Blurb: When the TARDIS materializes in a familiar junkyard in the 1960s, the Doctor and Steven are soon embroiled in a mystery in the City of London. Who are the mysterious bowler-hatted businessmen with their deadly umbrellas? And what secret is young Oliver Harper desperately trying to conceal?
Contracts have been signed. A deal is in place. And the Doctor discovers that perhaps not even he can stop a terrible business…
Review: The Sara Kingdom Trilogy gained critical and fan acclaim for Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles. It only made sense that they would try to capitalize on that success by doing another trilogy. This time they made the controversial move of adding a new companion to the first Doctor’s era. This story introduces new companion Oliver Harper, a commodities exchange trader from 1966. Writer Simon Guerrier had originally pitched a different idea, but producer David Richardson suggested that they should lead off with this story as an origin for Oliver and then make Guerrier’s original idea the second story in the trilogy. With Peter Purves coming back to play Steven Taylor, the cast was assembled to take part in this Companion Chronicle.
The Perpetual Bond is set between the television stories The Daleks Master Plan and The Massacre. The Daleks Master Plan has the Doctor and Steven endure tremendous hardships as they witness multiple friends die in front of their eyes. Yet, in The Massacre there’s no indication that they’d undergone any kind of loss recently. The Perpetual Bond takes advantage of this by leading directly on from the end of The Daleks Master Plan and following Steven and the Doctor on to their next adventure as they are still reeling from the shock of their last one. This allows the story to play to Guerrier’s strength with a story that’s far more about the characters than the plot.
One of the nice things that this story accomplishes is a bait and switch tactic. The TARDIS arrives at the junk yard on Totters Lane where it was in the very first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child. Steven and the Doctor discuss visiting former companions Ian and Barbara, thinking that the company of old friends might help to dampen the pain that they’re feeling due to the friends that they’ve lost, but on the way they get caught up in a new adventure as they question the presence of aliens on Earth in the 1960’s. The Doctor meets with the aliens expressing his interest in the commercial enterprise that they’re running on the Earth. Having lost his friends, the Doctor takes a passive, fatalistic outlook. Meanwhile, Steven wants to take care of the injustices that he’s found, but he loses his faith in the Doctor who seems like such a broken shell of a man compared to what Steven had known before. There’s some wonderful tension in this story as Steven questions just what the Doctor can accomplish. It’s a question that wouldn’t work at just about any other time in the series’ history, but with the Doctor’s failure to save three people who were close to him in such a short span of time fresh in their memories, the audience and Steven are forced to wonder if the Doctor is capable of doing what needs to be done.
Eventually, of course the Doctor makes a comeback. The series continued on from that point and Steven was still with the Doctor. The moment, though, is incredibly well executed. It highlights just how strong the Doctor’s sense of right and wrong are. It also shows how clever he is and provides shades of some of the actions that he’ll take in his future. It’s also a nice nod to the fact that the first Doctor could be a bit of a jerk sometimes when he wanted to be, yet no one listening to this story is likely to question the Doctor’s choice of action.
The plot is an interesting change of pace this time around with it centering around alien investors on the London commodities exchange. Guerrier does a good job of hooking the listener by immediately raising some questions. Why is Oliver panicked at the beginning of the story? Why can no one but Oliver, the Doctor, and Steven see the aliens for what they are? What do the aliens want? Typical for Doctor Who tropes of the time, one might think that the aliens are after some natural resource of the Earth, but Guerrier makes sure that the story goes in a different direction. There are also some nice twists as the Doctor and Steven examine the mystery as the Doctor discovers that this isn’t a typical alien invasion and Steven discovers just how deep the bond goes. The plot, unfortunately, has quite a few holes, but if you can allow yourself to get carried along for the ride it’s still a lot of fun.
One thing that this story has in spades is style. The story has a pre-credits sequence. It grates a bit with the 60’s style that a first Doctor story should evoke, but it does a great job of creating a sense of immediacy to the story. The music is an inspired choice of very 60’s-sounding music. Mr. Flowers, the leader of the alien Fulgarites is described as a large, mushroom shaped creature with skin the texture of burnt glass. Beyond that, the performance just creates the image of every overweight, corrupt businessman trope puffing away on his cigar that the listener has ever seen. Oliver’s description of the traders and how you need to project the right swagger in the role, and his insistence that one must always carry an umbrella because “you don’t go to battle without your sword” also helps to create this fantastic and charming image of the effete British gentleman. The sound design is also excellent. There are all the mundane sounds like buses pulling away, phones ringing, and people walking, along with the alien sounds of a transmat moving people away or umbrella laser guns blasting. The whole thing is wonderfully put together and very effectively conveys the story.
Peter Purves as always puts in an excellent performance. His Doctor still carries all the love and respect that he had for William Hartnell. His voice doesn’t sound exactly the same, but he has the mannerisms of the first Doctor down to a tee. In some ways it’s a shame because this is a story where the full force of Hartnell’s righteous anger would have made a powerful statement. Purves’ tones are a little to impish to give the Doctor’s words the same weight, but he still does an excellent job that captures the essential truth of the character. His Steven is perfect. It’s an exact recreation of his character from when he was working on the show. Purves is blessed with a voice that hasn’t changed much in fifty years, and it’s always a pleasure to hear him speaking as Steven. Here he mines the character for all he’s worth expressing his grief, shock at the Doctor’s inability to help, and anger at what the Fulgarities are doing. It’s a powerful performance, and he deserves all the kudos that he can get for it.
Tom Allen also does a great job as Oliver Harper and Mr. Flowers. Allen’s Harper has a strong moral streak. He’s shocked that Steven thinks that gentlemen need anything more than their word to make a business arrangement. Allen delivers his lines with sincerity making Oliver a gentleman of the old school. As has already been said, his Mr. Flowers comes across as an overbearing, gruff, businessman. While the voice is electronically treated to make Flowers’ voice sound deeper than Allen’s natural voice, the performance is all his, and very effectively conveys the character.
Recommendation: A somber introspection of the Doctor and Steven’s relationship after The Daleks Master Plan, disguised as a fun romp in 1960’s London, The Perpetual Bond makes for some great listening. There are some wonderful performances, fantastic music, and some interesting dramatic flourishes that more than help to shore up the deficiencies of the plot. I recommend giving it a listen.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Simon Guerrier
Runtime Approx 60 min.