Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
The Beautiful People

Author: Jonathan Morris
Read by: Lalla Ward
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 8.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 266 1
Available 19 February 2007

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Of all the narrators of the Companion Chronicles series to date, Lalla Ward, alias the Second Romana, is the most prolific in terms of her volume of previous work for Big Finish Productions. She has already reprised her role in several Doctor Who audios plus the entire Gallifrey series. It thus comes as no surprise that she steps effortlessly back into her Time Lady shoes to read this talking-book adventure, which takes place after the television story Nightmare of Eden during the notoriously light-hearted seventeenth season.

The writer, Jonathan Morris (who, like Nigel Fairs, author of The Blue Tooth, was a childhood fan of the Doctor in question), also has previous form. He penned the BBC Books Who novel Festival of Death, a book that's up there with Gareth Roberts' celebrated Fourth Doctor/Romana Missing Adventures in terms of capturing the best aspects of the era (while avoiding the worst aspects of it: the often shoddy production values).

The author achieves this once again (you can easily imagine Tom Baker uttering "Ahhhhh"s and bursting through doors just as Morris and Ward describe here) though the narrative does stray beyond that era in a couple of respects. The health spa location is deliberately reminiscent of the setting of the Bubbles DeVere sketches in that more recent Tom Baker vehicle, Little Britain. A more amiable equivalent of Bubbles is present in the rotund form of Cibella Bing, who, like Bubbles, says "Darling" a lot and ends up naked (albeit unwillingly). There's also a thinner, more sinister and more orange version of Marjorie Dawes, in the guise of resident fat-fighter Dame Karna (guest voice Marcia Ashton).

The Beautiful People also recalls an earlier period, in that the Doctor is absent for two entire chapters in the middle of the story, just like when William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton used to go on holiday for an episode or two during the 1960s. As in The Horns of Nimon, Romana takes charge very effectively in the Doctor's absence.

At one point, Romana recalls stopping her hearts in Destiny of the Daleks, which would seem to contradict Mark Michalowski's short story The Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe (from Big Finish's second Short Trips anthology, Companions). The short story revealed that Romana was actually replaced by a shapeshifter called Iraj, a personification of the TARDIS itself, for the duration of the Dalek serial. Perhaps the TARDIS subsequently convinced Romana, telepathically, that she had experienced the adventure herself. How perplexing - I'm retconning a retcon!

Such potential confusion aside, this talking book is terrific fun. Please, Big Finish, can we have some more?

Richard McGinlay

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