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Audio Book Review
Caught in the inevitable path of its own history, the TARDIS arrives in the Kuiper belt, just beyond the major planets of the Solar System, on the planetoid Grace Alone. Here the Doctor, Steven and Oliver expect to face their fate. What they don’t expect to find is a massacred crew - and a race of alien invaders known as the Vardans. Telepathic beings of pure energy, the Vardans are edging slowly toward the Earth, tempted by the radio waves it constantly emits. When the Doctor is apparently killed, his companions attempt to survive against the odds - but those odds are narrowing. Their borrowed time has expired...
Simon Guerrier writes Companion Chronicle trilogies. He writes Companion Chronicle trilogies featuring the First Doctor and Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) - first with Sara Kingdom, and more recently with new companion Oliver Harper (Tom Allen). He writes Companion Chronicle trilogies in which one of the recurring characters is dead, yet somehow still alive. He’s not alone in that final respect - Nigel Fairs did something similar with Leela - but still there’s an awful sense of inevitability as one listens to The First Wave, the final segment of the First Doctor / Steven / Oliver trilogy.
Each of its two episodes is told in flashback. The first part begins with the revelation of the Doctor’s apparent demise, which surely cannot be correct - can it? The second... well, I shall say no more, except this: by the end of the story, in a beautifully presented scene, the Doctor and Oliver have a lot more in common than they did before...
Recently Guerrier has been studying GCSE Astronomy, which informs the narrative but also adds to the sense of inevitability. Just like last time, in The Cold Equations, former space pilot Steven is in his element. He is, in fact, close to his own time. Just like last time, he and Oliver find themselves in a hostile environment, where they face the danger of oxygen starvation. I don’t really mind that, though, because the writer takes us to an area of the Solar System that I find particularly fascinating: the Kuiper belt, a ring of small bodies, including dwarf planets such as Pluto, that lies beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Just as fascinating is the depiction of the Vardans, energy beings the Doctor will meet again in The Invasion of Time. Intriguing in concept, but disappointing in their visualisation on television in 1978, these creatures are perfect for audio.
Director Lisa Bowerman provides the voice of the Vardans, with Alex Mallinson as space policeman Halpin. Combined with Allen, Purves, and Purves’s uncanny impersonation of William Hartnell’s Doctor, the production is more like a full-cast audio drama than an audio book, which is another factor in its favour.
I do feel sad that this is the end of the trilogy. I feel I’ve barely got to know Oliver. However, though his arc is well and truly wrapped up (you might say it’s his final wave), there is the possibility of more adventures set before this one. After all, who knows how many attempts it took the Doctor to steer the TARDIS to Grace Alone? I am gladdened to read in Guerrier’s sleeve note that he would like to “do more with Oliver in future.”
It would be good to hear some stories set between The Cold Equations and The First Wave, hopefully stories with a bit more variety to them - perhaps a historical - because, admirable though it is in a number of respects, The First Wave is a bit too similar to what has gone before.