Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS: MARY'S STORY Review

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Andrew East feeds his Frankenstein...


Big Finish had been dropping little hints in the 8th Doctor audios that, at some point, the Doctor had taken Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley as a companion. Mary’s Story is the one episode which details how Mary came to be by the Doctor’s side.

Four one-part stories make up The Company of Friends, the July 2009 release from Big Finish. Benny, Fitz and Izzy all have an episode, and the collection is rounded off with Mary’s Story, and it is a wonderful little vignette.

It sees a future version of the 8th Doctor arrive at Lake Geneva, hideously deformed. He promptly dies and is reanimated by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. Our ‘current’ 8th Doctor (although actually one from fairly early in his Big Finish timeline – I’ll explain later) arrives and, with the help of Mary, manages to repair the future Doctor’s TARDIS which allows the future Doctor to recover and depart. The ‘current’ Doctor asks Mary to accompany him to which she agrees as the future Doctor had revealed that she did indeed spend time aboard the TARDIS.

Cards on the table. When Big Finish announced that Mary was to be the companion from this anthology release and would return for a full trilogy, I was fairly underwhelmed. I would much have rather had either Fitz (a brilliant performance from Matt di Angelo) or Izzy (a fun character, although admittedly Jemima Rooper hadn’t overly impressed me). I wasn’t that fussed about the idea of Mary becoming the Doctor’s companion. I often think the idea of real people being the Doctor’s companions is a little self-indulgent. It has been hinted at from time to time, the most obvious being the presence of HG Wells in Timelash, and Big Finish seemed to be going along these implied lines with Mary, with the name drops from time to time. To actually put these implied adventures to audio was a risky project as it could fall horribly flat – there isn’t too much you can do with a historical figure without contradicting established history. That said, Mary’s presence in this story is a lot of fun and Julie Cox gives a good performance. I can’t say though, even after listening to Mary’s full length stories, that I’m convinced she needed this treatment.

Historically, this story supposedly takes place the night the ‘contest’ is set between Mary and her friends – Byron, Percy, Polidori and Claire Clairmont – to write a ‘ghost story’ which would result, ultimately, in Frankenstein. The links to Frankenstein are overt throughout the story – most obviously in the appearance and behaviour of the deformed and insane future Doctor. Obviously Mary, Percy, Byron, Polidori and Claire are all historical figures and their presence at Lake Geneva in 1816 is historical fact (although there is no mention of Mary and Percy’s young son, who was also at the Lake at this time). The script mentions the affair between Percy and Claire which Mary was fully aware of, and it seems there was much toing and froing between the various visitors to the Lake with Byron also having got Claire pregnant.

The implication of Mary’s Story is that the Doctor will eventually return Mary to this time and place, to ensure history is left intact, but it does seem rather reckless of the Doctor to whisk her off through time and space, especially as she clearly hasn’t written Frankenstein yet. What would happen to the Web of Time if Mary died on her adventures and never wrote the novel…?

Mary’s Story is actually a little light on story, but does have some fun with the idea of a future Doctor being saved by his past self. The script for Mary’s Story is, as well as being influenced by Frankenstein, full of little nods to the 8th Doctor’s expanded universe. The future Doctor refers to Destrii (from the comic strips) and Compassion (from the novels) and the current Doctor is apparently travelling with Gemma and Samson (revealed as early companions for the 8th Doctor in Terror Firma). Therefore, the current Doctor comes from a time before he meets Charley in the first Big Finish 8th Doctor audio (Storm Warning) whereas the future Doctor comes from a time when he has travelled both with Izzy, Destrii, Sam, Fitz and Compassion. Quite where all this fits in the overall continuity is one for other fans to solve.

Mary’s Story is lovely, but I remain unconvinced that she needed to become a fully-fledged companion, good though the full adventures are.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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