In Doctor Who’s long history, certain TARDIS companions stick in the general public’s memory, while others have been mostly forgotten. For every Sarah Jane Smith, there’s a Dodo; for every K-9, there’s a Kamelion. Appropriate, then, that DOCTOR WHO: THE MEMORY BANK AND OTHER STORIES – the latest four-story anthology collection from audio drama production company Big Finish – kicks off with a story dealing with the importance of remembering, featuring as it does the early 1980s incarnation of the nation’s favourite sci-fi hero, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) travelling with the only-really-remembered-by-the-fans rare male companion, Turlough (Mark Strickson), helpfully described in one story as “funny clothes, snooty attitude, ginger hair”, in case you couldn’t recall.
Beginning with an opening both lyrical and creepy, “The Memory Bank” by Chris Chapman kicks into gear with that well-worn trope of a dying man – in this case, a keeper of memories – bequeathing a mission onto our heroes. The visual aspect of what this mission entails is pleasingly rendered on the cover picture, always a boon when dealing with audio adventures. Like the best episodes from the 1980s, the tale boasts a classic, easily understandable monster, with a great line in traditional breathy exclamations of “Doc-torrrr!”. And whilst the resolution does revolve around the flick of a switch, there is plenty of action to make this more than an acceptable way to pass 25 minutes.
Next up, “The Last Fairy Tale” by Paul Magrs is a classic case of mistaken identity (…or is it?). It’s a whimsical little throwaway tale, and all over rather too quickly, but nice enough. Fans will know Magrs for his over-the-top characters and loose approach, not allowing logic to get in the way of a good story – and this tale is no different – although sadly, the strict 25-minute running time limitation does give the impression that the story doesn’t quite have enough time to develop properly. While it’s often said that it’s good to “leave them wanting more”, I still feel it’s a real shame we didn’t get more time to enjoy guest star Duncan Wisbey’s excellent turn as amiable ‘gentleman of the road’ Grayling Frimlish.
Eddie Robson’s “Repeat Offender”, meanwhile, feels like a missing episode from the most recent TV episodes starring Peter Capaldi; it’s a twisty time travel tale involving monsters crossing through rifts, featuring some broad jabs at contemporary life (in this case, anti-immigration rhetoric). An awful amount happens in a short space of time, but somehow it all holds together. Constructed as a series of shifting three-handers, it all ends a bit quickly, but not before one of the regulars gets possessed by the villain and has a bit of fun playing spooky.
The final tale, Ian Potter’s “The Becoming”, plays with epic-scale sci-fi mythology. Unfortunately, it somewhat lacks depth, but that isn’t to say it is without a certain charm. A touching performance from Kate Alexander as Waywalker helps, as does the story allowing Turlough to have a go at being heroic for a change. A last minute twist (which in hindsight may seem obvious, but I missed it completely!) is excellently played, as is the familiar Doctor Who trope of ugly not necessarily meaning bad.
Throughout all four adventures, both Davison’s and Strickson’s performances accurately capture their television counterparts from the 1980s, despite over 30 years passing since they played them on screen. Indeed, the stories included here give Turlough a tad more depth than he received back in the day. The authors have skilfully drawn on small references and throwaway moments from the TV show and weaved them into something far richer: his artistic abilities now help to round him out, if only superficially, while glimpses of his war-torn home world are rather intriguing and definitely warrant further investigation.
Featuring a selection of well-used Doctor Who staples (one person can make a huge difference; never sign your life over to computer networks; different isn’t necessarily dangerous), none of the stories are particularly ground-breaking – but any one of them will liven up a commute no end, and probably bring a smile to your face a few times. While they won’t necessarily change your opinion of Doctor Who, they are – to paraphrase a fairy-tale princess from the second story – “extravagant nonsense, told with panache”. Quite lovely!
DOCTOR WHO: THE MEMORY BANK AND OTHER STORIES is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finishuntil November 30th 2016, after which date it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.