Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles

Author: Marc Platt
Read by: Maureen O'Brien
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 8.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 263 0
Available 19 February 2007

Vicki has a tale to tell, but where does it start and when does it end? Ancient Carthage, 1164 BC: Lady Cressida has a secret. She keeps it deep in the cisterns below the Temple of Astarte with only one flame for warmth. It must never get out... Regency London, 1814 AD: the Doctor, Steven and Vicki go to the fair and meet the fiery Dragon, the novelist Miss Austen and the deadliest weather you ever did see... But which comes first? The future or the past? The phoenix or the egg? The fire or the frost? Or will time freeze over forever...?

Ever since the BBC's "Past Doctor Adventure" novels came to an end, I had been concerned by the lack of new stories featuring the first four Doctors. Though there is no shortage of ongoing adventures with the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors (thanks to Big Finish's regular monthly audio releases), the first four incarnations have only been getting scant coverage in short stories (in the same company's Short Trips anthologies). That is, until now. This series of audio books redresses the balance somewhat by providing us with longer adventures for Doctors one to four (about two or three episodes' worth on each single-disc release).

Because William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee are sadly no longer with us, and Tom Baker is unwilling to participate in new audio adventures, these talking books are narrated by actors who have portrayed the Doctor's companions. In each case, the actor in question has worked for Big Finish before - in this instance, Maureen O'Brien, alias Vicki, who recently played Alice Bultitude in Year of the Pig - though hopefully Peter Purves and Frazer Hines will be persuaded to narrate stories at some point, based on the strength of their voice-over work for BBC Audio's Doctor Who soundtrack releases.

Here O'Brien speaks for Purves's character Steven, as well as most of the other characters. The various voices she adopts are all sufficiently distinct from one another, though her rendition of the Doctor does sound more like Patrick Stewart than William Hartnell.

Notice that I said "most of the other characters". Series producer/director Mark J Thompson (Soldiers of Love, The Actor Speaks) is a past master at keeping potentially dry and dull spoken-word productions lively and interesting, so each of these talking books also features a second voice - in this instance Keith Drinkel as the Cinder, who can be heard during the Carthage scenes. The nature of this mysterious character will keep you intrigued until the very end. Thompson also punctuates the reading with sound effects, including that of the TARDIS interior, and the appropriate theme music for the era.

Rather less in keeping with the era being evoked is another weird story from writer Marc Platt. Having dealt with werewolves in Loups-Garoux and angels in A Storm of Angels, Platt now turns his attention towards another mythological creature: the phoenix. Much emphasis is placed on descriptions of temperature, particularly the cold and the emotion of fear with which this is associated - much shivering and blood running cold, etc. The author also creates an elaborate framing device for his narrative, as a post-Myth Makers Vicki recounts an adventure set shortly after The Time Meddler.

All in all, Frostfire certainly didn't leave me cold.

Richard McGinlay

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