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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
Return of the Rocket Men


Author: Matt Fitton
Performed by: Peter Purves
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £7.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 950 9
Available 30 November 2012

Once before, the Doctor battled the sadistic Rocket Men, and once before, he won. But when the dreaded pirates of the skies raid a remote frontier planet, he is not the only member of the TARDIS crew for whom the Rocket Men are old enemies. Steven Taylor knows them well. Back in his days as a pilot, on his twenty-first birthday, Steven’s ship was brought down by the malevolent Van Cleef. He barely escaped with his life - and now he is going to have to go through that again. But this time round, he knows what happens, and he knows there is no way out. Steven Taylor has to make a choice - a choice where either way, he loses...

The returning foes in this story previously appeared in the Ian Chesterton Companion Chronicle The Rocket Men... but who better to face them for this comeback than the TARDIS’s own resident rocket man, space pilot Steven Taylor (Peter Purves)?

However, this is not merely a sequel to John Dorney’s The Rocket Men. (That writer’s Companion Chronicles do have a tendency to spawn sequels, don’t they - sequels that Dorney is often too busy to pen himself.) It also follows up on character developments that have taken place throughout Steven’s Companion Chronicles, including his pilot training, his regrets over the recent deaths of fellow travellers and his desire to make a difference in Simon Guerrier’s Oliver Harper trilogy, as well as his readiness to settle down in Marc Platt’s Mother Russia.

Relative newcomer Matt Fitton fills his predecessors’ shoes with apparent ease, capturing their knack of combining large-scale space adventure with quiet introspection. He lifts Ian’s question from The Rocket Men, “When do you know...?” and repurposes it for Steven. It fits Purves’s narrative style like a glove. Though I quickly picked up on the identity of the mysterious Rocket Man who rescues the younger Steven at the start of the story (more quickly than Purves did during his initial read-through, as he tells us during the interviews at the end of the disc), the writer kept me guessing as to how the older Steven could possibly escape his fate. If this companion did not already have a farewell story, The Savages, then Return of the Rocket Men would have been an excellent swansong. Instead, it ably sets things up for his departure.

The writer adds a Wild West vibe to the Rocket Men concept. Here they attack a defenceless frontier settlement and they are led by an utterly irredeemable villain called Van Cleef (played with guttural menace by Tim Treloar, who sounds completely different in the eight minutes of interviews). When Dodo is taken prisoner, Steven’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Though actress Jackie Lane has shown no interest in revisiting the role of Dodo Chaplet, the character’s presence is felt in Fitton’s script and Purves’s performance, with both men capturing the girl’s boundless enthusiasm.

There is talk of Big Finish producing a third Rocket Men adventure. My guess is that it will be a Ben and Polly story, following another complete changeover of companions aboard the TARDIS, with the sailor donning the rocket pack this time. The real question is: when, do you know?


Richard McGinlay

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