Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 6/20/17 1:47 am
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In Bonfire of the Vanities, the third story of the set, the Doctor, Ben (Elliot Chapman), and Polly (Anneke Wills) land in Lewes close to their own time. Even better, it's Guy Fawkes' Night! But all is not well in Lewes; gangs of teens and adults roam the streets causing mayhem and destruction, threatening a spectacle on par with Guy Fawkes' original plan. The Doctor and his friends must work to stop these riots, and uncover the source of them; if they can without being killed in the process, that is. The third story of The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02 continues the excellent trend of this set with a fun, slightly rompy Ben and Polly story. While the previous two stories have tried for something a little more heavy-hitting, this story takes that and makes a dramatic story about with twists and turns about a Guy Fawkes' Night gone wrong. Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman had some excellent moments in the story, but I found that Chapman was the highlight of the story, more than Wills (which, don't get me wrong, she was still great, but Chapman was fantastic). Una McCormack's story here was an exciting, dramatic story overall, with a great villain, and a fun setting. All this combined made for an interesting, fun story, continue the positive trend of this set.
Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman star as Polly Wright and Ben Jackson, companions to the First Doctor. Anneke Wills, who played Polly in the TV series, does a good job here as Polly. She is certainly the main character, narrating for the vast majority of the story, and takes most of the focus for the story. Wills has always been very sure and steady in her narration (going back to the early days of the Companion Chronicles), and she does the same here. I particularly like the way that she can bring tension into the story with her narration at the drop of a hat. There's a moment early on where Polly and Ben go to the door and open it, only to be harassed by kids trying to scare them; Wills takes on this scene well, increasing the tone of her voice to sound a little more desperate, but very quickly is able to bring her voice back to normal, in a strong bit of acting.
Elliot Chapman, who was cast in the role of Ben Jackson, originally played by Michael Craze, stands out in this story as one of the best things of this set so far. Chapman sounds excellent playing Ben, arguably one of the best of the three recast Big Finish actors (alongside Jemma Powell as Barbara Wright and Tim Treloar as Jon Pertwee). But what makes Chapman stand out here in this story is partially due to Big Finish relaxing one of their policies, and allowing him to narrate for the story. Previously, Big Finish has had a policy that only the original actors involved in the show can narrate for the stories; hence why Big Finish has never had a full-cast First or Second Doctor, Polly, and Ben story. But here, Big Finish relaxes the policy, and it gives Chapman a chance to flex his acting muscles a bit more, taking over a larger part of the story, as Ben goes off with the First Doctor. I'm very happy Big Finish relaxed this policy a bit, and I hope it opens up a new series of stories for Big Finish to pursue.
Una McCormack's story here was a strong affair, of a Guy Fawkes' Night gone wrong. I liked the themes of mass hysteria mixed with more science fiction-like themes of alien invasions and the horror of humanity that McCormack incorporated into her story, as it really made the story stand out a bit, in my opinion. McCormack's story is a relatively simple one, on paper; an alien crashed to Earth, and is hoping to take revenge on humanity before it leaves by destroying the town, and is turning the townspeople against one another to do so. It's a simple premise, but McCormack makes it her own with various little touches. What I liked most about it was the reason why the alien of the story wanted to take revenge on people. As described by the Doctor, sympathetically, the alien arrived on Earth on a previous Guy Fawkes' Night, and was promptly thrown into the flames where he burned, still alive, and able to feel. It's a rather sick twist to put into the story, but it also helps to elevate the story quite a bit. I also quite liked the plot with the Bonfire Boys roaming around trying to destroy everything as well. It made for an excellent B-plot that allowed Elliot Chapman some time to feature in the story.
The last thing I'd like to mention here is the great cover art for this release. Done by regular Big Finish cover artist Lee Binding, the cover is a relatively simple one, but a bold one nonetheless. Simply featuring the main actors of the set, alongside the Daleks and the Player (Elliot Chapman), in a washed out red and orange cover, centered around a sun, it's a nonetheless distinctive cover. I particularly like seeing the cracked Dalek from the previous story on the cover, and it's nice seeing Elliot Chapman on the cover too, getting some credit here. It's not as busy as the previous two covers for these Companion Chronicles box sets, which I like, as it shows just how good Lee Binding is at doing the cover art for several Big Finish releases.
Overall, Bonfire of the Vanities is a strong third story, continuing the excellent trend of this box set with a dark, yet rompy tale of science fiction and horror. The story was well acted by both Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman, with Chapman standing out particularly, in part due to Big Finish relaxing their policy about recast actors narrating for the stories. Una McCormack's script was an exceedingly strong affair as well. McCormack's strength comes from her ability to take a fairly standard story about an alien seeking revenge for being wronged, and is able to twist it into a dark tale of horror. Yet, she still manages to make it into a fun, rather rompy story at times, paradoxically. The third story was yet another strong story for this set, and a surprisingly fun Ben and Polly story to boot.