REVIEW: The Companion Chronicles - Starborn

The Companion Chronicles: Starborn
by Jacqueline Rayner

Starring Maureen O’Brien & Jacqueline King

Out now

Review by Nick Fraser

Occurring just after their hasty departure from Nero’s Rome and before their peculiar encounters on the Planet Vortis, Jacqueline Rayner’s Starborn provides a short, but thoughtful and poignant interlude in the adventures of The Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Vicki. This is very much Vicki’s story and Maureen O’Brien transports the listener back in time, in the company of the eager, slightly gawky teenaged traveller from the 25th century.

Just on the point of departure from a visit to the abode of a spiritualist, Vicki is urgently summoned to return to take part in an impromptu séance, at the behest of Madam Violet, played with just the right levels of dramatic flourishes and gossipy exasperation by Jacqueline King (best known as Donna Noble's mum, Sylvia). Initial contact is made with Madam Violet’s contact to the spirit world, one Appius Octavius Crispus but it soon becomes apparent that the urgent contact from beyond is in fact coming from Vicki herself, or at least a future version.

It’s a clever construct upon which to allow the narration to proceed, with present day Vicki’s scepticism gradually being eroded, aware that the unfolding story is leading her towards a potentially grim conclusion. She learns of the TARDIS’s forthcoming arrival on an exotic planet, bathed in perpetual light from a web of radiance, literally composed of “star people”.

Her future self describes a developing friendship with one of the fledgling star people, Anet, a fellow teenager who is due to ascend and take her place in the aerial network. The Doctor agrees that the TARDIS crew will stay to witness events, during which time the teenage girls’ friendship continues to grow.

There are intriguing moments scattered throughout future Vicki’s narration to suggest there may be more to her tale than might first appear, and these little “hold on, did she just say…?” moments cleverly draw the listener further into the story, just as present-day Vicki seizes upon these apparent inconsistencies.

The story takes a darker turn at the point of Anet’s ascension, with the sudden arrival of a band of female space pirates seeking to take advantage of the resulting weakness in the planet’s living star network, hoping to drain its power for their own purposes. It’s at that point that Vicki’s ultimate fate is about to be revealed.

Maureen O’Brien is excellent as Vicki, the cynical teenager whose faith is firmly placed in science rather than the spirit world, but who finds these certainties gradually eroded by a growing sense of doubt. She also offers a creditable version of the First Doctor, and the rather fey starborn of the title, Anet. Jacqueline King’s medium, Madam Violet stays just the right side of over-the-top and between them they breathe life into a compact, poignant tale of friendship, redemption and loss.

Jacqueline Rayner perfectly captures Vicki’s perky and amused speech patterns, but doesn’t waste the opportunity to reveal additional facets to her character: an orphan lucky enough to have found the perfect replacement family waiting for her in the TARDIS.

Thanks to Big Finish

Review by Nick Fraser

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