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“I’m not going to just sit here listening to you doing a stupid voice pretending to be some ancient Roman named Crispy…”

During a stopover in the 20th century, Vicki gets hornswoggled by a psychic into joining in on a seance.  After getting half-suckered into believing the reality of her first “contact with the spirit world”, she falls for it whole hog when she’s contacted by…herself?

Apparently, her future self has reached across time to warn Vicki not to travel to the Tardis’ next destination, a blazing bright and desert-heat level planet marked by dozens of interconnected suns.  Adjusting to the light, they are brought to the local marketplace, where they meet Anit, a silver haired, shimmering eyed girl who the crowd all seems to genuflect in respect to.  But she has a terrible destiny to fulfill, and Vicki herself will be drawn into a one way transcendence from mortality to something more…

Didn’t Jim Starlin already do this story, in a 70’s Doctor Strange?  People striving to transform into…well, I’ll hold my tongue.  Have to leave some surprises for the eager listener.

Once again, it’s a pleasure to hear Maureen O’Brien returning to the role of Vicki.  Of all the televised Hartnell companions, Vicki turned out to be our favorite by far, and O’Brien manages to deliver an uncanny impression of her youthful self here.  As with the earlier The Dark Planet and Upstairs, she further displays a surprising talent for impressionism, with an easily recognizable Hartnell and quite distinguishable character voicings between Vicki and Anit.

Jacqueline King (Donna Noble’s mum, of New Who fame) delivers a knowingly campy Madame Violet (and the cheesily voiced Crispus Vicki derives so much amusement from), and recurring Companion  Chronicles director Lisa (Bernice Summerfield) Bowerman keeps things moving along with a deft hand.

I have few doubts that Bowerman’s taking on this role play no small part in revitalizing what I had known as a somewhat dry audiobook reading subset of the Big Finish Doctor Who line – the Companion Chronicle audios I’ve been exposed to over the past 6 months bear little relation to the far earlier (and far drier) installments with which we’d previously been familiar.

The story this time around is quite sci-fi in the sense of “hard SF”, rather than incorporating any gothic or fantasy elements as often is Who’s wont, and there’s really nothing eerie or dark about it.  But if that doesn’t put you off, by all means come and show your appreciation for O’Brien’s always impressive performances and Bowerman’s skillful direction.

It may be one of Who’s lesser stories (despite some rather amusing bits with Vicki mocking the medium early on), but as fellow Whovians are well aware, even Who’s least (which Starborn, while a dash bland, is decidedly far from being) tend to be far better than even the very best of the competition.