AUDIO REVIEW: The Sleeping City

The Sleeping City
by Ian Potter

Starring William Russell

Out Now

Review by Nick Fraser

Big Finish’s latest Companion Chronicle offers up a retro slice of classic ‘60s Doctor Who, flitting back and forth from the oppressive confines of an interview cell, to a gleaming city far in the future.  The listener joins Ian Chesterton at the beginning of an interrogation session conducted by the smooth, but menacing, Gerrard. Both Ian and Barbara have been detained on suspicion of being Soviet spies, their mysterious disappearance from Coal Hill School and unexplained return having attracted unwanted attention from the intelligence services.

What’s particularly pleasing about the framing device of this adventure, is that it’s clear early on, in his amused but careful responses to Gerrard’s questioning, that Ian has come a long way from mundane Mr Chesterton, science master. Quite the seasoned TARDIS traveller, he subtly takes control of the situation, choosing to narrate to his captor the details of his trip to Hisk (the titular “Sleeping City”) with The Doctor, Vicki and Barbara.

There’s a complete contrast then, as Ian describes the travellers’ sampling the varied delights of a marketplace, before quickly becoming embroiled in Hisk society as their curiosity leads them to discover the meaning of the mysterious “Limbus” to which the city’s inhabitants are called.

Being the most at home of the TARDIS crew in the futuristic setting, Vicki has no hesitation in linking up to Limbus, discovering that it is in fact a mechanism which allows the citizens of Hisk to participate in collective dreams.  It soon becomes tragically apparent however that there’s a serpent at the heart of this Eden in the form of the squawking, scaly, black harbingers: their appearance signalling death for those unfortunate enough to witness them.

The TARDIS quartet are forced to work quickly to uncover the source of the harbingers: a quest that becomes personal and urgent when Vicki is attacked. There are echoes of First Doctor adventures The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites as The Doctor takes charge, directing operations in his attempts to uncover the cause of the harbingers, not hesitating to take drastic steps to correct the flaw at the very heart of Hisk society.

Meanwhile the interrogation scenes between Ian and Gerrard begin to hint that there is another agenda going on, all to be revealed in startling fashion at the story’s conclusion.

William Russell is in excellent form as Ian Chesterton, imbuing him with the wry humour with which he faced many adversaries in his TARDIS travels.  John Banks is splendidly urbane, yet intimidating, as Gerrard.  Elements of this adventure link back to Doctor Who in its earlier, more innocent and more leisurely-paced past.  However there’s a sense that Ian and Barbara’s escapades might actually be about to come to a grim and distinctly unglamorous end.

It’s a thoughtful story, positing questions about the extent to which society exerts control on the individual: ripe material for the First Doctor’s sense of moral outrage.

Big Finish makes customary good use of soundscapes to convey worlds beyond the budget of the parent television show, and Ian Potter’s concept of the Hiskian-generated dreams, invaded by the skin-crawling harbingers is an effective one, lasting in the memory long after the adventure has reached its cleverly understated finale.

Thanks to Big Finish

Review by Nick Fraser 

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