The Mouthless Dead

Posted in Audio by - April 28, 2018
The Mouthless Dead

Released June 2016
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

A year after The First Doctor Volume One successfully brought The Companion Chronicles range back into the public consciousness with a successful if all too brief four-story set that once more wonderfully captured the spirit of and developed the themes and characters of that beloved era with its small casts and deft use of narration, The Second Doctor Volume One arrives to take the action forward to the Patrick Troughton era. Beginning with ‘The Mouthless Dead’ by John Pritchard, the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie arrive in 1920s England in a wintry dusk beside a railway line, but while the nearby station appears deserted, shadowy figures await a dead man’s train.

Frazer Hines has long pulled a double act for Big Finish as both Jamie and with an uncanny Second Doctor performance, and with the advent of Elliot Chapman to Big Finish’s roster to once more give voice to Ben Jackson after the character existed for so long only through narration, these early-era Second Doctor instalments of The Companion Chronicles come closer in presentation to that of The Early Adventures stories than most. Fortunately, with Anneke Wills also present as Polly, Pritchard is able to balance the action and viewpoints to deliver a distinctive and contemplative experience that explores the inner workings and interpersonal relationships between its three lead companions to remarkable effect within this postwar setting as the train carrying the remains of the Unknown Warrior makes its journey to his final resting place in Westminster.

When a signalmen halts the train because of ghostly figures on the track, ‘The Mouthless Dead’ seems set to take on the form of a fairly traditional ghost story, but the ghosts simply provide a conduit through which to explore the grief and loss that always accompany war. To Ben, these figures appear as the burnt and drowned corpses of his father’s wartime memories, and he fears that this will be his own fate should another war break out in his lifetime. Conversely, the fallen men from a Highland regiment and the voices accusing him of leaving behind the dying men at Culloden Jamie experiences spark an intense manifestation of survivor’s guilt. These deep feelings prove to both characters that they are more alike than they may care to admit, and Polly’s comment that Jamie doesn’t really speak of his time in battle is all the more poignant following these events. Wills anchors the other half of the plot as she respectfully and tenderly comforts a grieving woman who knows deep in her heart that the soldier on this train is her deceased fiancé, and the raw emotion on display from everyone as the train suspends its fateful journey is immense.

These two storylines come together quite surprisingly as the Doctor reveals that the ghosts are, in fact, the manifestation of the nationwide grief pervading the air at this particular time that has been amplified in its effect by the TARDIS that was damaged at the beginning of the story. This explanation doesn’t overly rely on science or pseudoscience to explain the emotional impact of these ramifications, and ‘The Mouthless Dead’ is all the stronger for it. Unfortunately, the ultimate revelation of Michael’s identity doesn’t quite carry as much weight as it might otherwise since Hines, Chapman, and Wills all give voice to him at some point which doesn’t allow a true sense of self to develop, but the happiness he represents for the conclusion is a fitting contrast to the melancholy eeriness of the script and setting around him. In all, ‘The Mouthless Dead’ is a confident beginning to a new box set that bucks the typical narration-driven trend of The Companion Chronicles while still offering an immensely satisfying exploration of the leads that rather sorrowfully culminates with the Doctor admitting to Jamie that the world will know only a temporary peace after this devastating war.

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