Review: Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles – The Drowned World

Drowned World

Drowned WorldBlurb: Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom is dead, her ashes strewn on the planet Kembel. But, in an old house in Ely, Sara Kingdom lives on…

To the Elders of this ruined world, Sara is a ghost, a phantom that must be excised. She must prove her right to exist, and she does so with stories. Stories of a time when she traveled the universe with an ancient Doctor and his heroic companion Steven inside a magical space/time ship called the TARDIS.

And one story in particular could make a difference. The one about their trip to a world covered in water, where a human expedition is being wiped out. It’s a battle to survive, as the travelers face the horrors of the drowned world…

Review: The previous Sara Kingdom Companion Chronicle, Home Truths, was a big success for Big Finish. Writer Simon Guerrier penned a touching tale about Sara Kingdom’s regrets and how those and her experiences with the Doctor play into her overall morality. It also gave the character a new lease on life by preserving her consciousness inside the advanced technology of a futuristic house. Deciding to capitalize on that success, another Sara Kingdom story was commissioned to be written by Guerrier. Reuniting Jean Marsh and Niall MacGregor, it would continue the story of Robert at the house in Ely as Sara relates another tale from her past.

One of the really fun parts about the Sara House stories is the framing sequence. Imagining a future age when most of humanity’s knowledge has been lost, Guerrier spins a tale of fear of the unknown as people contemplate what to do with a technology which to them seems superstitious. Robert personifies that age. He’s a supposedly rational man who doesn’t believe the legends about what humanity was once capable of, but he does believe in ghosts. The law of his time requires that ghost be exorcised, so he has to determine if Sara’s personality within the house at Ely is a ghost and what to do about it. Guerrier does a great job of making the listener feel for Robert. Like most people listening, he’s disposed to think positively of Sara. He wants to define her as an “echo” rather than a ghost whose personality was recorded in a process similar to a phonograph recording of a voice but far more complicated. Guerrier takes the listener through Robert’s feelings of betrayal, anger, and eventually remorse. Robert’s life is changed utterly during the course of events and his relationship with Sara changes because of it. This character focus is Guerrier’s forte and it’s hard not to feel the story tug at your heartstrings as Robert’s situation develops and he’s faced at the end with a horrifying choice.

The other really interesting thing about the framing sequence is the examination of Sara Kingdom through her echo. The copy of Sara in the house makes many decisions that seem questionable. It might make her seem like any of the corrupt AI’s that science fiction in general and Doctor Who specifically have dealt with over the years. Yet, Sara Kingdom herself was known for making questionable decisions. She murdered her brother on the order of the Guardian of the Solar System without question. Could her deceptions and manipulations be explained as the actions of a lonely old woman whose mind has been trapped in a machine for thousands of years or is the AI that maintains her failing? It’s impossible to tell and that uncertainty pervades the story even as she tells a tale designed to put her in the most sympathetic possible light.

The story that Sara tells feels like a standard Doctor Who adventure. The Doctor, Steven, and Sara land in a test lab at an odd angle. Water has flooded the lower portion of the lab and the TARDIS falls into the corrosive sea. They learn that it’s a mining installation, and the miners are awaiting a resupply ship to fix their failing life support system. Unfortunately, the life support will fail before the resupply ship gets there. Meanwhile, they’ve been having earthquakes and flooding from this sea of corrosive liquid. What follows is a tense situation as Sara is trapped with two of the miners in a sealed off portion of the installation as the liquid rises. The Doctor is unable to help as he is forced to contend with the more serious situation of the failing life support. Bereft of any assistance Sara must find a way to succeed or die in the attempt.

The plot allows Guerrier to play with some real science elements in addition to the science-fiction, something that he clearly relishes and something that makes the story fun for science geeks. The base tilted at a 45 degree angle plays with the perception of those in it, since the mind expects familiar objects to rest level. Only Steven with many years spent in zero-G is used to such conditions. There’s also the threat of Hypoxia that they experience as the oxygen supply diminishes and the only way out of their situation may be a walk outside onto a planet with a meager atmosphere. There’s also a neat setup for the base, a set of prefabricated modules that can be linked together in a variety of ways and with many different sets of attachments. That’s all juxtaposed with the environmental impacts of mining and the typical examination of greed vs ecological safety. It’s an interesting setup for a very real seeming world, which makes it interesting to listen to.

In the midst of all of this is Sara Kingdom. It’s very much her story with The Doctor sidelined doing an important, but uninteresting task and with Steven playing little role outside of an observer. It’s a story of Sara’s determination in the face of adversity, and also how her guilt over what she did to her brother drives her. She will not accept the deaths of any other innocents. As the story progresses we’re shown the lengths that Sara will go to keep her vow and how her determination is perceived by others. It’s a melancholy story that has hints of how victory can seem like defeat, but at the same time reveals some interesting depths to Sara’s character that she wasn’t allowed to demonstrate on screen. It’s all beautifully counter-pointed with Sara’s journey in the framing sequence. As both versions of Sara face death she is faced with how people’s perceptions of her change based on her actions, and she has to deal with those consequences.

The production itself is very strong. Marsh seems to have warmed to her role a bit more. She’s given far more lines as both Sara and the Doctor and while her Doctor still doesn’t sound all that great, she emotes far more when she’s talking in-character as her younger self. Of course, she’s still tremendously charming as the older, house version of herself. Niall MacGregor continues to do a fantastic job as Robert. He’s still an incredibly sympathetic character and as his life comes crashing down around him you can hear the despair in his voice as he’s willing to do anything to save his daughter. The music is minimal, but used to good effect as the melancholy piano score from Home Truths is used to underscore the more downbeat points of the story. The sound effects as always are great with the sounds of storms, clocks, and clanking bowls and spoons at the house and sounds like shattering glass, the whipping of tendrils that splash into water. The best effect, though, has to be very 60’s laser gun effect that sounds just like what they may have produced all those years ago, when a laser was just a gun-looking apparatus with a lightbulb on the end of it. Big Finish is known for making great sounds, but that was just the cherry on an excellently put together production.

Recommendation: It’s a fascinating story of survival, the lengths one will go to achieve it, and the consequences those actions can have on those around us. Simon Guerrier once again spins a melancholy tale that lends new insights into the character of Sara Kingdom as she faces a science-mystery/danger in the past. It’s a fun story that will leave you fascinated in both parts, and he deftly weaves it all together so that it comes to the end with a delightful twist. The script may not be the most interesting and Marsh still feels like she needs to warm up to the character, but otherwise this is a tight and well-plotted storyline with some great emphasis on character. I recommend listening to it.



Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Simon Guerrier

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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