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Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles: The Scorchies (March 2013) Review

Big
Finish March 2013 Release
Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 7.09
The ScorchiesCast: Katy Manning (Jo / Scorchies),
Melvyn Hayes (Scorchies)

Written by: James Goss
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Songs composed by: Richard Fox and Lauren Yason


Reviewed by Neil Matthews for The Gallifrey Times

This review may contain spoilers.
Plenty
of people have made the mistake, down the years, of calling Doctor Who “a
children’s TV programme”, when it is for children and adults alike.  This Big Finish audio playfully pitches the third
Doctor, Jo Grant and the Brigadier into a battle against a real children’s TV
programme – or is it?

 

The
Scorchies have beamed themselves across the stars and into the hearts of
British TV viewers, in the guise of a collection of puppets.  In every programme Mr Grizzfizzle, Kool Kat,
Professor Baffle, Amble the ugly doll and the Magic Mice get a special guest to
tell a story, make a thing and sing a song.
They’ve used the TV signals to hypnotise and then kill a small number of
people, but they’ll stop at nothing until the whole planet succumbs.  The Doctor has rumbled them, but gone missing
in the process.  In an attempt to find
him, Jo (Katy Manning) has been caught by the Scorchies – and that could be
fatal.  But first she’s their latest, and
maybe their last ever, special guest…

 

Finding
terror in the familiar is a stock in trade of Doctor Who in all its
incarnations, whether that means TV, audio, books or cartoons.  Creepy toys, dolls and puppets have appeared
before (see, for instance, The Celestial
Toymaker, Terror of the Autons
or the more recent Night Terrors).  The Scorchies,
voiced by Melvyn Hayes with help from Katy Manning, are a worthy addition to
the ranks.  As Kool Kat puts it, they are
just “too darn cute”.  The diffident
Professor Baffle and the Magic Mice do seem to have the shared provenance of a
certain classic BBC children’s TV programme from the 1970s. Near the end, in
case you haven’t got the hint yet, the Professor becomes ‘just an ordinary
soggy stuffed bat, but Jo loved him’.
The Magic Mice even use a strangely familiar musical flashback effect…

 

Big
Finish Companion Chronicles tell Doctor Who stories from the companions’ points
of view.  Jo Grant was hugely popular in
her three-year stint at the third Doctor’s side, and the character returned
more recently in an episode of The Sarah
Jane Adventures
.  Katy Manning slips
back into character as if she’s never been away.  She even manages to impersonate the late Jon
Pertwee and Nicholas Courtenay in reading the Doctor and the Brigadier’s lines
– though her rendition of the Brigadier is perhaps more entertaining than
accurate.  My favourite line was Jo’s
plea to viewers at home not to succumb to the Scorchies: “You MUST change the
channel – even if it’s Space 1999!”  (For those lucky enough to be too young to remember,
Space 1999 was a crushingly dull
1970s ITV science-fiction programme.)

 

However,
it’s the Scorchies who steal the show.
I’d only even heard or seen Melvyn Hayes as ‘Gloria’, the effete
entertainer from classic 70s sitcom It
Ain’t Half Hot, Mum
.  Well, he ain’t
half bad in this, too, giving the Scorchies a winning combination of fun and
nastiness.

 

Together,
Manning and Hayes have a whale of a time, as Jo tells a story (of how the
Doctor worked out what was happening) and makes a thing (an “imaginary
anti-Scorchie gun” using sticky-back plastic – another 1970s children’s TV
reference there, for Blue Peter
fans).  She doesn’t sing a song, but the
Scorchies do: two, in fact, including one as the climax to the first
episode.  Judging by how long it stuck in
my head, ‘Jo is making a thing’ in particular is annoyingly addictive.  Richard Fox and Lauren Yason, who composed
the songs and their lyrics, deserve much credit for adding a very large cherry
to the top of this production cake.

 

The Scorchies manages to be both
quintessential early 1970s Doctor Who and unlike any other Who story I’ve seen,
heard or read.

 

The Gallifrey Times
Rating: 9/10
Many thanks to Big
Finish Productions for providing the audio for review.
Picture courtesy of Big Finish.