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'The Company of Friends'

CD audio adventures released July 2009, 4 stories

Benny's Story

Writer: Lance Parkin

Roots: The Doctor mentions The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Intertextuality: Benny's opening narration takes in the events of the character's origin story, Paul Cornell's Virgin New Adventure Love and War (the aside that the Hoothi "looked like... mushrooms" refers to the intended appearance by Cornell and the fan reception of the book cover's illustration whish rendered them with a more testicular appearance) and Parkin's New Adventure (the only one to feature the Eighth Doctor in person) The Dying Days. Benny's further history (including the Fifth Axis and her son Peter) is taken largely from Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield Adventures. For Benny it is estimated that this story occurs somewhere well after The Dying Days but before the Short Trips story Thinking Warrior.

Technobabble: "When I touch this key the artron differential will be shortened, the key will be energised and the TARDIS will be summoned"

Dialogue Triumphs: "This isn't the first time I've been trapped in a collapsing universe, being stalked by some semi-visible unknown creature... oh God, it isn't even the second!"

"You're the Doctor, you always arrive with a plan" "-Do I?" "You always used to" "-Did I?"

Continuity: Benny is currently on secondment from the Braxiatel collection and is employed as archaeological supervisor on a dig in the coal mines of Epsilon Minima. The dig has lasted five days so far and is estimated to reach seams five hundred million years in the planet's past. Laser drills and robots are being employed. Epsilon Minima's prehistoric terrain includes a fern jungle inhabited by what is described as a green lion with a blue mane.

Benny's current employer, the Countess Ninth-Circle Venhella Dunharver Icedescender is an ice-heiress, real Plutovian aristocracy. She prides herself as being one member of a discreet society who have studied the ancient lore of TARDISes and believe the Ships are sentient creatures enslaved by the Time Lords. The Doctor dismisses this as primitive conspiracy theory.

A manumitter is illegal Gallifreyan technology, it requires two people to operate it (one to operate, one to monitor) and separates the telepathic link between a Time Lord and their TARDIS, but should only be used once the Ship is completely powered-down. Operating a manumitter without the correct and full TARDIS shutdown procedure pens a space-time rift which lets in the 'Vortex shark', a hungry predator from another dimension which feeds on temporal energy.

The Hedonexians derive from Hedonexia, a Spa planet in Galaxy Seven with mineral cave systems - the native population have five arms and are therefore the best masseurs in the galaxy/universe.

As part of its emergency protocol the TARDIS 'quarantines itself' with a bubble made of a sliver of space-time; from within the bubble it appears to be a five-dimensional hypercube.

The Doctor's trousers dry rather quickly, leading Benny to suggest that they're made of some sort of "space fabric" - "I'll give you my tailor's number", replies the Doctor (suggesting that this pair of trousers is not the same as those he picked up in San Francisco?) the Doctor can sense a fissure in time by "tingles" (Bernice says he never experienced this "before" - i.e. in his previous incarnation) It's been "years" since the Doctor last saw an IMC mining robot. This is the second time the Eighth Doctor and Benny have met. He gets dizzy when he and Benny travel back in time outside the TARDIS

Links: IMC mining robots (Colony in Space), the Doctor refers obliquely to the setting of Brotherhood of the Daleks (a jungle/ice planet with hallucinogenic plant pollen). The Hoothi of Love and War (see Intertextuality) were based on the Moothi of The Brain of Morbius.

Location: Deep in the coal mines of Epsilon Minima, a frozen wilderness during the Earth Empire (the Time Lords are said to be ten million years in the future)

The Bottom Line: "I can't even lose a key without it turning into an epic adventure"

Break-neck and very chatty - this is more an instance of the Doctor planted in a Bernice Summerfield audio than the reverse, though it's no bad thing. The story is light and perhaps plays too closely to its support cast restrictions, but you can't fault it for sticking around too long. McGann and Bowerman make a great couple though - possibly better than Benny's other stories to date.

Fitz's Story

Writer: Stephen Cole

Roots: James Bond ("the name's "Kreiner... Fitz Kreiner") and Austin Powers ("intergalactic man of mystery"). The "Lonnie-Lonegans of the Skiffle Cluster" remark by Fitz is a play on 1960s 'King of Skiffle' musician Lonnie Donegan. Monty Python's Flying Circus (Gastan/Skarpok's 'Gumby' voice)

Intertextuality: Fitz Kreiner was introduced in Mike Collier's (ahem, Stephen Cole's) BBC Eighth Doctor adventure The Taint. The character 'Sam' referred to by the Doctor is likely Sam Jones, the Eighth Doctor's earliest BBC book companion and sometime fellow traveller to Fitz. She is also name-checked in Minuet in Hell. Anji is Anji Kapoor who first appeared in Colin Brake's BBC Book Escape Velocity. For Fitz this story may occure between the books City of the Dead and Grimm Reality.

Continuity: The planet Entusso is a TV-obsessed colony world with 1000 vid channels and an Earth-standard clock. As the Doctor observes, like Earth it has an unusually frequent number of alien invasions. It has a colony patrol and Outlands. The Doctor's past Entusso exploits include the Hemvax Conflagration, and he and Sam once spent six weeks there during the Havrik Uprising and were given 24-hour TV coverage on one channel entirely dedicated to them. As a result, the Doctor has become something of a hero to the planet, and his image ripe for exploitation. Entusso is not yet technologically advanced to create proper AI - Femor's fake Doctor is a converted Level One novelty drinks dispenser with pre-programmed speech.

Commander Hellan Femor carries some sort of ray pistol and set up Alien Defence Incorporated with a large part of her war pension. The security robots used by Femor have gas pacifiers.

Skarpok is a native of Skoraka prime, his species have armoured shells and weapons which liquefy their victims. They are renowned stealthy invaders, have a battle fleet and are vulnerable to carbolic substances.

The Doctor, Fitz and the unseen Anji (see: Intertextuality) has recently faced the Vermin Queens, during which time the Vermin Queens stung Fitz in the back but were undone by the Doctor's lashed-up sonic disruptor. Anji is out cold in the TARDIS after overdosing on a Bactrian cocktail (which should properly be taken in two drops on a sugar cube.)

Untelevised Adventures: During the Doctor's last visit to Entusso he and Sam (see Intertextuality) spent six weeks on the planet experiencing "one high profile invasion after another". During the Hensic Uprising one TV station ran 24 hour coverage of the Doctor's victorious struggle.

Location: The planet Entusso

The Bottom Line: "Hello. I'm the Doctor! I get- Results!"

Fighting valiantly to be the lightest of the stories in this collection, Fitz's Story is... well, not the lightest. But it's close. Clearly McGann's having a ball here sending the Doctor up; Fenella Woolgar is similarly in good mood for her role as Femor - even Matt Di Angelo is a pretty decent Fitz. Skarpok's a little too silly, perhaps, and in all there's a definite by-the-numbers plot structure here that doesn't sustain much more than the performances alone. Leave your brain at the door and you'll be fine.

Izzy's Story

Writer: Alan Barnes

Roots: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Izzy asks why the TARDIS doesn't have a holodeck), Big Daddy had his own comic strip in Buster in the early Eighties. 1970s and 1980s British comic history, particularly that of IPC magazines 2000AD and Starlord plus Eagle and Scream (which had as its staple strip The Thirteenth Floor.) Danny Boyle's film of Trainspotting (Izzy's "Choose Life" opening narration, plus Underworld-sound-alike music), Pulp's 'Disco 2000' ("Woodchip on the walls"). Izzy mentions Britpop and proto Britpop bands Slowdive, Spitfire and Menswear. Reference to the "belligerent newsagent" is a nod to mid-90s DWM cover comment which provoked an aggrieved letter from an actual newsagent in its pages. The Doctor mentions J K Rowling. Courtmaster Cruel's breathing makes him sound like Darth Vader. Monty Python's Gumbies ("oooh, my brain hurts".)

Intertextuality: Izzy Sinclair debuted in the DWM comic strip End Game, where it is established that she is a resident of Stockbridge, friend of Maxwell Edison and [adopted] daughter of Les Sinclair, owners of the Redfern Inn. 'Old Mr Grubb' is likely the same store owner who appeared and was killed (in an alternate reality?) in Doctor Who Weekly strip The Iron Legion. His shop has been slightly renamed here as 'Grubb and Sons'. 'Old Mother Parkhouse', baker of scones, is mentioned in End Game. "Izzy Somebody" "Mad Max" (Stars Fell on Stockbridge). The scene of androids crashing into J Grubbs shop recalls the opening chapter of The Iron Legion, in which the Doctor also produces a ten zaggian note. Izzy's narrated recollections of her encounters with the Doctor include "psychic weasels" and "vampire monkeys", both of which come from Alan Barnes' DWM Eighth Doctor comic strip Tooth and Claw [though the psychic weasels are only mentioned in passing, in an adventure not featuring Izzy but the Doctor's other semi-regular companion, art-detective Fey Truscott-Sade. In comics continuity this story takes place somewhere between The Autonomy Bug and Ophidius.

Double Entendres: "Well I can't pretend I'm not disappointed."

Continuity: "Aggrotron! The Sci-Fi Comic for Far-Out Kidz (sic)" featured Big Bustard, ("killer bird of the Andes"), Captain Cannibal, D.A.C.H.S-Hund 1, the strangling Trembling Hand (and counterpart The Quivering Claw), The Mangler ("In 1982 two heavyweight wrestlers were struck by a cosmic beam... four arms, two heads and a really bad attitude!") and its signature character Courtmaster Cruel who submits all of his victims to a fair trial under the watch of kidnapped jurors before killing the accused horribly. His nemesis The Man is a shadowy crime-boss with android servants called Suits (they wear pinstripes) armed with 'brolly-guns'. In issue 32 the Courtmaster's beloved Eugenia was lost when particle bombs were released on the Judicial Jetfighter by the Suits. The Courtmaster's Cosmic Courtroom is powered by a miniature black hole and has its own torture chambers. The Courtmaster uses a laser gavel. The Man uses invisible brain mites to drain free will from the inhabitants of a billion planets. Aggrotron's offices were located on the 13th floor of Queen's Spire. It costs 18p. All of its comic characters are actually drawn from (and by) the comic characters themselves. After the ill-fated issue 56 the title merged with Squarejaw on the 15th of April 1988. All of its staff disappeared and returned to the Smog World. Its last issue also featured 'Captain Cannibal and the Banquet of Death'. Big Bustard afterward ran Squarejaw's birdwatchers' column while in the same magazine The Mangler faced off against Big Daddy.

Aggrotron's alien editor Grakk the Head-Swollen (real name Valerie) is apparently a Rigellian but in reality a native of the Smog Planet, a blotch-skinned race of humanoids who must breathe an atmosphere of carbon monoxide and tar. For publicity purposes he appears in a blue-skinned, lizard-tongued mask. Neither Valerie nor Eugenia are girls' names on the smog world.

New locations near Stockbridge include Old Farmer Harvey's dairy farm, upwind from the village. JJ Grubb's shop is now run by the Young Mr Grubb.

The TARDIS Library contains "thousands and thousands" of volumes of speculative fiction, including the works of Wells, Asimov and J.K. Rowling (whom Izzy has not heard of.)

Izzy chose not to attend university and instead stayed in Stockbridge, choosing to remain with her [adopted] parents Sandra and Les Sinclair "upstairs in the back of the Redfern". She is a Star Trek fan. She has travelled with the Doctor through the fourth and fifth dimensions "and sometimes even the sixth". She fancies herself a budding comic artist.

The Doctor's Time Lord brain is immune to the Suits' spatial rearrangement technology. He has florins and sesterce in his pocket and orders pear drops at Grubb's store. He claims to be working for Betelgeuse Publishing Limited

Future History: In the 51st century society collapses and crime is rife. A comics collector, Derek O'Dell takes on the guise of Courtmaster Cruel as a vigilante, destroying all issues of Aggrotron number 56 to preserve his secret identity and expunge the truth about the character.

Links: The Doctor mentions the mystery of Atlantis' location (The Underwater Menace, The Time Monster)

Location: Stockbridge and Queen's Point Spire, Friday 8 April 1982 or 1988 (Izzy is eight years old in her timeline)

The Bottom Line: "Aren't there specialist shops for that sort of thing?"

Silly, but fun if you're in the mood and aware of the source material for the lampoon. Jemima Rooper's Izzy is shoutier and poutier than her comic incarnation, but certainly lively. Certainly not for everyone, but fans of UK comics (see the box-out) might find it a laugh, and it's probably best to see the whole exercise as therapy for ex-Judge Dredd Megazine editor Barnes, as much as David Bishop's Thrill-Power Overload was for his time at The Galaxy's Greatest Comic.


Aggrotron! is, as may be obvious to some listeners, an analogue of real world British comic 2000AD, whose impressive roster has included several Who audio and comic strip writers and artists; its sister magazine the Judge Dredd Megazine was for a time edited by Alan Barnes. The comic's strapline "The Sci-Fi Comic for far-Out Kidz" is in the vein of 2000AD's "The Galaxy's Greatest Comic", and much of its contents appear to be a thinly-veiled pastiche of 2000AD and its antecedents, including being edited by an alien (for photo opportunities actually a man in a mask - Pat Mills being the first of many) featuring a gallery of European illustrators, its tower/spaceship location Queen's Point Spire (IPC's locations were King's Reach Tower) plus rival titles for young girls (Just Ponies: the lifestyle magazine for girls, featuring Judy's Pocket Gymkhana could be Bunty, or any humber of similarly-titled comics) and "Fifties relic" Square-jaw - a clear parody of the earnest Eagle, with Alan Astro, Mars Missionary likely filling in for Eagle's Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future. Though less outrageous than its predecessor Action! (whose gloriously OTT violence seems similarly celebrated by Aggrotron!) 2000AD enjoyed specific tropes, including never revealing the face of star character Judge Dredd (compare this with Courtmaster Cruel's hidden identity), making its hinted revelation a common point of speculation and notoriety. Izzy's observation "'Great News, Kids' - three words to strike fear into the heart of every English comics nerd" is borne out by the history of several of the aforementioned titles (including Starlord and Scream) being merged into other more successful comics, losing much of their core reader appeal in the process.

An Aggrotron! = 2000AD Glossary:
"Spongg Twank, Miniscules" = "Borag Thungg, Earthlets!"
Courtmaster Cruel = Judge Dredd
Robot Clarkie = Water the Wobot (from Judge Dredd)
The Trembling Hand = The Steel Claw (from Valiant magazine)
Big Bustard, killer bird of the Andes = Shako [a polar bear], possibly
Captain Cannibal = Captain Hurricane (also from Valiant)?
D.A.C.H.S-Hund 1 (Dog.Activated by.Complex.Hyper.Sircuitry (sic)) = M.A.C.H 1 (Man Activated by Compu-puncture Hyperpower)

Mary's Story

Writer: Jonathan Morris

Roots: Frankenstein including the James Whale movie version ("It's alive! It's alive!") as well as the story of its real-world creation, popularised in Ken Russell's movie Gothic (which also refers to Percy Shelley's 'eyes' nightmare alluded to here) and Haunted Summer. The Doctor mentions artist Joe Turner and Polidori's The Vampyre. Byron reads from Coleridge's Christabel.

Intertextuality: The older Doctor recalls former companions Beatrix 'Trix' MacMillan, introduced in Justin Richards' BBC Book Time Zero, Ice Warrior Ssard, introduced in the Radio Times comic strip story Descendance, alien Remote 'Compassion', introduced in Lawrence Miles' BBC Book Interference: Book One, and amphibious alien Primatrix 'Destrii' Destriianatos introduced in the DWM comic strip Ophidius.

Dialogue Triumphs: "He's my future self, so we shouldn't be here at the same place, at the same time" "Well why not?" "Why not? Well, it's very embarrassing for a start"

"You do lead the most extraordinary and contrary life" "I know, it's more fun that way!"

The Doctor meets Byron: "Love the look, by the way. Very... 'Byronic' - well it would be, wouldn't it?"

Continuity: The future TARDIS has been attacked by 'vitreous time' during a temporal storm. The future Doctor 'breaks the rules a few times, including sending a distress call picked up by his previous self - "Time Lord in need of serious help" by restoring the future vessel with power cells from his present, thereby 'regenerating' the Ship. Through isomorphic symbiosis the TARDIS' restored health also restores ("kickstarts") that of the Doctor. The TARDIS "remembers" the electrical storm at the Villa, choosing it to bring about the Doctor's revival (through its own living memory, although it could just have likely looked the event up in its own flight logs). It responds better to humans, according to the Doctor. There are high stress cables under the console.

The present Doctor has recently dropped his companions Samson and Gemma off in Vienna. He Doctor carries round TARDIS power cells in his pockets. He loved Polidori's The Vampire and has always wanted to meet Lord Byron.

Untelevised Adventures: The future Doctor recalls hitherto unknown companions 'Tara' and 'Reethra', while reminiscing with an unknowing Mary their shared adventures with "Axons" and "King Harold at the Battle of Hastings".

Links: Doctor Who (the TARDIS' response to humans). It is implied that the future version of the Eighth Doctor is from the Time War, "they" possibly being the Daleks. The green TARDIS power cell from Rise of the Cybermen appears. The older Doctor mentions audio companions Charley, Lucie, Samson and Gemma, plus his great-grandson Alex (An Earthly Child et al) The Doctor mourns Polidori in Zagreus. The Doctor's restored health produces a glow like sunset, recalling the new series' regeneration effect. The Silver Turk

Location: The Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 1816

The Bottom Line: "Now all we need is a mob of villagers and some flaming torches."

The highlight of the anthology, cleverly tied in with the TV Movie and new series continuity, with obvious nods to the visual debt owed to Shelley and Whale's Frankenstein in McGann's TV debut. It's very neat, and the choice of companion is a revelation (despite being telegraphed in Storm Warning); best of all McGann's performance is careful in defining the two aspects of his now quite long-lived Time Lord incarnation - battle-ravaged veteran or enthusiastic debutante. If Big Finish ever wished to reboot the Doctor, they could do worse than start here...

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