Review: Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles – The Elixir of Doom

elixir-of-doom_cover_largeBlurb: Once, Jo Grant traveled in Space and Time with the Doctor. Now, she is traveling with trans-temporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme.

Arriving in Los Angeles in the 1930s, Jo and Iris are caught up in the glamor of Hollywood.

Monster movies are all the rage.

But sometimes monsters are real…

Review: The Elixir of Doom is the penultimate chapter in the Companion Chronicles range. For those who have enjoyed that series it is a melancholy feeling to approach the end. For so long it has been the only source for new audio adventures set in the eras of the first, second, and third Doctors. Yet, all good things must come to an end and at least the upcoming range of Early Adventures will continue to represent the first and second Doctors’ eras. At the time of this writing it is unclear how the adventures of the third Doctors will continue and that makes this the last “third Doctor” story in some time. Ironically this story doesn’t even feature the third Doctor despite his appearance on the cover and is a story of an older Jo Grant traveling with Iris Wildthyme, Paul Magrs’ creation for his own line of novels that he feels necessary to insert into just about every Doctor Who story that he writes. Still, as a Jo Grant adventure it does at least call back to the Third Doctor’s era and Jo does tell a story from her time with the Doctor, so the third Doctor is not completely neglected, which helps to balance the scales somewhat.

One of the most surprising things about this story is how bland it is. Paul Magrs is known for a lighthearted, whimsical style of storytelling and this story has almost no sign of that. It’s rumored that he has had a falling out with Big Finish and pulled the Iris Wildthyme license from them, but this story was recorded back in 2011, before any such falling out occurred, so it does not appear that it was effected by the same issue. The Elixir of Doom reads like a writer being forced to complete a contractual obligation rather than someone who’s really invested in their work. Whatever one’s feelings about Magrs’ earlier Jo/Iris story, Find and Replace, it was clear that Magrs had a passion for the story that he was trying to tell, and that resulted in one incredibly powerful and moving scene amongst all the comedic fluff. This story has nothing like that and is missing a lot of the typical Magrs elements of humor. Iris manages to put in a few off color comments about men and husbands but other than that there’s barely any humor at all. The story isn’t very engaging and it goes through a very predictable sequence of events. The resolution is also very unsatisfying with Jo and Iris leaving and conjecturing that the monsters will turn back to normal without any basis for that belief. The story does have one clever surprise in that the McGann Doctor makes an appearance, so that they can at least claim that this was a “Doctor Who” story. He’s used for very little effect, basically just being a device for Iris to get jealous that Jo might want to go off with him and as a deus ex machina to take care of some story issues. The whole effort gives the feeling that someone was just checking a box on required story elements, since he doesn’t feel necessary to the plot and McGann wasn’t around to voice him. We only get his dialog through Manning’s narration. The most annoying thing about all of these story problems is that Jo references a much more interesting sounding story about a vampire in 1970′ Hollywood that she and the third Doctor apparently fought, but we don’t get that story and get this one instead.

As usual Katy Manning impresses with her wide range of voices that she can switch between at a moment’s notice. She does a fantastic job of voicing Jo except that she’s still sounding like younger Jo even though this should be the older version from Find and Replace. Her Iris is the usual annoying character and she also gives us a passable caricature of an American accent for villainess Vita Monet. Her only real miss was voicing the McGann Doctor. I realize that she doesn’t have the rapport with McGann that she had with her former costar but that was the most flat delivery that I’ve ever heard her give for anything. It’s almost as if she realized that she couldn’t do a great imitation so she thought that she’d go for completely flat, so that she wouldn’t distract from the lines at least. Derek Fowlds also does a great job playing Claude, The Human Jelly, and the Lizard Man at various points in the story. Each voice is distinct and he invested each of them with their own personality. The soundscape on this one is similarly uneven. The music is really sparse and there’s not a lot here to imply 1930’s Hollywood. There’s the odd sound effect here and there but the whole thing just sounds bare, almost as if this one were made on the cheap.

Recommendation: It’s a cheap production that feels like it was made to fulfill a contractual obligation. If you like watching paint dry then this may be the story for you. While not as egregiously bad as several other stories in the Companion Chronicles range, this one is so positively bland that you may be put to sleep by it. I would recommend skipping this one.



Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Paul Magrs

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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