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Audio Book Review
An experimental timeship, one of the first to be designed by the human race, smashes into the TARDIS, and the crews of both vessels wake up to find themselves on a strange desert island. Has the TARDIS been destroyed, and why doesn’t the Doctor want to escape? Then, Steven and Sara find themselves on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in 1966 - and their only way back to the TARDIS is to betray the Doctor...
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Once a year, Big Finish does a two-disc, four-episode Companion Chronicle - which I greatly appreciate, because four-part adventures are far more representative of classic Doctor Who than two-parters. This year that two-disc story is The Anachronauts, featuring the First Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) and Sara (Jean Marsh). Continuing a recent trend, the voices of both companions can be heard.
However, this is really a couple of two-parters in one. The first disc takes place primarily on a mysterious desert island. With the crashing of two passenger vehicles (time machines rather than aircraft), two groups of castaways who don’t trust each other, and a strange supernatural creature that pops up unexpectedly to bring terror and havoc, it seems as though author Simon Guerrier is doing Doctor Who meets Lost.
The end of the second instalment sees a major change of direction, though. Just like at the end of Episode 1 of The Mind Robber, the TARDIS appears to explode, after which Steven and Sara find themselves in a very different place. In common with that opening episode of The Mind Robber, The Anachronauts had to be written in a hurry when another script fell through, as we learn during the ten minutes of interviews at the end of Disc 2. And like The Mind Robber - more explicitly so, in fact - in the end it proves to have all been a dream, which is disappointing.
Adding to the sense of this being two Companion Chronicles in one, the point of view switches between the two narrators with each episode, so the first instalment focuses mainly on Steven, the second on Sara, etc. They do get scenes together, though, which is a big plus. Hearing the performers working side by side for the first time in 46 years (I haven’t heard The Five Companions yet) is a real treat - though they read the audio versions of John Peel’s novelisations of The Daleks’ Master Plan between them, they were not in the studio together for those. With Purves’s uncanny impersonation of William Hartnell’s Doctor, at times it seems as though the whole crew is back together. Taking a leaf out of Peel’s work, Guerrier explores the relationship between the two companions, in particular Steven’s inner feelings for Sara.
Rather like Lost, the final destination of The Anachronauts may be regarded as a letdown, but the journey itself is an intriguing one.