E is For…

Posted in Audio by - September 22, 2019
E is For…

Released September 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Once a hallmark of Big Finish’s monthly releases that highlighted just how unique the storytelling opportunities within all eras of Doctor Who remain, The Companion Chronicles in its condensed format of one annual set of four stories is now an even greater source of anticipation and excitement. With William Hartnell’s tenure once more in focus, The First Doctor: Volume Three brings Susan to the forefront first in ‘E is For…’ by Julian Richards.

The setup for ‘E is For…’ is one that listeners will find eminently familiar since stories featuring individuals with unique or heightened powers who find themselves ostracized or worse by the public at large continue to become more and more commonplace in all entertainment formats. However, what this does allow for in this case is a brilliant reason for Susan’s latent telepathic abilities that have often been hinted at but rarely showcased to feature, landing her here in confinement apart from her friends in the police state of Malkus that is dedicated to hunting anomalies like her. Finding that she can alter others’ perceptions and read thoughts when neural suppressors are not being worn, however, little is done with this facet other than to have Susan attempt time after time to connect to anything she comes into contact with as the danger stemming from the core of this world’s truth and from her pursuers continues to escalate.

While Susan’s abilities are nonetheless essential to portions of the plot’s progression and do help to develop the mysterious man known only as Weapon E whom her innate compassion saw fit to free from his prison after some six months in isolation, it’s the chemistry between Carole Ann Ford and Mark Edel-Hunt that is far more effective than the generic story itself. The two share a great chemistry, and Susan and Virgil form a believable is cautious bond as they unwittingly confront truths and dangers in equal measure. There is an attempt to add a little nuance to the alien presence that resulted in such a sudden change in Malkus’s population and the measures since taken to find and cover up the truth, but as presented this journey to the truth is simply a repetitive and quickfire series of encounters with artificial intelligence, beasts, cyborgs, and even death. Despite the familiarity of her voice as Bernice Summerfield, Lisa Bowerman adds a suitably menacing performance as Colonel Maria Rage who is so key to the secrecy, but even the addition of a third voiced character in this range that so frequently relies on two and added narration is not enough to distract from the formulaic plot that feels more like a checklist rather than a logical and cohesive progression.

Superhero stories have inundated every market over the past several years, and it takes something truly special to stand out from the masses in this day. Technically, the performances, direction, and sound design in ‘E is For…’ are all excellent, but the history of this world and even Virgil Winters who has been through such personal tumult have all been done too many times before. Even if Doctor Who itself rarely delves into this genre, this story of an unexpected hero who refuses to give in to the pressure that has pushed down upon him for so long deserves to be so much more given the immense emotions and genuine horror at its heart that hold so much potential. Instead, ‘E is For…’ stays on safe and firmly trodden ground with its narrative and presents a rare misfire for the range that is all the more unfortunate given the added weight that these box sets carry.

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