Picture the scene: it’s a Tuesday afternoon in June; I’m on a sun lounger on a beach in Antalya, Turkey; I’ve managed to badly sunburn my shins and I’ve just finished the book I was reading (Anthony Horowitz’s most recent James Bond novel, Forever and a Day, for those who are interested).
I turn to my mobile and open the Big Finish app. My word! I’ve got an awful lot of catching-up to do! But, as most often happens, I gravitate to the most recent releases and I plumb for Companion Piece by John Dorney, the second story from Ravenous 3.
My hopes are high: Deeptime Frontier by Matt Fitton, the first episode of the series, was an absolute cracker and, as what appeared to be promised by the pre-release publicity (to me anyway), Charlie Pollard, as played by India Fisher, is being reunited with the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)! Just look at that box-set cover! Yay!
If you’ve not heard Companion Piece yet, it’s best you stop reading now as it will be difficult to review this without giving something away. “Spoilers, Sweetie!”
Still here? Great, I’ll continue…
The story is fairly straightforward; the Nine (John Heffernan) is collecting the Doctor’s companions, like someone would collect stamps, and he’s torturing River Song (Alex Kingston) to tell him who he needs and where to find them …
Companion Piece features some nice cameos; Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Jamie (Frazer Hines), Leela (Louise Jameson), and, especially, Romana (Lalla Ward).
Also, the script contains some great lines; the Nine pretty much getting the lion’s-share. However, I did guffaw out loud at Liv’s (Nicola Walker) less than enthusiastic introduction after Charley’s jolly hockey-sticks greeting (on that beach, a couple of heads turned in my direction) and I particularly liked the short conversation between the Nine and Romana. Has that question ever been answered?
But – you knew this was coming – as I get to the middle, I began to feel that this is a story that would be more at home in a Diary of River Song set; it’s a River Song adventure. The Doctor is absent. I can only assume that using River Song, in various other titles, is a marketing ploy to get NuWho fans interested in classic Who titles. I suppose that’s fair enough from a business point of view; after all, us classic Who fans are getting on a bit.
I can get past that as, at that point, I am still under the impression that a Charley/Eighth Doctor reunion is imminent. That is dashed at the mention of C’rizz. Sigh. If there were any notification of pending disappointment in the pre-release news, I missed it. The clue might have been in the name – Companion Piece – but sometimes, I’m not the sharpest tool in the box.
Still, it was a very entertaining hour despite the Nine being totally outnumbered; Time Lord technology being shown to be a bit rubbish; and the band of companions seeming to spend a lot of time telling each other how amazing they are.
But having said all this… it’s the moment of realization where it all falls into place. This is a comedy driven; the light relief within the much darker episodes.
Even though John Heffernan utterly steals the show, the Nine would have been perfect if he were played by Kenneth Williams in this episode. The Carry On reference was right on the money: Carry On Companion indeed, but minus the plunger-whistle, dropped trousers and innuendo – well, apart from River Song getting a bit “phwoar!” over Jamie. Similarly, the lead up to the cell escape, featuring the food dispenser, could have found its roots in a Ray Cooney farce.
When the episode was finished, I read the episode’s blurb. Ah! I should’ve read that before I listened; would have avoided a bit of disappointment. But my lasting memory of this episode won’t be disappointment, it’ll be the comedy and the nice touch at the end.
The Charley/Eighth Doctor reunion can wait for another time and place.
It then occurs to me that the time it’s taken to tap out this essay on my mobile (I really was on the beach when writing this), I could have listened to the next instalment, L.E.G.E.N.D by Fitton.
Now, how on Earth did I get sand in my ear-buds?
Ravenous 3 is out now from Big Finish.