The Sleeping City

Posted in Audio by - July 25, 2019
The Sleeping City

Released February 2014

As the monthly iteration of The Companion Chronicles enters its final stretch of five stories following the conclusion of its fiftieth anniversary trilogy, writer Ian Potter returns to the First Doctor era in ‘The Sleeping City,’ picking up on the intriguing narrative thread about just what happened when Ian and Barbara finally returned home from their travels after disappearing with one of their pupils. Suspected of being agents in the Cold War, all Ian can do is proclaim his innocence, and an adventure in the city of Hisk forms the backdrop for the unbelievable but true tale he must tell.

The culture of Hisk is one perfectly befitting of the more optimistic tones that pervaded 1960s science fiction, one in which the denizens of the city freely provide their goods and services to those within and only charge to those from outside of their boundaries. Set some time near to Vicki’s own origins far in the future, this system of care and commerce provides an intriguing look at what societies may yet turn into when individuals are truly part of an inclusive whole, but it also gives Vicki a point of familiarity when the even more fascinating concept of Limbus is introduced. It’s through this sort of shared network of Hisk’s sleeping populace that the community is able to learn about and build an implicit trust in one another, and crime has all but been eliminated because of subconscious guilt coming to life in the dream state. While Ian astutely points out that this also makes the police force somewhat ineffective and more relaxed, Vicki is all too keen to use the machines that resemble the learning devices that taught her while she slept as a child, and the welcoming city eagerly accepts the opportunity to learn about these newcomers.

Yet this paradise is not all it seems, and Vicki learns of the Harbinger that lives within this dream world and portends the death of certain individuals. That those meeting the Harbinger ultimately commit suicide within a few days is hauntingly powerful and helps to bring a nuanced and metaphorical exploration of depression and mental illness to the forefront exceedingly effectively while also allowing Barbara who is so often overlooked in these stories to make a true difference for one individual as the best teachers invariably do. Sadly, these foreseen deaths that represent only a small fraction of the overall population are simply accepted as part of the norm and never explored, and it’s here with the power that society can exert over the individual that the resounding mystery at the core of Hisk resides, one that Ian and the Doctor who refuses to let his dreams be shared ably lead the charge in uncovering with the Doctor showing his utmost moral outrage.

Of course, William Russell once more delivers an immense performance that recaptures the earnest determination of Ian while lovingly bringing the spirits of his traveling companions to life. And although the twist relating both to Hisk and to the fascinating framing device that sees Ian and Barbara being interrogated back home isn’t necessarily built to be the groundbreaking revelation it might have been because of his questioner’s familiarity with the TARDIS and the Doctor, both John Banks and he deftly lead the listener through this mysterious journey that is far deeper and more impactful than it initially seems. The usual sound direction and design expertly evoke the Hartnell era pacing and styles, and ‘The Sleeping City’ is an undoubted success that again proves how incredibly successful this range and its classic format can continue to be.

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