The Beautiful People

Posted in Audio by - January 29, 2019
The Beautiful People

Released January 2007

Rounding out the first series of The Companion Chronicles, ‘The Beautiful People’ by Jonathan Morris revisits the Fourth Doctor era as Romana, K9, and he land at the Vita Novus Health Spa that offers renowned respite from the stresses of life in the thirty-second century and guaranteed weight loss therapy that leaves visitors feeling like an entirely new person, for better or for worse.

The first three installments of this series found great success by exploring or at least hinting at what happened to companions after leaving the Doctor’s company, but ‘The Beautiful People’ very much functions like a more traditional audio book as Lalla Ward jumps right into narration and even highlights individual chapter titles. Ward, of course, has revisited the role of Romana several times already for Big Finish in the spin-off Gallifrey range, and she perfectly recaptures Romana’s haughty enthusiasm as she tries her best to put on a brave face and hide her fear. With the Doctor more casually sidelined while exploring the inner complexities of the facility’s gift shop, it’s up to Romana to uncover the truth behind the physical changes that occur within these doors, and Ward comfortably delivers a wide range of emotions as she faces drowning and total body mass elimination and must begrudgingly accept that the Doctor only bought her a towel as a souvenir.

There are no hidden complexities to the story’s themes or antagonistic motivations, but the extremes of vanity and social pressures on those who don’t conform to expectations serve to move the plot along at a solid pace that gains momentum as the villain truly shows herself and those pressures become rather more physical.  Morris manages to capture the season seventeen tone and dynamic perfectly with his prose, and this witty and irreverent plot would slot in perfectly alongside any of those televised outings, a fact further bolstered by the Doctor’s lauding of doughnuts and Romana’s detailed view that K9 sees himself as the adventurer with the Doctor and her as his own companions. Yet despite the heightened danger and a strong comedic element, Morris does manage to include some genuine emotion as Romana befriends a visitor who won’t deny herself a slice of chocolate cake, and discussions about how thin people view larger people with pity and even disgust slowly gives way to self-realisation that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and that gluttony certainly has its own merits to certain individuals. Much is asked of the one guest star complementing the lead in this range, and Marcia Ashton does well as Kama to lend these vents a more familiar face.

Though ‘The Beautiful People’ does not attempt to portray any of the high-concept notions that so often pervaded season seventeen and instead chooses to focus more on straightforward scenes of capturing, recapturing, and running around, it never feels rushed or repetitive thanks to immense scripting and performances. The entire concept could have easily resulted in a joke that collapsed under its own irreverence, but the end result is a thoroughly enjoyable tale that is helped all the more by Lalla Ward’s commanding and confident presence in narration and acting alike as well a minimal but suitably effective sound design. Although this is one that is quite unlikely to go down as one of the Fourth Doctor’s most memorable outings in the long run, as a reintroduction to a cherished era it absolutely delivers and effectively hints at just how much more there is to explore with this fascinating lead trio.

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