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THE OUTLIERS – REVIEW

Following on from a story as strong as The Night Witches was never going to be an easy task. The Early Adventures range has gone from strength to strength, particularly with the Second Doctor. What better way was there to carry on a strong series like this than with a story from the master of the sixties, Simon Guerrier!

The staple of the Patrick Troughton era was the ‘base under siege’ trope. It really is as simple as it seems, the Doctor and his companions, in this case – Ben, Polly and Jamie, arrive in an isolated location and quickly find themselves under threat from suspicious workers who hold them responsible for things going wrong. Then the Cybermen or Ice Warriors turn up and the real villain is revealed. For the most part, this is the structure Guerrier sticks to, but he adds a few twists and turns along the way, keeping things from being traditional as much as possible.

The Yes Men saw the introduction of Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson. Also written by Guerrier, The Yes Men saw Ben removed from the proceedings by different events and was absent throughout the entirety of the third episode. This was of course because at the time of writing his scripts, he had no idea that Chapman would be taking the reins of the role played so brilliantly by Michael Craze. As a result, Guerrier has gone on record to say he wished he had done more with Chapman as Ben. He finally gets his chance in The Outliers.

Big Finish - The Outliers
Big Finish – The Outliers

With Ben Jackson being a sailor, it only seems right that he gets a story set on the water. But rather than giving him a historical story set on a ship, he finds himself in a sprawling housing estate. This location immediately sets The Outliers apart from anything that could have been achieved on television in the sixties, although they could have redressed each house to pose as another, the water-world would have been less easy to realise. Instead, it works brilliantly on audio, waves crashing, boats speeding along and an eerie dripping noise which seems to conspire to make you spend much of this story going to the loo!

The regular cast is on fine form, as always. Anneke Wills is always a welcome presence in anything she is in. She was spectacular in The Night Witches and here is no different. She effortlessly changes the pitch of her voice when she switches between narrator and Polly. Obviously being slightly older than she was as Polly, her voice has deepened, which she uses for the descriptive side of things. She still impresses as Polly, lowering her voice and recreating the character she was so brilliant at. She has a voice that makes the idea of her reading the Yellow Pages thrilling, long may she continue with Big Finish.

Frazer Hines always impresses as Patrick Troughton. If you didn’t know it was him doing the voice, you would almost swear that the producers had somehow resurrected Troughton just to do these audio adventures! Of course, his performance as Jamie is pitch-perfect and unlike The Night Witches, he gets plenty to do as our favourite Highlander!

As with the previous adventure being Anneke Wills time to shine, The Outliers is Elliot Chapman’s, who reminds us yet again why he was such a brilliant casting decision. Fans were hesitant about Tim Teloar being cast as the Third Doctor, but their worries were laid to rest the moment Chapman burst through our speakers as Ben. So perfect is he that you can’t help but imagine that Michael Craze would be very proud.

In an adventure which features four regular characters, one might be worried that one of the companions might be side-lined. In a structure like Doctor Who, that is bound to happen. Some stories don’t allow for four separate sub-plots and this results in one or two companions being caught and imprisoned, or watching events from the side-lines. Instead, Guerrier makes the interesting choice to remove the Doctor from a large chunk of the story, allowing Ben, Polly and Jamie to use their initiatives and work out the overall plot. This is a welcome change, not only because it shows us these characters at their absolute best, but allows to see what the future possibly holds for them.

Following on from The Night Witches, it is a little distracting though that this story is so narration heavy. The Night Witches was more an audio-drama than an audio-drama/narration. Indeed, in the first episode the narration takes a little getting used to. However, given how much of Guerrier’s work is normally science-heavy, (look at The Black Hole), the narration does help to explain things that wouldn’t work on audio otherwise.

Overall, The Outliers is another strong release for the Second Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie as well as The Early Adventures Range. Perhaps not as strong as The Night Witches but following on from that was always going to be a tough job. Nevertheless, this is still a strong story, with excellent writing, acting and concepts. Well done to all.

(And this story seems to imply those pictures of Ben and Polly chased by the Cybermen on a beach is canon!)

 

Hooray the UK version of The Apprentice is back on our TV screens! With who I consider is an unlikely ‘gruff hero’ of business Lord Sir Alan Sugar offering a partnership and a wad of money to a business savvy person.

Part of the joy of The Apprentice is watching how the candidates perform and the ‘squirm’ factor  when they make obvious mistakes that we wouldn’t make obviously. Then the second part is choosing our favourites for who would be good in a partnership with the no nonsense tycoon . No I haven’t entered the wrong fandom if you are wondering, but it got me thinking if the Doctor ran being in the Tardis as a business venture and hired his assistants from the Celestial Apprentice Agency what are the most important attributes he might ask for on a virtual CV  to get the perfect assistant ?

I’ve highlighted three qualities  that I think would prove most useful. See what you think

1.Know your product or… the ability to help pilot the Tardis

I do appreciate this is a little tricky to ask of your assistant granted given that even the Doctor himself didn’t always seem to know how to navigate the Tardis. He had a type 40 instruction manual and much like having a classic car attempting to add modifications, trying to using use the manual would cause near disaster. Remember him almost crashing into a space ship in the Horns of Nimon after disabling the dematerialisation circuit?

Aside from Susan and Romana who we assume had some sort of Time- Lord training via the Academy most of the early classic series companions were only afforded the basics of being able to push a lever or two. Due to the six pilot controls it could be said that ordinary humans themselves aren’t meant to fly the Tardis and that when it happens it’s only due to extraordinary circumstances. Companions have mostly brought disaster on themselves and others operating the Tardis.When Donna became the Doctor- Donna during a meta-crisis and created a feedback loop using the Tardis, which destroyed the Daleks, having all that knowledge almost burned up her mind. The doctor made a choice to save her but she was subject to a harrowing mind wipe and lost who she had become and we all cried. When Rose flew the Tardis in ‘Parting of the Ways’ it was only by being Bad Wolf and absorbing the Time Vortex, she was able to direct herself back to the Games Station. Her actions caused the 9th Doctor’s regeneration as the Doctor had no choice to prevent the danger to Rose’s mind and body but to take the entire power of the vortex back into his own body and she inadvertently gave Jack Harness a curse of eternal life

Its true Rose and Donna paid a personal price perhaps too high for a little more knowledge but sometimes a little hands-on skill can be a lifesaver. Practical skill-sets and a little resourcefulness in the fifth doctor’s era by his companions ; with a weak newly regenerated doctor in ‘Castrovalva’ certainly aided his recovery. Nyssa of Traken  had the scientific know-how as a biochemist to grasp concepts quickly and aided by the doctor was able to build a zero room cabinet. Tegan with her air hostess training took a risk as the Tardis was rapidly going to destination, “Event One”, the Big Bang and landed the Tardis, (granted on its side but no one’s perfect!). Tegan wasn’t to know though that due to the Master’s trap that it was actually Adric who set the coordinates for Castrovalva and the Tardis would have landed there anyway.

In the current new series the one character who impresses and frankly boasts about flying the Tardis ‘properly’ is River Song. River being human plus and as ‘the Child of the TARDIS’ is afforded a special privilege. River in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ explains to Amy “I seem to be able to fly her, she showed me how, she taught me.” This brings up a very important reminder that the Tardis is sentient and makes her choices about who uses her controls. Remember when Clara appeared in three different identities, a puzzling anomaly before she jumped into the Doctor’s time-line the Tardis knew and reacted instinctively by locking Clara out. It does speak however to Clara’s persuasive skills that she in “Hide” was allowed to pilot the TARDIS into an alternate dimension to rescue the Doctor just by verbally convincing the TARDIS to do so.

River Song flying the TARDIS
River Song flying the TARDIS

Next on a potential CV….

2. Intelligence… or the ability to think before you speak

This is a controversial choice perhaps as intelligence shows itself in different ways and so is entirely subjective but I think with the huge intellect that the doctor has he needs a calm enquiring mind as curious as his own to get the best out of him and any situation he stumbles into. Companions such as Ace and Rose were, I think, street smart and others were very good at what they did for a living. Sarah Jane Smith was an excellent  investigative journalist.  Donna by her own words the ‘best temp in Chiswick’ , others just liked to banter with the Doctor such as Jamie. Tegan described herself as ‘the mouth on legs’ Loud and brash, she spoke her mind and clashed with the 5th Doctor frequently including immediately after Adric’s death demanding they go back to save him. However her loyalty to her friends in the Tardis was unwavering.

The Doctor has had plenty of assistants but does he really have the time or patience to be a teacher to them all ? He developed a fatherly relationship with the scatty and warm Jo Grant but his sadness when  she left him to be with Cliff Jones certainly left a scar. More recently the 12th doctor took on the role of a teacher with Bill Potts but the reality of how the Doctor leaves behind the consequences of his nomadic  life in ‘ Thin Ice’ almost caused a rift between the two travellers.

He may not say it out loud often  but the Doctor has admired and has been drawn to people in the sciences maybe because they speak a common language. He offered Petronella Osgood, (I love that name!), UNIT scientist, a place in the Tardis, not once but twice based on her astute abilities of deductive-ness. Liz Shaw, Cambridge scientist, was well matched to the third doctor’s desire for knowledge (despite her own healthy dose of initial scepticism) Working together they made an effective team together defeating the threats of Season 7. His respect was undiminished after she left, that talking about her replacement, with the Brigadier, he acknowledged, ‘Liz was a highly qualified scientist. I want someone with the same qualifications’

Liz Shaw, the 3rd Doctor's assistant, accomplished Cambridge scientist and an expert on meteorites.
Liz Shaw, the 3rd Doctor’s assistant, accomplished Cambridge scientist and an expert on meteorites.

When the 5th doctor landed on jungle planet Deva Loka he immediately struck up a keen friendship with Todd the scientific officer. She wasn’t overwhelmed by the strange silence of the Kinda seeing the natives as a threat, but more intrigued by their telepathic powers and who, contrary to the mentally unstable Hindle, rather respected their culture. Together she and the Doctor were able to open the Box of Jhana, a powerful device capable of repairing severe mood disorders which healed Hindle. Am I the only one to ponder now on how interesting she could have been as a companion if she had travelled a bit with the Doctor?

Next…

3.The ability to build positive working relationships… or being open to new experiences

Let’s face travelling with the Doctor is not about sitting sedately and drinking cocktails White Guardian style. It’s being thrown into new environments and learning the local culture. Most companions who travel with the doctor learn and grow. Ace found most situations ‘wicked’ and faced some of her fears. Rose escaped her boring everyday life and found ‘a better way to live’ being with the Doctor ( so much so becoming trapped on a parallel world their parting broke her heart).

But there were some companions that just seem to complain constantly. Tegan repeatedly stated she wanted to get back to Heathrow but after the 5th Doctor initially got her home she then couldn’t resist up travelling again with the Doctor, a year later. Peri never seemed that happy to be on the Tardis. Maybe it was homesickness but she bickered with the 6th Doctor almost all the way through her tenure although having the 6th Doctor try to strangle you probably would make you quite furious.  Remember Adam Mitchell, companion for just one episode, who was expelled from the TARDIS by the Doctor. Adam was such a bad traveller he fainted the first time he saw the Earth from space and was reluctant to try the beef-flavoured slush drink that Rose offered him. Adam’s level of interest was in how he could help himself become rich and he ended up with an implant in his head …. now that really gives me the shivers.

“But if I get a chip that means I could use any computer “

Whilst the Doctor didn’t make the initial decision for Adam to travel as it was more Rose’s persuasion that allowed him abroad the Tardis when Adam came along the Doctor just knew it wasn’t going to work out after one trip. He just snapped his fingers and Adam was returned home.

The ill-fated Adam Mitchell had his chips
The ill-fated Adam Mitchell had his chips

The doctors’ companions vary in their personalities and come in all shapes and sizes and the characteristics I’ve discussed above aren’t a definite list of requirements as most people he invites along learn to relish the opportunities being with the Doctor in the Tardis brings. Most companions have been I think a mix of two out of three of these characteristics I’ve listed but it’s always good for the Doctor to have a hoped for list…

So that’s my list folks. It ‘d be interesting to hear if you agree.  What you do think or would the Doctor ask for other requirements for the perfect assistant… Fire away!