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“People are playing God…the truth that has been hidden in plain sight is that our medical advances…our research, the drugs that would have been unimaginable only a generation ago…these only exist to benefit the rich and influential.  These advances should be for the good of all, not the few who can afford it.”

The Doctor becomes incapacitated with a strange fever, leaving Susan (Carole Ann Ford) to search for a cure.

Landing at some preprogrammed coordinates, she finds herself on the planet Ruah, where an abandoned medical research facility bears a number of secrets…

Beset by odd robotic caretakers, Susan finds she is not alone here…but is the armed raiding party friend or foe?

Either way, Susan and her new companions must face The Butcher, who holds the killswitch for the nanotech healthcare and immunization implemented among the populace, holding an entire society hostage to his demands.

But is he really the “terrorist” he’s painted as being?

A nice small cast character piece, The Sleeping Blood starts off as something of an archaeological/abandoned house mystery before turning more militaristic and political.  The final message, and the questions being asked, are more than relevant to today’s society and the problems inherent to a world governed solely by profit and the further enrichment of the already established rich and powerful, while abandoning the general public to their own, deliberately diminished devices.

Because in a world without empathy and humanity, everyone loses…and what more timely message for 2015 than that?

“This craft of yours closely resembles a known Disruptionist symbol.”

Next up, Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) finds herself trapped in an all too recognizably bland and lifeless Unwinding World marked by enforced politesse, modified and adulterated foodstuffs and an epidemic of rather short term memory resulting in both conformity and tightly enforced regulation. Once again, quite relevant in 2015…

“It is already happening. Things are being unlearned day by day. Attitudes are being readjusted.”

With Ian and Barbara left to menial labour and The Doctor something of a doddering dropout, can office worker Vicki survive her performance review and save the day?

And can The Doctor rally the many known senile delinquents of retirement home Leafy Meadows and bring the populace back to a world of self-determination, active awareness of history and its parallels in contempoary society and the right to consume uncontaminated home grown vegetables?

“We didn’t come here looking to start a revolution, we just wanted to stretch our legs.”

Another atypically political adventure for the Hartnell Doctor, this one benefits from the centrality of the likeably animated (and still quite girlish-sounding!) Maureen O’Brien.

“Everyone is being softened up and conditioned for alien occupation.

…If we know what we’re not supposed to know, we may be able to learn what we need to remember.”

As true as the points being made are, it’s wholly on the shoulders of her endearing personality that this keeps from becoming the sort of turgidly pointed diatribe one often encounters in the Blakes 7 Liberator Chronicles sets.

To hear such necessary yet bracing calls to action coming from the mouth of a character like Vicki is to offer a much needed palatability to a somewhat bitter (if lifesaving) medicine – a spoonful of sugar to make the rest go down, as it were.

Then none other than Benjamin Franklin gets a look around the Tardis, and director Lisa Bowerman makes a surprise appearance…

Not much to really comment on here, other than author Simon Guerrier managing to capture a bit of Franklin’s noted eye for the fairer sex, and vice versa (yes, folks, one of the fathers of our country was considered something of a ladies man…) as well as his polymathlike mastery of multiple disciplines and sense of scientific arrogance (or at least deserved pride of place!)

It’s a cute idea, and involves one of my personal favorite historical figures…which means that The Founding Fathers comes both appreciated and contrarily somewhat lacking.  One feels that much more could have been made of a man quite this complex and engaging (hell, ties to Sir Francis Dashwood and his famed Club alone could have made for a gripping multi-part tale!)  And where’s that much noted sense of humor?

Even so, the performances are strong, showing Peter Purves once again as a far more impressive talent than Blue Peter fans might ever have expected.

“I like the stories with happy endings. Everyone’s saved because grandpa knew physics, or was really brave. Heroes living happily ever after. Except, of course, that never happened.”

Finally, we return to War to End All Wars territory, as the post-Tardis, crowned and subsequently jailed Steven Taylor incorporates his rather earnest granddaughter Sida (Alice Haig)* into his long-planned secret experiment within The Locked Room…whose aim is to save The Doctor.

But is that the whole story?  Or is there more to the equation?

* Effectively, the Founding Fathers was also part of this tale, as the setup is of a flashback tale being told by “that” Steven to Sida.

Nothing much to speak of here either, this is a straightforward, very surface level denotation-oriented story that brings a Tom Baker-era enemy into Hartnell-era territory.  And just how do not only the Hartnell Doctor, but Steven Taylor recognize this particular opponent, pray tell?

It really doesn’t matter – as a purely straightforward teenage level (or perhaps, Newvian style) adventure story, it ties together well enough, and Haig’s feisty Sida joins Purves’ Doctor (and Steven) to make an otherwise rather middling-at-best tale quite listenable.

To boil it down to essentials, what we have here is a very divided beast.

For the first half of the set, we encounter a surprisingly Blakes 7 Liberator Chronicles-style take on the Hartnell Companions.  Both Martin Day’s The Sleeping Blood and Ian Potter’s The Unwinding World are deftly scripted and engaging enough to keep any accusations of pontification at bay, particularly with the ever-eubellient Maureen O’Brien at the fore of the latter.

In the second half, Simon Guerrier drops in for a pair of Steven-centric stories.  But these feel like they’re coming in on a complete tangent, with a rather bucolic tale involving a recognizable but incompletely drawn Ben Franklin and a reasonably light and fluffy tale set in what had previously been shown to be an equally (if not overly) political period of the Steven Taylor character’s life.

Some typically good performances from Peter Purves and a winning turn from Alice Haig make these two enjoyable enough, but it’s a very different audience and orientation Guerrier is appealing to than that which would be inclined to respond to and enjoy the more strident and apt offerings from Day and Potter that precede them.

You know what they say about jacks of all trades, so it’s a bit of a question as to whether one half (and style of scripting) or the other will serve to alienate (or at least crinkle the noses of) the respective audiences being appealed to here…whose only real connection is a love of all things Who.

 

 

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-first-doctor-companion-chronicles-box-set-1132

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