Blurb: Before Totter’s Yard, before Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, before the Chameleon Circuit was broken… the Doctor and Susan traveled alone.
The planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe appears, at first glance, to be an agreeable, exotic refuge for the two travelers. But the world is experiencing a terrible drought, and the Doctor becomes its unwilling rainmaker.
Meanwhile, Susan makes an ally in a young girl called Meedla. But friends are not always what they appear, and the long-awaited rain isn’t necessarily good news…
Review: The pre-Unearthly Child territory is a vast area to explore in Doctor Who fiction. The series only rarely makes a direct comment on what the Doctor and Susan were doing before ending up in the Junk Yard in London 1963. While the Doctor has sometimes referred to adventures that were never shown onscreen it is always unclear if those were supposed to be before that first story or if they were implying missing adventures such as the audios and novels have exploited over the past 2 decades. The novels never went into this territory and only the Telos novellas set two stories within this period. Seeing the vastly unexplored potential in this setting particularly for a companion chronicle about Susan, Big Finish decided to capitalize on this and set the story Quinnis in that gap, referencing a location that Susan and the Doctor refer to as one of their previous adventures just before An Unearthly Child.
The story manages to live up to expectations while providing a lot that is new and fresh. All that Susan and the Doctor mention in The Edge of Destruction is that they almost lost the TARDIS on Quinnis. That happens in the story when a flood washes the ship away and it’s taken down to rest within the carnivorous vegetation below. The plot to get the Ship back despite the dangers becomes the central focus of episode 2. It’s also a nice touch of continuity for author Marc Platt to demonstrate a working TARDIS in this story. The Ship arrives as a kiosk in a market rather than the blue police box with which Doctor Who fans are all familiar.
Like all good Doctor Who, world-building is essential to creating a vivid narrative as there is so little time to develop a new location. Marc Platt draws on his experience of various exotic locales in our world to create a location that seems believable yet exotic. The market center with its description of the people, the wares, and the various sounds instantly paints a vivid picture. The idea of the city of bridges, the sporadic rainfall, the dangerous vegetation, and the buildings and the way that even the kiosks and buildings can be anchored to the town tells us a lot about the culture and what life in this area is like. This world comes with its own legends such as that of the Shrazer, the bird which brings bad luck. The fact that the workers need to walk on stilts and wear bird masks to brighten away evil is also a nice touch. The only thing that seems really disappointing is that the fact that Quinnis is in the Fourth Universe seems like a wasted opportunity. Quinnis, while a well realized world, is no more unique than any planet that the Doctor may stumble upon in his original universe. Another universe could be a far more interesting locale where even the same physics don’t apply so it seems like a waste that nothing was made of that here.
The story is given one hard link to An Unearthly Child, since the story ends with the Doctor considering that as soon as they find a suitable place that he’ll need to put Susan in an environment with other children her own age. Platt says in an interview that he needed to explain why Susan is in a school because “she and the Doctor never do that kind of thing”. Yet this seems like a very forced explanation. The series never shows what the Doctor and Susan were like prior to meeting Ian and Barbara. The Doctor was nothing like the hero that he later became in the series and seemed to be content with observing and getting out of harm’s way. Once the humans came everything changed and they were often pushed into dangerous situations that kept them moving fairly quickly. This one point seems very jarring in an otherwise very good story.
The characters are very well-developed in Quinnis. Susan particularly gets a chance to shine in this story, an opportunity that she wasn’t always given in the TV series. One gets a real sense of loneliness for this girl so far away from her own time and place. She loves her grandfather but he also patronizes her and she, being an older teen, really resents that. Yet without having had a home and peers for so long she also doesn’t know how to behave appropriately. The depth of feeling that Susan has for her new friend, Meedla, is very well-developed even as she begins to become a little suspicious of her and that ending scene with the beautiful dialog where Susan can’t “tell her tears from the rain” is performed with such deep emotion by Carole Ann Ford. The Doctor is also well realized. He’s depicted as being somewhat less heroic than longtime fans would expect, which is consistent with the Doctor as seen in his earliest story. He’s only interested in seeing new things and exploring and only helps others when it becomes apparent that it’s in his own best interests. It seems odd that he would have such confidence that he could make it rain in such technologically poor conditions, but that could have been the bluster that he was always so famous for. Meedla is a really interesting character. She begins somewhat sympathetic but you can always tell that there’s a very sinister aspect to her. You can see why Susan could so desperately want to befriend her but you can also see why the Doctor would be so wary of someone so manipulative. The Hunter is a very fun character. He’s depicted as genuinely loving what he’s doing and the way that he affectionately refers to the Doctor as Rainmaker and seems to delight so much in his work is a real pleasure to listen to.
From a performance standpoint this really is a place where Carole Ann Ford shines. Susan sounds 16 again and it’s very clear when she’s narrating and when she’s speaking as her 16 year old self. Her Doctor is a little overdone, but that shouldn’t be too surprising when trying to emulate the role of someone of a different gender from 50 years ago. Still, it’s always clear what she is trying to evoke from his performance and mannerisms and it’s a very comfortable feeling for any fans of the first Doctor to hear her delivering his lines. Her Hunter as mentioned is also given a very fun demeanor and she injects him with a lot of energy. Ford’s daughter, Tara-Louise Kaye also does an excellent job as Meedla. Even when she’s sympathetic she sounds just off enough to be vaguely sinister but when she’s full on sinister she can be very creepy. The chemistry between the two worked well and this story was all the better for their getting the chance to play off each other. The sound design and direction helped. There’s a discordant sound throughout the story to give the feeling that things aren’t right somehow, and Meedla’s dialog is sometimes inserted as if it’s in answer to Susan’s narration rather than a sequence in-story, which gives everything an unsafe feeling and can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck if you’re listening for the first time and not expecting it. There’s some beautiful music that gives the story a mythological quality. The sounds are vibrant with various bird squawks, pigs oinking, rainfall, thunder splitting the sky, villagers chanting, a busy marketplace full of business and much more that gives the audio a more rich and developed feeling than some others with a sparser soundscape.
It would be remiss of this review not to mention the CD cover. It is very beautifully designed with a picture of one of the workers on stilts with a very nice photo of Susan in the distance. The TARDIS shaped as a kiosk is in the background just under the worker’s left arm. The city on bridges is in the background with the ominous storm clouds overhead. It’s very well laid out and is one of the nicer covers for the range.
Recommendation: Lots of nice nods to the earliest days of Doctor Who make this story feel like a home coming to those who are familiar with the first season and who love it. It’s also a nice jumping on point for new listeners without any established continuity getting in the way. The story isn’t the most complicated that Doctor Who ever does but the characters are interesting and there’s a tale about loneliness and hanging out with the wrong crowd, giving Susan a dimension that she was rarely afforded in the television series. I’d suggest new and old fans of Doctor Who to give this one a listen.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Marc Platt
Runtime Approx 60 min.