Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Reunion of Friends

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 2.02 

Title: The Forbidden Time
Written by: David Lock
Team TARDIS: Second Doctor, Ben, Polly (narrates), Jamie (supporting character)
Adversary: The Vist
Release Date: March 2011
Range and Number: Companion Chronicles 5.09


Time Walkers have descended upon the Earth. This alien race, known as The Vist, has claimed an area of time for itself – any species entering into the immediate future will pay the most terrible forfeit.

The human race is in a state of panic, but one woman knows the truth. Her name is Polly Wright, and she visited that future many years ago, with the Doctor, Jamie and Ben.

She has stepped into the Forbidden Time – and this is her story…

My Review: 

Soon after coming home from Gallifrey One this past February, I was motivated to go on a splurge of '60s Who.  Not sure why, exactly - maybe it was meeting such luminaries like Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling or maybe it was seeing the heretofore missing episode 2 of "Galaxy 4" with a convention ballroom full of my new best friends. Or maybe I just wanted to find some new-to-me Doctor Who.  Whatever the reason, the fact remains that I went seeking out eras of Doctor Who I'd only ever heard about and not experienced for myself.  In the course of this adventure, I discovered the rather unsung companion duo of Ben and Polly.

Ben and Polly were the first companions to experience their Doctor regenerating - they joined Team TARDIS in the Hartnell-era "The War Machines" and left in the Troughton story "The Faceless Ones."  I don't know the numbers precisely, but there is a substantial percentage of their stories missing - maybe theirs are missing the most, who knows?  But I've come to enjoy Ben and Polly quite a bit - just from the standpoint of them both being such ordinary, modern (for the 1960s) people.  Ben is a sailor in the navy on shore leave and Polly is a secretary for a high-powered scientist/businessman.  They're joined later by Jamie McCrimmon, who I fangirled over extensively in my previous entry (and rightly so).  I know this is kind of backwards, but like I mentioned before, Jamie really takes a backseat to Ben and Polly in his earliest stories - probably for similar reasons that Turlough gets captured or knocked out or locked up a lot in the Fifth Doctor's era - the writers didn't really know what to do with a third companion.  Which is why "The Forbidden Time" is so much fun.

Like the last Companion Chronicle I reviewed, this story also makes use of cutting between two narrative structures.  The difference here is, where “The Rocket Men” cut between different points in Ian’s timeline, “The Forbidden Time” cuts between two different characters’ points of view of similar events (in this case, Polly and Jamie - with the help of a digital voice recorder that Jamie becomes quite adept at using.  Like I said, he’s a fast learner).  Also, this story is an anomaly for the Companion Chronicles line in that both of the actors in the story are companions, even though one is clearly the lead narrator for the story.  This was a fantastic decision on the part of Big Finish because, while Jamie was often the second fiddle to Ben and Polly in televised Who, this story makes it clear that he was learning and adapting to time-and-space travel even before he became the Second Doctor's right-hand-man.  It also gives a clearer picture of how he interacted with Ben and Polly and how they all regarded each other as sort of a sibling, let's-all-look-out-for-each-other relationship.

I also loved this story because of the one-on-one time Polly gets with the Doctor.  Team TARDIS gets separated early on, with Ben being displaced in time by the Vist's time fence and Jamie simply running in the opposite direction (though equipped with a digital recording device that Polly gave him at the beginning of the story that she uses as evidence when the Vist's mysterious message comes back years later to haunt the people of Earth).  So, Polly becomes the audience's eyes-and-ears to what the Doctor is doing.  And it turns out that the Doctor tells Polly a lot more that the TV stories ever let on.  This is due in no small part to Polly's thoughtful questions and tenacity in confronting these problems head-on. I like the opportunity that Polly gets to spend this time on her own with the Doctor. She gets to ask him some things that she wouldn't normally ask him if Ben and Jamie were around.  It’s not anything that would ruin continuity, but it’s a chance to see another companion try to connect with the Doctor on an emotional level (it happens with the Doctor and Victoria in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” when Victoria asks the Doctor about his family). It’s just nice to get to know these people who you’re spending all this time with running from peril to peril, that’s all.

I want to talk about Polly as a companion in general because some of the way she's perceived really bugs me. I don’t know where this idea comes from of Polly being this simpering, coffee-making doormat that haunts feminism’s nightmares, but the only time I've ever seen (or heard) her do that was in “The Moonbase” and the coffee actually turned out to be a rather important plot point (well, the sugar in the coffee, anyway). She certainly has her scared-out-of-her-wits moments - who doesn’t? - but she’s also a very competent and resilient girl. One moment of hers that I really loved was in “The Underwater Menace” when she's about to be turned into a fish-slave and - prepped for surgery and strapped to a gurney while people are waving hypodermic needles around, no less - she yells out defiantly, “You’re not turning me into a fish!” So, yeah, Polly’s not a pushover.

(Don't know about the rest of you, but the needles alone would be enough to reduce me to a weeping pile of mush).

I’m starting to think that the stereotype of the weakling girly companion is just something the press made up to pick on Doctor Who back when the cool kids were picking on the show and its fans. Actually, they still do it when there’s a new companion and she’s suddenly the only one ever that hasn't been a screamer, even though the last four or five haven’t been either (according to the press, anyway. Fans who know what they’re talking about just roll their eyes and get on with their damn day). I've never really gotten the impression that any of the girls were truly that helpless. Okay... maybe Mel and even then, only at cliffhangers. But other than that - yeah, can’t really think of one (and because I know someone will come along and bitch about Jo Grant and that she was this screaming ninny in a miniskirt - your smackdown is coming. Never fear).

Back to “The Forbidden Time” - I really like the framing device for this story where the human race is being threatened by alien creatures in the future and Polly, as one of the Doctor’s former companions, comes forward to share her knowledge of the threat. It’s very reminiscent of what Sarah Jane's gang does in The Sarah Jane Adventures and I’d like to think that other companions have done similar things.  The opening setting of "The Forbidden Time  sounds almost like a press conference of sorts and Polly proves that she’s been on these fantastic adventures by producing the voice recorder that has Jamie telling his side of the story as he is wandering around in this “time fence” that the Vist have created.

According to TARDIS Wikia, this is the first time since “The Faceless Ones” that Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines actually appear together performing their characters from Doctor Who, even though they both had other stories in the Companion Chronicles range previous to this story. It is cool to hear Jamie and Polly in the same story, sort of interacting via the voice recorder.  This framing device was used so well that I almost forgot that Polly and Jamie were supposed to be separated.  That sense of friendship and shared experience even works at the end when Polly's alone and she rewinds the recording of Jamie saying that he would not have traded traveling with the Doctor, Ben and Polly for anything.  And Polly closes out the story be replying "That goes for me, too."  I don't know how better to end this very special story that reunites friends and companions - if only for a short time and not in a very precise way.  It underscores the special experience of being the Doctor's companion - kind of like an exclusive club that the rest of us get to look in on from time to time.

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 2.03 - Let's Checkmate Caesar!

Previously -
Review 2.01 - A Work of Heart

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