The Vardan Invasion of Mirth

Posted in Audio by - September 24, 2019
The Vardan Invasion of Mirth

Released September 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As The First Doctor: Volume Three progresses to the Steven Taylor era in ‘The Vardan Invasion of Mirth’ by Paul Morris and Ian Atkins, the Doctor and Steven arrive in what they believe to be 1956 Earth despite the TARDIS displaying that there is no gravity or atmosphere present. With the Doctor and his ship soon lost under inexplicable circumstances as Steven steps out onto the street and finds himself on a television set with the TARDIS being disassembled as nothing more than a prop, a dark truth begins to take form behind the scenes, and downtrodden comedian Teddy Baxter is the key.

Given how explicitly the title explains what is occurring, ‘The Vardan Invasion of Mirth’ narratively keeps its secrets concealed for the majority of its running time, allowing Steven ample time to become ingrained in this society and to form an unlikely friendship and even double act with Baxter. Without question, Peter Purves has always been one of the strongest narrators and performers within The Companion Chronicles, and he perfectly portrays his futuristic space pilot’s glum resignation to living once more in this primitive time as well as the frustration, confusion, and even pride he experiences in the process. Indeed, Steven is one of the most resolute and straight-minded companions to have ever traveled aboard the TARDIS, and becoming entrenched in a world of comedy that he does not necessarily understand but nonetheless appreciates is an experience that highlights both traditional and hidden strengths for the character.

Doctor Who doesn’t often tread into comedic territory, and though this story itself is certainly anything but a comedy, it intertwines a loving homage to a long-past comedic era with the power that laughter and comedy have long held on society at large. In fact, the rather stark sound design that so often accompanies stories in this range only further serves to accentuate that power while simultaneously creating an unnerving backdrop that seems so centred around Baxter, his secret obsession with astronomy, and the bizarre circumstances surrounding his partner’s disappearance. As events skew from settings that are just slightly off to the ever more improbable, the scope of the nefarious plans featuring the unifying weakness of laughter that were inadvertently stalled provides a unique menace that the Vardans are perfectly positioned to exploit. While holding back for so long on the revelation that the Vardans are the enemy does diminish some of the potential menace that could have been built up with more time, the unique atmosphere that results and the game of apparent one-upmanship between the Doctor and the Vardan as each tries to skew the future into his favour with seemingly mixed results is brilliantly realised and is helped all the more by Purves’s uncanny recreation of William Hartnell’s intonations that he has perfected over the years.

The conclusion does perhaps rely a little too heavily on technobabble, but otherwise ‘The Vardan Invasion of Mirth’ is a story that perfectly fits in with the creative ambition that was so abundant in Doctor Who’s earliest years. And although the pun in the title does spoil what would otherwise be a genuine surprise, the inclusion of a familiar foe is handled in a refreshing manner that, while perhaps not with the most imminently profound threat that might come to mind, perfectly encapsulates the unique threat that the Vardans can pose. Balancing lighter and darker moments with incredible performances throughout, this is another success for this range when Steven is in focus.

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