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Audio Book Review
After travelling for years with the Doctor in the TARDIS, Ian Chesterton is finally back in his own time. However, the mystery of how he and his fellow schoolteacher Barbara Wright disappeared in the year 1963 has alerted the authorities – and now both of them are suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War. Ian protests his innocence. He has a story to tell about travelling through time and space. One adventure in particular springs to mind – a visit to Hisk, the sleeping city...
This is one of those Companion Chronicles in which the frame narrative is at least as interesting as the “main” story being recalled, if not more so. In this case, we are faced with the intriguing prospect of Ian and Barbara having returned to 1960s London (as they do at the end of The Chase), but finding themselves under suspicion. This is hardly surprising when you think about it – as the interrogator Gerrard (John Banks) points out to Ian (William Russell), the teachers vanished at the same time as one of their pupils, and the latter never returned...
The intrigue is soon opened out, as it becomes clear that what Gerrard is conducting is not merely a criminal investigation, or a matter of national or even international security, but something altogether more wide-ranging. He somehow knows about the Doctor, seems to realise that he is not of this Earth. It appears that writer Ian Potter has created something of a companion piece to the paranoia of Destiny of the Doctor: Hunters of Earth, while also tying in the Time Lord’s subsequent return trips to the period or earlier points in Earth’s history. Could this be a Counter-Measures investigation, the listener is invited to wonder, or that of a more sinister organisation with an interest in the Doctor, such as C19 or Torchwood?
We don’t get to hear Barbara’s interrogation, because of course Jacqueline Hill (along with William Hartnell) is no longer with us, but as usual William Russell does a fine job of filling in for his former co-stars. He is particularly good at mimicking the tones of Hartnell’s Doctor and Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki – both of whom play prominent roles in this story. Potter has fun with the typical format of The Companion Chronicles, as the rougher vocal qualities of the 89-year-old Russell are explained away as Ian feeling thirsty! At another point in the story, Vicki mocks Ian’s impersonation of her, saying that he can’t do the voice!
I am also impressed by Grant Kempster’s cover design. His depiction of Hisk really does look like a Raymond Cusick model.
The episode endings of The Sleeping City fall rather flat. The first one, at the half-way point of this single-disc release, is more of a poignant moment than an actual cliffhanger. The story’s conclusion is a cunning one (I must have been half-asleep myself not to have seen it coming), but it does rob us of the frame story’s full potential. Ian’s return to Earth is a fascinating premise in itself, and one that merits further exploration. Unfortunately, The Companion Chronicles will soon be coming to an end (this one is Russell’s final contribution to the range), and so the chances of this happening seem slim.
Nevertheless, The Sleeping City is worth a visit, before this series retires for good.
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