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< 8.1 - Mastermind
8.3 - Upstairs >

8.2 - The Alchemists

Rating Votes
10
8%
4
9
16%
8
8
27%
14
7
25%
13
6
18%
9
5
6%
3
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0%
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Average Rating
7.5
Votes
52
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From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
6
Plot Rating:
6
Acting Rating:
8
Replay Rating:
6
Effects Rating:
7
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: JMChurch25Review Date: 4/12/19 9:02 pm
3 out of 3 found this review helpful.

In a letter to Ian and Barbara before her departure from the TARDIS, Susan details an early adventure long before the series started with her and the Doctor in 1930's Berlin looking for a place to hide the Hand of Omega. But the pair are rapidly separated and the focus soon turns to Susan trying to survive in a dangerous environment as well as forced to handle a choice that she might not have been prepared for.

It's a decent setup and 'Alchemists' does a fine enough job with what it has. The focus on Susan is very well handled with Carole Ann Ford being great as usual and the fact that this takes place before 'Unearthly Child' means there is a bit of a mystique to it like we're privy to some sort of special forbidden story never before heard. It also has a strong atmosphere that envelops you in the period beautifully and some of the details behind the times are very subtly intriguing in ways that fans of history will definitely notice. In a strange way even though this is an audio adventure, you can sort of picture it in monochrome which is a real credit to the sound scheme.

But the sad part is that once it gets going which is almost halfway through, there really isn't that much to it. The plot is paper thin once it's eventually revealed and the plot and pacing are so slow that it's easy to get bored listening to it especially in the first half when not much is happening. I don't necessarily think this is writer Ian Potter's fault per se as all of the pieces are there in the script for a fascinating historical adventure. But it doesn't grab or keep the listener's interest in it's run time minus one intense portion of the story that's hard not to notice and feels a tad out of place. By the time you get to the end and the pair are reunited, you've already more or less forgotten what's been happening or why you should care.

It's a shame because if the plot had been handled a bit better in narrative and pacing, this could've been a really special one and for a lot of viewers, it could still easily tick the right boxes for them. As it stands in this reviewer's opinion, however, 'Alchemists' is fine with a lot to recommend for one viewing but not enough to justify a repeat listen. 
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
8
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
8
Replay Rating:
8
Effects Rating:
8
Has Prerequisite(s):
Unsure
Reviewed By: kfb2014Review Date: 3/21/16 6:21 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

The Alchemists, is a tricky one, we have essentially a cult science fiction character, and you have the the Nazi’s. Not the ideal combination for a light hearted piece of drama. There are so many oner and undertones, connotations and things that could make this awfully bad. Thank god we don’t run headlong into any of these. Handled superbly well, the writing actually focuses more on story that creating, an historically accurate, and what would have been ultimately quite a dire and depressing Who outing. However this excursion is entertaining in all the right ways, and it’s main focus is on the depth of intelligence that was blooming in pre full blown Nazi Germany. There is also a chilling portrayal of the reasons why Hitler and his henchmen came to power. So some good, educational awareness is handled in a way that provides you with the knowledge that you need to know, just enough, not too much, to detract from the Who story in hand. The Doctor and his granddaughter land in 30’s Berlin. The Doctor soon realises that they are not far from the Kaiser Willheim University, at this time the seat for many of the twentieth centuries finest minds, such as Heisenberg, Planck, Schrödinger, Wigner. To a man in the shape of the Doctor this is too good an opportunity to pass up. However within the story as ever the separation element plays key as we see Susan being used by a deep sleeper agent from the British, whilst the Doctor gets taken by the Nazi’s. The combination of the British agent and a sympathetic German pawn broker assist Susan in getting her grandfather back and also the ability to get back to the Tardis, before too much of history starts to unravel. I liked this story for what could have been heavy going it’s light and entertaining. It provides a wonderful feeling of it being a first Doctor episode, and with the acting skills of Carol-Ann Ford at the helm she directs us through the stormy wonderfully well. Wayne Forester also deserves praise as he portrays the part of the British agent wonderfully “of it’s time”.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
8
Plot Rating:
NR
Acting Rating:
NR
Replay Rating:
NR
Effects Rating:
NR
Has Prerequisite(s):
Unsure
Reviewed By: Drew VogelReview Date: 11/7/14 3:19 pm
3 out of 3 found this review helpful.

I don't understand the purpose of this story's framing device. The idea is that Susan (Carole Ann Ford) is writing a letter to Barbara to be read only if Susan dies or leaves the ship. Susan says she's worried about what the Doctor would do without her, and she implies that he might be tempted to change history. I was expecting that the story Susan told would involve her preventing the Doctor from changing history, or perhaps illustrate why that's such a bad idea. I was wrong on both counts. Susan is the one who was tempted to change history, but only a bit. And the Doctor simply tells her that it would be a bad idea. Nothing about this story explains why Susan felt the need to tell it to Barbara.

But that's only the framing device. Trouble is, the A-story is a bit thin as well. It takes a very long time to get going, and when it finally does, there's just not much to it. On the other hand, it's well-plotted, and Ford's performance is outstanding. It's also nice to see Susan taking the lead. This really is Susan's story, rather than the Doctor's story told from Susan's perspective.

But the real strength of the "The Alchemists" is the setting. The script manages to convey a lot of detail (including historical detail) about the setting without getting at all bogged down. The sound design adds a lot too. The result is an unusually visual story with loads of atmosphere. And another thing... I don't really understand how an audiobook does this, but this story is clearly in black and white.

Ok, so the story's a bit pedestrian. Thanks to the great script, the great performances, and the great sound design, that doesn't seem like a very big problem.