In the continuing quest to try and find a solution to their current degeneration crisis, the Doctor ends up back on Earth. After receiving an unexpected postal delivery, they cross paths with an old friend, Harry Sullivan (Christopher Naylor, who – unbeknownst to the Doctor – appears to be secretly working with a future incarnation of theirs.
At the same time, Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri) gets a lead on a possible job offer, which brings her to the door of one Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan), an aristocrat and thrill-seeking thief. An exotic piece of jewellery which Jackie found amongst her daughter Rose’s belongings while looking for a spare pair of tights may turn out to be the key which brings everyone together, in a desperate race against time to save the Doctor: their travels may end up coming to an abrupt end before they had even begun, all those many lifetimes ago, if a dastardly plan comes to fruition.
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The fourth instalment of Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Once And Future – ‘Two’s Company’, by Lisa McMullin – rather niftily takes us back to where it all started, as a mild curiosity in a junkyard some 60 years ago. In a series which is designed to mark Doctor Who’s diamond jubilee this coming November, where better to go than right to the very beginning? How we actually get there – and, perhaps most importantly, why – is courtesy of a rather convoluted plot, which has the feeling of being drawn up with the sole aim of knitting together a very diverse shopping list of imposed elements, instead of having the story come first.
‘Two’s Company’ certainly gives off the vibe of being a horse designed by committee, which is a terrible pity, as many of the individual elements feel like they would work very well in separate adventures, rather then being all mashed together. The rapport between Jackie Tyler and Lady Christina simply shines and sparkles throughout the story, with the working class mum and the member of the landed gentry getting on like a stately home on fire. Coduri and Ryan both seem to be having a hoot recording this, and their infectious chemistry is a sheer delight to hear.
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Although the pair never met on screen, they were both part of Russell T. Davies’ original era as showrunner, and the two have also been featured in Big Finish’s audio dramas – Lady Christina has been gifted her own spin-off series, and Jackie has turned up in the company’s Tenth Doctor adventures. In view of precisely whereabouts ‘Two’s Company’ sits in each character’s personal chronology, it soon becomes a dawning inevitability that we aren’t able to be gifted a ‘Lady Christina and Jackie’ series, which is a crying shame all the same, as it would surely be compelling listening, with near-boundless possibilities for the unlikely duo.
We simply have to content ourselves with the joy of having Jackie running into a different version of the Doctor than the one she is familiar with, and watching the fireworks as they lock horns. With the episode opening on Tim Treloar’s take on Jon Pertwee’s flamboyant Third Doctor, his form quickly shifts and settles on Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, which is the one who happens to run into Jackie. If you should have ever found yourself wondering as to exactly who would come out on top if these two forceful personalities ever encountered each other, this audio may just give you that answer. Baker and Coduri really spark off each other, with their characters trading barbs and verbally jousting with insults.
Alas, things go a little off the rails with the other part of the plot, which in some ways bears too much of resemblance to parts of the opening tale of Doctor Who: Once And Future, ‘Past Lives’. Both feature a rogue Time Lord making use of a former companion of the Doctor, and involve having access to UNIT facilities. While these stories are not exactly carbon copies, ‘Two’s Company’ does suffer a bit for coming later, in much the same way ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’ upstaged ‘Silver Nemesis’ in Season 25, by sharing a very similar story (in that case, old enemies of the Doctor seeking an ancient Gallifreyan artefact), and falling so close to each other.
Harry Sullivan, having once been decried by the Doctor as an imbecile, is certainly written true to form here, having been duped into believing that another Time Lord is actually the Doctor, and lending a hand with trying to open a time portal which will go back to 1963. While not wishing to give away anything further here, the identity of the miscreant behind such a nefarious plan will certainly be known to regular Big Finish listeners, and the story’s title takes on (appropriately enough) a double meaning. The Renegade (as the character is credited) gives a lot of material for Michael Maloney to get his teeth into, with some distinct flashes of Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart at times.
It seems a shame that Naylor is not given more to do than be simply a walking, bumbling apology machine as Harry. Given the fact that Doctor Who: Once And Future is in the business of bringing back as many past elements as possible for such a grand celebration of the programme and its history, you may hope that this older Harry Sullivan might be slightly wiser, or at least less of a gauche cliche, yet it would appear very little has changed. None of the fault lies at the feet of Naylor, who does the best that he can with just what he has been given in McMullen’s script. It appears Harry is almost superfluous at times, with the focus being drawn to Jackie, Lady Christina, and old Sixie.
As far as former (and future) companions and acquaintances go, ‘Two’s Company’ does feel that three really is a crowd, as there simply is not enough time here to give everybody their equal share of the action. The Renegade and Harry strand of the story may have worked far better on its own, so it really is something of a wasted opportunity, by cramming in so many disparate components and unfortunately not making them all gel more effectively. This is hopefully just a brief hiccup or misstep in what has so far been a worthy special event mini-series.
Doctor Who: Once And Future – ‘Two’s Company’ is out now from Big Finish.