Released December 2011
Whereas 2010’s Bonus Release ‘The Four Doctors’ took a rather novel approach to a multi-Doctor story by focusing on a new character traversing the Doctor’s personal timeline, 2011’s fuses different eras of Doctor Who together in an altogether more traditional fashion, though still with its own unique twist. As Ian, Steven, Sara, Polly, and Nyssa find themselves brought together and confronted with Daleks, Sontarans, and dinosaurs, ‘The Five Companions’ finds the Doctor directly confronting his past in a thrilling but also very personal tale of survival and reflection.
Writer Eddie Robson borrows from ‘The Five Doctors’ and suggests that these past companions are in another part of that serial’s Death Zone on Gallifrey and that the Doctor has been pulled out of his transport to the Capitol to appear at that same area. However, though this is a Fifth Doctor story, the tale wisely focuses on the returning companions themselves, certainly not shying away from the fact that they have aged since leaving the Doctor and allowing moments of reminiscence while showcasing the unique element that each brought to the series while traveling aboard the TARDIS. Obviously Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles range has kept the earlier companions alive as dynamic and ever-evolving characters, but it is nonetheless remarkable just how much of their original characters’ sensibilities and mannerisms William Russell, Peter Purves, Jean Marsh, and Anneke Wills are able to instill to lend an undoubted air of familiarity to proceedings. At the same time, Sarah Sutton with her many years alongside Peter Davison at Big Finish resonates resoundingly as a more nuanced and developed Nyssa who impresses with her scientific knowledge and hints at deeper feelings for her Doctor.
Indeed, it’s these moments of looking back that form the emotional core of this story, and Robson includes plenty of moments of recall while also discussing these characters’ futures after leaving the Doctor without ever becoming overbearing. Yet as pleasing as re-experiencing an iconic bit of deception from the past is, perhaps the strongest and most poignant moment of the entire story comes with Polly during a moment of weakness where the Doctor touchingly proclaims just what he sees in each of his companions regardless of individual bravery or faults. Of course, Polly has her heroic moment as a Sontaran bears down on the Doctor, and she is certainly able to proudly stand alongside the resourceful and tenacious Ian and Steven as well as the more seasoned warrior Sara who deflty shows her mettle against a Dalek squadron. However, while the circumstances that have led to Sara’s inclusion are left purposefully vague for those unfamiliar with The Companion Chronicles, ‘The Five Companions’ also finds time to hint at the lasting relationships of Ian and Barbara and of Polly and Ben while intriguingly suggesting that Steven didn’t quite know what he was getting into when he chose to stay behind at the end of ‘The Savages,’ eall of the companions openly admitting that they often think about the Doctor and would love to see him once more.
Naturally, Doctor Who is nothing without conflict, and the Death Zone setting allows the perfect reason to bring together two of the Doctor’s most iconic foes with Nicholas Briggs and Dan Starkey delivering sterling performances as the Dalek and Sontaran enemies, respectively. Present without ever detracting from the companions’ personal stories and drama, these two races share some expectedly combative scenes together before seemingly putting aside their pride and differences to take down the one being who has foiled their plans for so long before. It’s a strong conceit, though one that could only really work in the pressured and artificial surroundings of the Death Zone. Nonetheless, it’s the perfect driving force for plenty of action and plenty of introspection, and ‘The Five Companions’ manages to perfectly bring together plenty of continuity while further defining and refining so many beloved characters.