Return of the Rocket Men

Posted in Audio by - June 11, 2019
Return of the Rocket Men

Released November 2012

The Rocket Men instantly became an iconic and enduring foe in their debut adventure, their visually retro nature and classic motivations serving as the perfect contrast to Ian Chesterton’s internal exploration of the emotions stemming from his time in the TARDIS. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that those same visuals and themes should return for another adventure featuring the First Doctor, and Simon Guerrier continues the saga in the aptly-titled ‘Return of the Rocket Men’ with the Doctor not the only traveler aboard the TARDIS who has a history with these foes.

Few companions have experienced so much loss and tragedy as Steven Taylor, and his eventual decision to leave the Doctor’s company in ‘The Savages’ was one that made logical sense but that wasn’t necessarily thoroughly explored within the time constraints of his televised tenure. The Companion Chronicles range has already done remarkable work with developing the growing sense of forlornness and helplessness stemming from the ever-growing list of friends he has lost, including the audio-only companion Oliver Harper, and ‘Return of the Rocket Men’ further drives home that point as Steven finds himself suddenly thrust into his own past with danger and loss ever-present threats on a remote frontier planet. This is neatly set relatively soon after ‘Mother Russia’ in which Steven had begun formulating ideas about setting roots somewhere, and the sudden loss of an old acquaintance is a strong impetus for his impending decision as well as for his decision make one final stand to ensure Dodo does not join the list of ill-fated.

In a small-cast story such as this that features Steven recounting the tale of a near brush with death featuring the Rocket Men long ago, it’s not too difficult to guess that Steven himself is the figure in the cracked helmet who saves his younger self, especially with so much discussion about just when in time the TARDIS has landed. However, while the decision to have the Doctor narrating through the helmet is somewhat cumbersome and overt, the overall effect of this sequence is nonetheless a thrilling one heightened by the fact that older Steven is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure his younger self has the opportunity to experience everything he has in life to this point. Thus, while the ultimate revelation that Steven has assumed the identity of one of the foes doesn’t quite land with the same shock as Ian doing so in the original, the end results are equally enthralling and utilise a clever temporal twist to further define Steven and just how much this man who has always been so determined, honest, and decent has matured and changed as a person.

The Companion Chronicles has proven on so many occasions before that this is a range capable of delivering incredibly emotional and insightful journeys for well-established companions, and ‘The Return of the Rocket Men’ is unquestionably another strong example that makes the most of Peter Purves’s immense range and capabilities as an actor. With Tim Treloar likewise giving a fine performance as the Rocket Man leader Van Cleef that epitomises the truly intimidating menace these foes continue to pose, no fault can be found in this production that again features sterling direction and sound design to bring this isolated locale and its many dangers to life so vividly. Steven may be one of the more overlooked companions in Doctor Who history given his chronological placement and the fact that so many of his stories are missing from the video archives, but this is another example of just how incredibly dynamic and resonant he remains even after so long, and the optimistic and satisfying means by which he comes to peace with his fateful decision is a monumental piece of characterisation that fits in perfectly with established facts.

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