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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
Council of War


Author: Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
Performed by: John Levene
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £7.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 067 1
Release Date: 30 June 2013

At the Doctor’s request, Sergeant John Benton is investigating supposed ghost sightings and reports of missing persons in Kettering, while working undercover as a local councillor. This is how he comes to meet Margery Phipps, the only independent councillor and the only woman on the town council. An alien incursion in the town hall leads Benton and Margery on a journey to a terrible future – where Margery discovers how she changed a world, and the life of a whole civilisation hangs in the balance...

It’s another great coup for Big Finish, as The Companion Chronicles welcome aboard the elusive John Levene, who hasn’t played the role of John Benton since The Android Invasion (on television) in 1975 and Wartime (on video) in 1987. Levene is not as confident a reader as some of his comrades, but his enthusiasm for the character shines through.

This really is a companion chronicle, in that the Doctor hardly appears at all (which is perhaps just as well, as Levene’s version of him often sounds more like Patrick Troughton than Jon Pertwee). We never learned very much about Benton on the television show, but the actor’s performance and Simon Barnard and Paul Morris’s script flesh out the character convincingly, picking up on his interest in ballroom dancing, the consummate gentleman that lies beneath the burly soldier exterior, and his sense of frustration when there are no enemies to fight. Benton claims that he would rather face armies of Axons and Cybermen than try to bluff his way as a member of local government!

Levene receives excellent support from Sinead Keenan (Nina in Being Human, Addams in Doctor Who: The End of Time) as Margery Phipps, who narrates about half of the story, and indeed is the first performer to speak. As a feminist in a male-dominated environment, she is like a forerunner to Sarah Jane Smith, a character who has yet to enter Benton’s world (this story is set between The Green Death and The Time Warrior). There are hints of romance as Margery finds herself likening Benton to James Bond, a comparison that is bolstered by the way in which the soldier introduces himself – “the name’s Benton, John Benton” – and his handgun of choice.

However, this rather barmy story (did you expect anything else from the writers of The Scarifyers?) doesn’t linger in the Bond franchise for long. Indeed, the end of the first episode seems more like another film entirely: Planet of the Apes. The plot also owes a little to Day of the Daleks (with ghosts from the future seeking to punish a present-day politician) and The Time Warrior (abductions through time, though the time factor is not immediately apparent).

The plan of the people of Kettering (a town I happened to pass through on a train while listening to this adventure) might not hold up to close scrutiny, but it’s great to hear from Sergeant Benton again. Let’s just hope it isn’t the last time.


Richard McGinlay

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