicle under his belt, that just leaves John Levene (Benton) as the only member of the classic UNIT team not to have recorded one. It would be magic if did...


Richard McGinlay

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