Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 6/20/17 1:48 am
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.
In Fields of Terror, the opening story of The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02, the Doctor, Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) and Steven land in western France at the height of the French Revolution. Very quickly, they encounter the sadistic captain Lagrange (Robert Hands), who is scouring the countryside looking for religious (or as he calls them "superstitious") symbols. But all is not quiet during this bloody period; Lagrange's men have been attacked by a mysterious masked monster. When this monster comes to call during the night, Vicki and Lagrange may have the fight of their lives on their hands. Fields of Terror is a somewhat odd story, setting-wise; set during the French Revolution, but far away from the terrors of the guillotine in Paris and other major cities. However, this setting affords the story a more intimate setting, and a way to look at the smaller horrors of war, in this case a roving group of soldiers who execute anyone they dislike in the name of justice. Well-acted by Maureen O'Brien and Robert Hands, the story also features an excellent script of misunderstanding and pacifism by John Pritchard, making for a rather strong, poignant story in the end.
Maureen O'Brien stars in this set as Vicki Pallister, companion to the First Doctor, as well as acting as the narrator of the set. O'Brien does a great job with this story, narrating the story steadily and well, while also doing extremely well in the moments where she performs as Vicki herself. O'Brien sounds understandably older here in this story, as she has in nearly every story, yet it adds a sense of something more here in this story. This story has definite pacifist undertones throughout the story, and the narration and performance of O'Brien comes across as an older woman reflecting back on her life, and it comes across as a moment where Vicki realized something fundamental about herself, and grew into a more confident person. It's an interesting performance, and one of the strongest I've heard from O'Brien thus far. Joining O'Brien is Robert Hands as the villain of the piece, Lagrange, the officer of a troop of French soldiers. Hands gets a chance to flex his villainous muscles here, as the simple yet evil captain of a group of French soldiers scouring the French countryside for "superstitious" religious symbols, in line with the desires of France in these days. Hands is downright easy to hate; his scene forcing his way into Nicole's house, justifying the intrusion after he finds that her husband was killed by his allies, is a scene that filled me with a rush of anger towards the character, which is some of the highest praise I feel I can give.
The story, written by John Pritchard, an occasional Short Trips writer who's branched out into the Companion Chronicles, is a pacifist story through and through. Early on in the story, Vicki is given a great line in this story, describing the soldiers as, "...[looking] like men who had seen too much, and done too much of it". It's a surprisingly powerful line that sets the tone for the story that culminates in one of Pritchard's characters staying behind to watch over the monster, even as the drums of war somewhat literally continue to beat. The story Pritchard created uses a fairly common story idea, of a misunderstood, wounded monster seemingly terrorizing a group of people, only for the Doctor to realize it's simply wounded or something similar and lashing out. But where Pritchard distinguishes himself from previous stories is by introducing a distinctly pacifist theme to his story. He shows the soldiers of the French Revolution as fanatics devoted to decimating the old way of life for no reason other than their own profit, which they thinly veil as "for the greater good". He shows them as rash, quick to jump to conclusions, and liars to save their own necks, while he portrays the "monster" of this story as a misunderstood creature taken in by monks, anguished following the death of those that cared for it. The dialogue throughout the story reinforces this theme, as the Doctor is quick to calm Steven and Vicki down from believing the "monster" is anything but a wounded, scared creature, anguished by the death of those that cared for it. It's also filled with great lines such as the one from the beginning of this paragraph, and other observations and pleas from Vicki and Steven about the soldiers and their brutality.
Robert Harvey did the musical score for this set, and that's on full display here in this story. The music is slight at most times, sounding almost apprehensive at times, which I think fits the theme of the story extremely well, in essentially what is a horror story. It's slightly dark at times, mostly in minor keys, with some synthesized bass used throughout the give it a slightly mournful tone at other times. All this really fits the story extremely well, highlighting and underscoring the themes of the story, a darker, pacifist tale. Robert Harvey has done the music for a couple of rather bleak Short Trips stories, and his compositions fit this story extremely well.
Overall, Fields of Terror is an excellent story to start off The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02. The story is extremely well-acted by Maureen O'Brien, who gives a sensitive, vulnerable performance throughout the story, and Robert Hands, who gives a strong villainous performance throughout. The strong script, courtesy of John Pritchard, had distinctly pacifist themes throughout, as a story examining a misunderstood creature and the disgusting actions of soldiers drunk on their own power. It was a strong tale to open the set, and one of the best First Doctor stories Big Finish has yet put out.