Review: Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles – Council of War

Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles - Council of WarBlurb: At the Doctor’s request, Sergeant Benton is investigating ghosts and missing people in Kettering, while undercover as a local councilor

And that’s how he comes to meet Margery Phipps.

An alien incursion in the town hall leads them on a journey to a terrible future – where Margery discovers how she changed a world, and the life of a whole civilization hangs in the balance…

Review: Benton is one of the most enigmatic figures in Doctor Who lore. Even his first name has always been unknown and he has only been addressed by his last name and his rank. Fan lore and this story give him the first name “John” because the actor “John Levene” plays Benton. Yet, Benton was on the series on and off again every year from 1969 through 1975. Viewers grew to love him for his long-suffering nature, down-to-earth attitude, and courage. Yet the question remains: what is a companion? None of the U.N.I.T. crew traveled with the Doctor, but wouldn’t the fact that they were semi-regulars during the Doctor’s exile qualify them as such, just as much as Liz Shaw who also didn’t travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS? With Council of War, Big Finish finally answered that age old question as well as giving Benton a story where he could finally take the center stage.

Council of War is a very fun story. Writers Barnard and Morris do their best to craft a story that at least on the surface appears to be a 70’s style tale. Apparitions are appearing in a small town in England and there’s already been a kidnapping. With Yates out of action after the events of The Green Death, Benton is sent in to the local town council as one of its members so that he can spy on what’s going on. Giving Benton a Bond-like role is an inspired choice, as a character who is normally in the background is now forced to come forward and take center stage. Immediately he gets the attention of Ms. Margery Phipps who notices that, much like herself, Benton doesn’t really fit in there. The whole story then seems to tilt on its side as it moves into an almost Douglas Adamsesque plot with time travel, alien cockroach pirates, and a civilization that has elevated a local politician to a nearly godlike level of reverence. As long as you keep in mind that this story is intending to be a little tongue-in-cheek, it just about works although I personally find the appearance of an organization called U.G.I.T. at the very end to be just a step too far. Besides, this seems more like police work than the kind of thing that U.N.I.T. would normally handle so the metaphor isn’t exactly appropriate. The only real plot hole is what the people of Kettering thought they’d do with Margery after the trial. Did they think that they’d change their own reality so that they never existed? How would that help? If they really wanted to just hold her accountable for her perceived crimes then why not pick her up from a time after she’d written her book? If you can get past this and just go with the flow you’ll still find a mostly amusing and fairly suspenseful story.

Companion Chronicles are typically more about the development and points of view of the characters rather than simply telling a narrative like many of the other Doctor Who lines. In this one, guest character Margery Phipps takes over some of the narration and her point of view is given an equal status to Benton’s. Margery is written very much like the kind of character that a 1970’s TV show would have for a feminist. She’s assertive and tough but once the powerful Benton is around she can’t help but think about how well he fills out his clothes and how tall and strong he is. Her agenda is liberal and progressive but the story knocks down some of her preconceptions and makes her understand that sometimes peace and love can’t win the day and that you have to fight for what you believe in. I was kind of surprised to find how flimsy her viewpoints were in a story made in this day and age. Yet, I think that the writers may have been having a bit of fun by writing her how she probably would have been depicted if she’d been on TV. Benton literally steals the show here. Not only does he show that he has the dance moves, he also keeps a level head in a crisis. It’s wonderful to see him organizing the town’s defenses and it shows just how brave he is that he’s the one that sneaks into the enemy ship with nothing other than his Walther PPK. It does seem a little unbelievable that he didn’t ask any of the townsfolk what the Blatherians were like as intelligence is key to any military activity, but it’s still great to have him in a leadership position at last.

The performances in this one were pretty good. John Levene is fantastic as Benton. He doesn’t seem cut out to be much of a voice actor though as his Doctor and Brigadier are clearly his own voice. He puts in enough phrases and mannerisms to make it clear who is speaking and that is really all that you need in this kind of story. They’re supposed to be from the companion’s point of view so if he can’t detail their dialog exactly that’s not a real problem. Sinead Keenan is spellbinding as Margery Phipps. Her snide attitude about some of the goings on in her town as well as her understandable anger at the way that she’s treated is all depicted in a way that makes her seem like a really interesting person. It’s nice to see her take a stand when she finds out what is really going on and her determination makes you really root for her. The music in this one is also fantastic. We get a nice 70’s style musical score and we also get some sound effects that sound like they’ve been stolen from Pertwee era Doctor Who.

Recommendation: Benton gets the girl. It’s a wonderful trip down memory lane as it’s a fun take on one of the best era’s of Doctor Who. It also gives insight into Benton, one of the most beloved yet least fleshed out of the original series characters. I definitely recommend it.

7/10

2013

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Nicola Bryant

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Paul Morris & Simon Barnard

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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