The Crowmarsh Experiment

Posted in Audio by - January 25, 2018
The Crowmarsh Experiment

Released January 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Most Doctor Who companions follow a logical arc during their tenure aboard the TARDIS, either developing to their full potential as their adventures progress or maintaining a steady state of consistent characterisation, but Leela remains one of the anomalies in this regard. Her more instinctual and superficially violent nature by itself sets her apart from other companions before and after her, but her fierce intelligence, thirst for knowledge, and willingness to adapt her beliefs still instantly endeared her to the Doctor’s kind-hearted and adventurous sensibilities. However, because her initial intriguing course of refining character development took something of a backseat to the Doctor and storylines as her televised stories continued toward their end, Big Finish has perhaps found its greatest success on the classic companion front with its continued exploration and development of this dynamic presence over the past several years. When attacked on an alien world in ‘The Crowmarsh Experiment,’ Leela falls unconscious and awakes in the Crowmarsh Institute in 1978 London, surrounded by familiar faces on unfamiliar people and told that the life she has known is naught but a fantasy.

On the surface, the plot of ‘The Crowmarsh Experiment’ is one that has been tried many times before in other franchises and, to some extent, in Doctor Who itself, but the concept of pitting a character in the middle of two conflicting realities intrinsically presents tremendous dramatic potential for the person involved. When Leela awakes as Doctor Marshall to those around her, she is told that her memories of her time with the Doctor are the result of a psychological experiment in which dreams can be inserted and controlled that has gone awry. Louise Jameson does wonderful work portraying the fear and confusion overtaking Leela as she steadfastly proclaims that her current situation is a falsity. But when a Doctor with a very familiar voice sedates her and begins to question her, an inkling of doubt begins to enter her mind, a feeling that is only intensified by the appearance of Damian Lynch’s Marshall as Leela’s husband after he made such an impact on her before in the audio adventures ‘Requiem for the Rocket Men’ and ‘Death Match.’ The emotions from those previous stories bleed through here to wonderful effect even as Leela finds herself unable to call Marshall Colin, and this premise of a domestic life filled with children she cannot remember and a husband she remembers all too much believably causes a momentary wavering of determination and a glimmer at the true vulnerability that lies beneath Leela’s strong exterior.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Louise Jameson is the absolute highlight of this release, and the progression of her character from disbelieving to wanting to believe to understanding and fighting back to the Doctor’s guiding voice is masterfully performed and emotive. It’s not often that Big Finish breaks the mould and offers an off-balance character story like this, but the steady script from David Llewellyn and direction from Nicholas Briggs result in each performance amplifying Leela’s conflict to maximum effect as her initial disorientation reaches its inevitable and known end. Indeed, even though the ultimate outcome can only unfold in one predictable fashion, the journey to the heartbreaking climax is extremely confident and fraught with emotion from beginning to end. Leela has gained an immense amount of development through the years in meaningful outings in Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles and Gallifrey among other brief appearances, but this story unfolding with Tom Baker present in the leading role is exactly the type of story from which Leela’s burgeoning arc on television could have continued to benefit.

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