childthecover_cover_largeBlurb: “Tell me another story, Leela. Not the one about the walking doll or the creepy mechanical men. A new one. I want to hear a new one…”

Leela is dead but her soul lives on. She has been reborn as a young girl, Emily, whose ‘imaginary friend’ tells her amazing tales about a great Wizard and the warrior who accompanies him on his adventures through time and space.

Emily prepares to tell her parents the story of a cold, grey world whose people are ruled over by a Glass Angel. The Wizard is her prisoner and only the warrior girl and her three peculiar friends can save him…

Review: The Child is the start of a new trilogy starring Leela in Big Finish’s range of Companion Chronicles for Doctor Who. This time author Nigel Fairs conceived of the storyline as a trilogy from the outset rather than just being asked to make more stories until he’d written three of them. As a result, The Child feels like it’s setting up a larger story. In it, Leela has now been reincarnated as a girl named Emily and Emily uses some of her memories of being Leela as the basis for creating a fairy tale story. Fairs’ intention for this plot arc is to follow Emily throughout her life and tell Doctor Who stories in styles never done before at different stages in her life. This may be a bit confusing for anyone who listened to The Time Vampire, since that story implied that Leela’s fate was entirely different. However, if anyone takes this story on its own merits or isn’t familiar with any of the earlier Companion Chronicles for Leela, then this story is easy to pick up and listen to on its own whether someone is familiar with classic Doctor Who or not.

The Child is another style over substance story from Nigel Fairs. There’s a lot of fairy tale language. The Doctor is a wizard. Leela is a warrior. The villain is a “glass angel”. In some places, Emily is clearly embellishing the story and decides that maybe the mechanical men (robots) were each controlled by 12 tiny people inside of them, stoking the fires and controlling the gears. Some of that is cute. We even get some references to some of the Doctor’s previous selves when circumstances of the story cause them to manifest. The first Doctor is mostly as he was but the second Doctor is a giant crow and the third Doctor is an old lady, hearkening back to his wearing drag in The Green Death. Some of this can be really cute and make the listener smile while listening. An hour of it can get very tedious. The issue is that Fairs seems to have forgotten that there needs to be a story that’s interesting in its own right. It just can’t get by with flowery imagery. Unfortunately this story is as one-dimensional as it gets. The Doctor and Leela are separated and Leela just needs to get back to the Doctor and have a nice chat with the villain and everything becomes fine again. Sometimes fairy tales are some of the grimmest and most brutal stories around and it’s a bit disappointing that this one ended as something of a dud. It was also disappointing that the Doctor’s quest to show Leela the meaning of life didn’t even have one reference to the number ’42’. So much of the story seemed to be inclined in a Douglas Adamsian direction that it seemed odd not to make that particular reference.

The framing sequence is actually more interesting than the story being told. Leela has been reborn as Emily, an Edwardian girl from around 1910 or so. She remembers some of her past life, a nod to The Time Vampire, which said that children are born remembering the entirety of their past lives and only forget as they get older. Emily remembers some of the details but not all. Thankfully, Leela can manifest as an actual voice in her head and helps her to write the story. Some of their interactions are really interesting. Leela and Emily come from such different circumstances, so hearing them discuss growing up and the future is kind of interesting to listen to. It’s also interesting to put together the tale of Emily’s life from just the little snippets that get mentioned in her conversations with Leela. She doesn’t say much at all and it’s only in paying attention to her asides and references that you understand just what kind of life she’s leading and when.

There are some nice touches in the main story as well. Although the parts with the incarnations of the first three Doctors are a bit silly they’re also fun little nods. They also end up working in a lot of references to the Three Doctors, which are nice to anyone familiar with that story but won’t even be noticed by those who aren’t. The Doctor and Leela’s relationship is also really nice here. The Doctor is in full education mode, but the subject is one that’s a bit ephemeral. He wants to teach Leela about the meaning of life. There’s a wonderfully somber yet hopeful tone to the piece. There’s a lot of imagery of things that are frozen, mechanical, or hard but there’s also a hopeful undertone of new life springing from dark times. It’s definitely a tale suited for winter as the CD cover shows. It’s also nice that some of the real onscreen relationship between the Doctor and Leela makes it in to this one. Leela beams when the Doctor compliments some artwork that she made and when she questions him about it he shushes her because he was only complimenting it to make a point to the glass angel not because he was being sincere. It’s such a moment that you could see happening between these two characters and it’s such a joy to watch.

The production values are once again excellent in a Fairs story. Louise Jameson gives it her all as she always does. This time she gets the new role of playing a projection of the first Doctor and she does a nice job doing that as well. Newcomer Anna Hawkes plays Emily, the glass woman, and the projection of the third Doctor. Her performance is the real standout in this one. She does very wonderfully detailed and diverse performances for each of the characters and it makes her a real joy to listen to. Nigel Fairs himself puts in a performance as the second Doctor, which is astoundingly good. While he’s not as good as Fraser Hines, if anything were ever to happen to Fraser he would make a good backup. The music is also phenomenal. Fairs does his own music and here it goes from great majestic sweeps to simple, childlike fairy tale music. There’s also a nice riff on the Doctor’s theme, which is a nice odd and a really nice addition to the score. All this talent really makes the story enjoyable to listen to.

Recommendation: Fairs once again favors style over substance. It makes the act of listening to the story pleasant but don’t expect a lot out of the story itself. It’s almost painfully simplistic at times and if you dislike children’s literature then this is not the story for you. Still, unlike his previous outing with The Time Vampire, The Child actually makes sense and has a clear narrative. It may not be the most exciting story that you’ll ever listen to but it’s still a pleasurable listen, so I do recommend giving it a try.

6/10

2012

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Nigel Fairs

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Nigel Fairs

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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