If you follow Time and The – ! on Google+ or Twitter, then you already know I’m a huge Big Finish fan. The Companion Chronicles range is one of my favorites, especially those stories featuring the First Doctor’s companions. Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Maureen O’Brien, Peter Purves, and Jean Marsh—that’s right, Sara Kingdom herself—each do an incredible job at reprising their characters, and while they don’t strive to impersonate William Hartnell (or other actors who sadly are no longer with us), they embody the essence of the First Doctor in their performances. The Companion Chronicles are not generally full-cast audio dramas, but the Doctor is never missing from these stories, and they add a richness to Doctor Who that’s extremely satisfying.
Quinnis is no exception, either. Occupying that nebulous, rarely explored period in Doctor Who mythos before An Unearthly Child, before the Ship brings the Doctor and Susan to 76, Totters Lane in the summer of 1963, and before our journey with the Doctor begins, writer Marc Platt creates a vibrant world from a throwaway line in The Edge of Destruction—Susan comments that the planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe is “where we nearly lost the TARDIS four or five journeys back”—that is anything but black-and-white.
“Tell me a story”
In fact, there’s little that’s black-and-white about Quinnis, exploring the boundaries between superstition and reason, logic and instinct, good luck and bad luck, and even whether free will exists. These themes have variously been examined in Doctor Who before through the stories penned by Terry Nation, and especially John Lucarotti, but the imagery and language Platt employes is unique and Quinnis becomes a place that’s completely believable while being truly truly exotic, its dry, airy plains and mountains inspired by Platt’s own travels to Namibia and Madagascar. “The air on Quinnis was dry and spicy, almost peppery,” Susan recalls, “and it caught in my throat.” At the same time, Nigel Fairs’ incidental score is perfectly composed and realized, drawing you in, and making Quinnis that much more real—you almost squint as you imagine the bright, unyielding sun in the cloudless skies over Bridgetown market.
“And I couldn’t tell my tears from the rain”
There are strong juxtapositions in Quinnis: the superstitious nature of the brozne-skinned people of Bridgetown contrast starkly with the logic of the Doctor, who becomes the town’s unwitting rainmaker, and even between the two acts of the story. The first part is light, dry, and even hopeful, while the second part, after the rains come, is dark, and there’s a damp heaviness that weighs on you as you listen, a sense of shame and sorrow and desperation permeate throughout.
This friction between reason and superstition is played out in the final confrontation between Meedla the shrazer—a carrion bird with second sight that the Doctor decries as “repulsive”—and the Doctor and a huntsman from a nearby township in the skies over the vast plain: a battle between two vast birds, one flesh and blood, the other, the huntsman’s ornithopter, a machine devised by science and reason that, ironically, mimics the shrazer’s form, and is inspired by it. The Doctor wins in the end, of course, but for Susan it only brings sadness and sorrow, and, as Meedla foresaw, “I couldn’t tell my tears from the rain,” she says mournfully.
Carole Ann Ford and her real-life daughter Tara-Louise Kaye both give exceptional performances as Susan and Meedla. Ford portrays the First Doctor very gently, seeing him in a way that only the Doctor’s granddaughter could, and his love and concern for his granddaughter’s wellbeing comes across perfectly. And as the TARDIS slips back from the Fourth Universe into our Third Universe, there’s a slight sense of sadness, because you’re left wanting a little more time with the Doctor and Susan alone together before their “quiet, studious existence” is changed forever one foggy evening in November.
Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)