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Audio Drama Review
“Traveller in time and space seeks male or female companion with good sense of humour for adventures in the Fourth and Fifth Dimensions. No experience necessary. No time wasters, no space wasters please.” Following the departure of Lucie Miller, it’s time for the Doctor to seek out a new fellow traveller - but can he really be holding auditions for the post? Who will make the grade and land one of the most sought-after opportunities in the universe...?
CAUTION: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
The ingenious premise of Situation Vacant is “Doctor Who does The Apprentice”. Finding himself alone once again, the Doctor (Paul McGann) appears to be doing an Alan Sugar, trying out potential new assistants by setting challenges for them.
All of the four applicants, including Mitchell and Webb’s James Bachman as Hugh Bainbridge (doing his best Tom Baker stare on the front cover), are convincing as possible companion material. Hugh is of the amiable, bumbling Harry Sullivan / Rory Williams type, whereas the others, the geeky Theo Lawson (Joe Thomas), the helpful Asha Qureshi (Shelley Conn) and the driven Juliet Walsh (Niky Wardley) are pushier in their own individual ways. Like numerous contenders on another reality show, Big Brother, over the years, each of them has something to hide: one’s an actress, while the other three have darker secrets. As on Big Brother and The Apprentice, the applicants seldom work well in a team, and tend to fail miserably at their allotted tasks, to great comic effect.
Writer Eddie Robson sends up the artificial nature of companion introduction stories. As he explains in his sleeve note, you can usually see a new assistant coming a mile away, as they tend to stand out from the rest of the cast list as a protagonist with potential to be a series regular. Like contestants on The X Factor and other talent shows of that ilk, they need this opportunity because of some personal tragedy or dissatisfaction with their lot in life, ranging from mere boredom (in the case of Zoe, Turlough, Peri, Ace and Rose) to the recent death of a relative (Sara, Victoria, Adric and Tegan) or even the destruction of one’s home planet (Nyssa). A few, like Jo and Romana, are actively recruited and placed with the Doctor by his “superiors”, whether he likes it or not.
Ironically, it’s the laid-back hotel receptionist Rachel (Joanna Kanska, who co-starred with Peter Davison in A Very Peculiar Practice) who stands out as the most suitable individual to join the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, remaining unfazed by any of the strange goings-on around her. However, she’s quite happy with her current job, thank you very much. She is, if you like, the Samantha Briggs of Situation Vacant: not intended as a regular character, but (like Jamie, K-9, Nyssa and Donna) demonstrating great potential to be one, though ultimately she doesn’t take up the offer.
Well done, Big Finish. You’re through to the next round.