The Bonfires of the Vanities

Posted in Audio by - May 01, 2018
The Bonfires of the Vanities

Released June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following an opening that recaps the beginning of ‘The Tenth Planet’ and hints at an ongoing arc for The First Doctor Volume Two that has yet to be revealed in full, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben land in Lewes in the late 1950s just in time to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. But in a city gripped by fear and animosity, there is no fun to be had on the streets this night with imps on the loose and the Bonfire Boys on the march as the fires burn in ‘The Bonfires of the Vanities’ by Una McCormack.

Guy Fawkes has had something of a resurgence in popular culture over recent years, and although ‘The Bonfires of the Vanities’ does not go into the true history, conflict, or intent of this important figure in British history, it does quite succinctly deal with the dangers of a group mindset in the presence of a charismatic and wealthy manipulator while touching rather indirectly upon civil discontent and questionable leaders in the modern day. As has been the trend for this set, the plot itself is quite simple and very traditional for this franchise as an alien being who was long ago thrown onto a bonfire by the people of Lewes seeks his revenge by seemingly giving life to sets of masks and robes to help it achieve its nefarious goal. While there isn’t quite enough time for this alien to really develop before the Doctor uses his oratory skills to dispel the threats coming from multiple fronts, its ties into the local history and the current danger it presents allow the characters themselves to take precedence, which is ultimately the goal of The Companion Chronicles even if this particular story doesn’t necessarily focus on actual character development or internal exploration. Though some may insist that this range in its truest form should be delivered with one narrator in any given story, the presence of both Anneke Wills as Polly and Elliot Chapman as Ben gives the production a natural and dynamic flow that gives greater life and development to both the relationship between and the individual natures of these two companions who have seen so much of their televised work lost to time. It’s quite astounding just how well these two do and how quickly they’ve developed a natural chemistry, and Wills somehow manages to again channel the youthful enthusiasm of a character she’s been playing for some fifty years effortlessly to lend an immense degree of verisimilitude to proceedings.

Indeed, as both Polly and Ben in their own unique fashions try to provide protection for an ailing Doctor, it’s the town librarian as a woman wise beyond her era who becomes the most intriguing character of the bunch, allying with the Doctor and his companions while searching for an answer to the increasing madness and anger around her. Even pointing out sexist notions from Polly at one point as she proactively uses her knowledge and ingenuity to help out however she can, this is the perfect example of a companion who never came to be and helps further flesh out the production as a whole. ‘The Bonfires of the Vanities’ may not have the lasting power or emotional impact of some other tales, but as a reintroduction to this brief televised era that hints at a bigger revelation yet to come, its confidence and macabre atmosphere with something malicious encroaching make it a perfectly enjoyable and sound instalment nonetheless.

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