The Crumbling Magician

Posted in Audio by - September 26, 2019
The Crumbling Magician

Released September 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The First Doctor: Volume Three closes with the imminent end of the First Doctor’s life quickly drawing near in Guy Adams’s ‘The Crumbling Magician.’ Following a collision in the TARDIS, the Doctor is in a coma, Ben is unconscious, and Polly is experiencing time out of order while knowing that she will incur a mortal wound, and the sanctity of life and the instinct to cling onto it no matter its form quickly come into focus on every front.

Taken with the foreknowledge of the incredible process the Doctor is about to undergo, some of the inherent drama in this story is minimized because events by necessity must follow the established continuity. However, if listened to in the mindset of viewers back in 1966 who had no idea of what was yet to come, and even when paired with the events that recently aired in ‘Twice Upon a Time’ that so brilliantly looked at what the Doctor- much to the shock and even disdain of his First self- had become through his many lives, it offers a unique perspective of how this particular incarnation views himself while tapping into the aura of unpredictability that the First Doctor always maintained. The prospect of undergoing regeneration is a new one to the Doctor at this time, and being healed and given a most unexpected youthful body to walk around in once more is certainly an enticing prospect he must weigh and consider while balancing his own sense of morality and responsibility.

The artificial intelligence Continuity is, of course, the linking force throughout this narrative as Polly and then the entire environment begin to undergo temporal jumps; although the programming constraints inherent to AI do lead to climax that is overly familiar in a story that otherwise prefers to wade in unfamiliarity, the mystery at the core of its decisions and operations is suitably engaging from beginning to end. All of this leads to a truly powerhouse performance from Anneke Wills who must portray a young woman trying to come to terms with her shifting reality and the unknown fates of her friends, a machine that appears to be acting in everyone’s best interest but that seems to know much more than it is letting on, and the Doctor who must confront his own mortality. The Companion Chronicles has always made the most of its smaller casts, and here Wills epitomizes the versatility and power needed to breathe a dynamic life into what could potentially fall quite flat with less adept performers at the helm.

The trouble with ‘The Crumbling Magician’ is that it tries to bring together too many storylines without quite managing to create a unified whole. While Polly’s temporal plight and the unique relationship between Polly and the Doctor have more than enough depth together to carry the entire story, there is also a side story involving Ben and the young Allie who has undergone so much personal turmoil, forming a genuinely emotional relationship that makes the absolute most of Elliot Chapman and David Warner. Again, this is a fascinating premise and relationship that likely could have been developed further within another context, but it does end up feeling somewhat disjointed from the main story despite its obvious points of intersection. Wanting to include Ben who was overlooked for far too long before Chapman began voicing the role is commendable, but focusing on him in a side thread doesn’t quite capitalize on the full potential of doing so. Still, despite the inevitability of how events must ultimately play out, this is a story brimming with imagination that highlights how much these well-known characters can still offer in terms of new exploration, and it’s an engaging and unique ending to this latest set of The Companion Chronicles that has successfully brought the entirety of the First Doctor’s televised tenure to life once more.

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