Review – Doctor Who: Frostfire

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 1.1 – Frostfire, written by Marc Platt, directed by Mark J Thompson (Big Finish, 2007)

Earlier this year, I posted about the actors who have appeared in the new Doctor Who and the recent Jane Austen adaptations. I later commented in AustenBlog, confirming to the Editrix that the Doctor has met Austen before. In both cases, I pointed to the recent release from Big Finish, Frostfire.

frostfireUnlike Big Finish’s ongoing line of original audio plays featuring Doctors 5-8, the Companion Chronicles are essentially original stories of the first four Doctors, as re-told by one of the companions experiencing that story. In Frostfire, this companion is Vicki, who left the 1st Doctor in ancient Troy, changed her name to Cressida, and has moved on with her husband Troilus to Carthage in 1164 BCE. And she is recounting this tale to a mysterious Cinder.

The Doctor, Vicki and Steven land in London in February 1814. Encountering a frost fair, they come across a strange egg, the sight of which gets Vicki fainting. Helped by Miss Jane Austen, the Doctor and his friends discover the egg’s true purpose and manage to contain the creature within… or do they? The last five minutes, when the Cinder’s identity and future are revealed, do make sense when you re-read, as I did, the back of the CD case. It’s obviously only something that can be achieved with time travel, so that is a nice touch by Marc Platt.

Maureen O’Brien returns here as Vicki/Cressida, and she does breathe new life into a character she last played more than 40 years ago. She doesn’t attempt to re-create Vicki as she portrayed her then, but as a Vicki remembering this adventure from long ago (or is it the far future?). She even has the Doctor’s mannerisms down, with the “my boy”s and “hmm”s inserted at opportune moments. It is here that she describes her feelings for Steven: “dishy” as he is, she has always thought of him as a big brother whom she can tease and who can take the blame from the Doctor if need be.

Those feelings were prodded from Vicki by Miss Jane Austen. In terms of her literary career, it is correct that only two novels have been published (Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, both anonymously) when the Doctor meets her here, despite his awkward fan-gushing moment. (Marc Platt must have been influenced by that scene in “The Unquiet Dead” when the 9th Doctor discovers he’s in the same carriage as Charles Dickens.) Miss Austen, like Dickens, Shakespeare, and Christie in the new series, takes to the Doctor and his companions quite quickly, and the scene where she punches out a fire-eater has to be heard to be believed. And the description of her: “velvet paws and steel claws”! Forget ladylike – I’ll take this kick-ass, take-charge version of Miss Austen any day! Janeites would definitely cringe at the characterization, but I might believe this version better than that in Becoming Jane.

I quite enjoyed listening to Frostfire, and it will certainly be in line to be re-listened in the near future. It would be a good introduction for anyone interested in the 1st Doctor, or anyone who has seen the new series and how the Doctor has interacted with literary greats. This one could certainly be used as a new-series story, had Marc Platt been given the chance to develop it.

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