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"When do you know?"
This is another in the Companion Chronicle series of Doctor Who stories, stories told generally by a companion of one of the previous Doctors, and narrated by them. In this story, Steven Taylor (as played by Peter Purves) tells of a story when he was travelling with the First Doctor and Dodo - a story that changed his outlook on life for ever.
In the 2011 Companion Chronicle The Rocket Men, Ian Chesterton told of a time he, Barbara and Vicki were travelling with the First Doctor and met the Rocket Men, notorious space travelling pirates who used rocket propulsion units to pounce on unsuspecting victims, robbing and killing indiscriminately. In this story, Steven tells of a time before he met the Doctor when he first met the Rocket Men. And then the narration moves to a time when he, Dodo and the Doctor meet the Rocket Men again - landing on a small planet that has just been colonised, the Tardis crew are shocked to find the colonists living in fear of constant attacks - by the Rocket Men! What can they do to help? And what is it that Steven must do to save his own life?
I thought this story was fantastic; the early part of the narrative with Steven telling of his early days as a young pilot was shocking and really immediate in its action. The listener is left for some time wondering how all this can relate to a story with the Doctor's involvement, and the revelation, when it becomes clear is all the more shocking for its intensity of emotional clarity - for the listener, and for Steven. Peter Purves does a great job revising his character of the young space pilot, and does a fair job reminding the listener of William Hartnell's iconic First Doctor - the tones, the snappy dialect, all is extremely well done. Dodo's character plays a small but pivotal role in this story, and it's nice to have some more stories featuring Dodo who was very underutilised before she disappeared abruptly from the small screen in the original Doctor Who series. Tim Treloar as Van Cleef is great - brutal, nasty, and irredeemable - all round perfect Rocket Men material. A great story, well characterised, well portrayed and well played - a real keeper, and a great natural follow up from The Rocket Men.
on 18 October 2015
‘Return of the Rocket Men’ is a sequel to the original story, but the narrative is completely separate to the events of the first, and is set sometime after ‘The Gunfighters’. It was written by Matt Fitton; like the first it features the directing and music of Lisa Bowerman and Howard Carter respectively. Peter Purves takes up narrative duties alongside Tim Treloar who plays Van Cleef.
Howard Carter’s music is much more of an active participant in this one. The sounds are more varied. I can hear snare drum rolls, violins and more bass than the original. This score is more dynamic and in my opinion superior to its predecessor, also a Carter composition. This sequel is also not weighed down by the clumsy framing device of the John Dorney’s original work, meaning it flows much more easily. The acting is hard to fault, both stars perform admirably.
The narration opens with Steven asking a, “How do you know?”, question, linking back to the opening narration of the first story. The action is more pronounced than the original Rocket Men story. In the opening scene ‘Van Cleef’ shoots Steven in both legs before he tries to kill him. Yet ‘Van Cleef’ is merely ‘Ashmen’ in all but name. This story is about revenge, as well as saving Dodo and the other prisoners. These events transpired before Steven joined the Tardis crew but through the wonders of time travel Steven gets to relive them later on.
This doesn’t have the emotional impact of ‘The Rocket Men’, and I can’t help feeling it suffers because of it, but it just isn’t that kind of story. There are twists but the story isn’t so reliant on them to makes this a listen once affair, there is plenty to come back for. The action is also genuinely thrilling. I just wish Steven wasn’t constantly saying that he was going to die, or wouldn’t make it back. Ok, we get it you’re a hero, now give it a rest! He also asks the, “How do you know?”, question a lot more than Ian did in the original.
This out performs the original in some areas and the same could be said about the original, but the truth is they different and stand-alone stories. Let’s not get too caught up in comparisons though, this is easily as good as the original.