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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
The Flames of Cadiz


Author: Marc Platt
Performed by: William Russell and Carole Ann Ford
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £12.99 (CD), £9.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 061 9
Available 31 January 2013

The TARDIS materialises in Spain during the late 16th century. The Catholic country is at war with England’s Protestant Elizabeth, and is amassing a mighty armada with which to attack its enemy. The time travellers soon find themselves on the wrong side of the battle lines. When Ian and his new friend Esteban are captured by the Spanish Inquisition, the Doctor, Susan and Barbara plan to rescue them. However, these are dark days in human history - with heretics facing torture and certain death...

God, I’m rubbish at history! I confess (after being poked with soft cushions) that when I first encountered the title of a previous Big Finish historical, The Angel of Scutari, I incorrectly assumed that Scutari must be some far-off planet or alien being, rather than a hospital staffed by Florence Nightingale. I did the same thing again with The Flames of Cadiz - Cadiz seeming similarly off-world to me. It has the letter “z” in it, after all! In fact, as quickly becomes obvious from the back-cover blurb and the story itself, it is actually about the Spanish Inquisition. I didn’t expect them! Well, their chief weapon is surprise... and fear... I’ll come in again...

Once a year, Big Finish gives us a two-disc, four-episode Companion Chronicle - which I greatly appreciate, because four-part adventures are much more representative of classic Who than this range’s usual two-parters. Once again, it’s a First Doctor story, though this time it features William Russell as Ian and Carole Ann Ford as Susan. This is the first time they have appeared together within this range, though they have previously collaborated on a couple of Lost Stories, Farewell, Great Macedon and The Masters of Luxor.

Perhaps because it so closely reflects the cast, production style (part dialogue, part narration) and duration of those Lost Stories, The Flames of Cadiz feels like a lost Sixties serial itself. Amid the vocal interaction of Russell and Ford, who are supported by Nabil Elouahabi as the Morisco (Spanish Muslim) Esteban, it is easy to forget that this is not a full-cast drama, and that the late William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill are not present.

However, the story’s success also has a great deal to do with the skill of writer Marc Platt at tapping into the ethos of the era. All the trademarks of the early historicals are here. The travellers encounter a burning house and Ian suffers imprisonment during a reign of terror, just like in, well, The Reign of Terror. The Doctor dons a disguise, as he does in The Reign of Terror, and brazens his way into an audience with the King, as he does in The Crusade, and, in common with Marco Polo, he endures an uncomfortable equine ride. Platt gets the characterisation of the TARDIS crew spot on, and it is to his credit that he resists the temptation to include any in-jokes from later than 1964 - so no references to the famous Monty Python sketch that I previously alluded to.

Like last year’s The Anachronauts, this is pretty much two stories in one. The Spanish Inquisition appear mostly during the first couple of episodes. Ian’s apparent fate at their hands makes for grim listening, though it is leavened by the Doctor’s visit to Philip II. The latter half of the narrative turns its attention (somewhat abruptly, it has to be said) to the threat of the Spanish Armada and the imminent intervention of Sir Francis Drake. The second half is perhaps less gripping, but still full of typical Ian Chesterton derring-do. The late 16th century was a rich period in history - as I have learned, thanks to the writer.

The good news is that there’s more like this on the way for 2014, when Big Finish’s Doctor Who: The Early Adventures pick up where The Companion Chronicles (which come to an end in June 2014) will have left off. In common with The Flames of Cadiz and several Lost Stories, The Early Adventures will comprise four-part stories, more like the Doctor Who of old... Until then, Cadiz has fanned the flames of my enthusiasm.


Richard McGinlay

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