To tie in with the new year, I've decided to embark on a huge mission, to listen too all the current Big Finish audios in chronological order. I've already reviewed, The Beginning, which chronicled the events that happened when the First Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey, and any audios I've already reviewed here, I won't be writing another review for, even though I'll be listening to them again. But the first audio in the marathon that I need to review is Ian Potter's The Alchemists.
Released around the fiftieth anniversary in 2013, The Alchemists sees the Doctor and Susan, pre Ian and Barbara, finding themselves in 1930's Germany, just before the Nazi party really came into power. The Doctor with the Hand of Omega in tow, a nice little nod to Remembrance of the Daleks it took me to almost the end to realise what it was, the Doctor can't however pass up the opportunity to meet fellow intellectuals like Einstein, Heisenberg and Planck amongst many others. But the Doctor and Susan aren't quite used to Earth in this time period and they find themselves in an economically devastated city, where the police don't do their jobs and violence is authority.
Ian Potter rightly choices to focus the story on Susan, which plays to the fact that it is her original actress Carole Ann Ford narrating the story. Though Susan is intelligent and resourceful, this is a time period she knows little about and when she gets separated from the Doctor, the story really works as a character piece for her, exploring and understanding than not humans are nice and some can be consumed be evil and greed. Ian Potter should be given credit for effortlessly bringing this time period to life and it felt as bleak in my mind as it was no doubt in real life. And the fantastic performance from Ford as well as direction from Lisa Bowerman, conspires to bring a richly dark story to life excellently.
Really I think the one massive strength of this story is the easily created atmosphere and its intelligent way of handling the themes and attitudes of the time without dwelling too uneasily on them. And while the story is resolved a little too easily, something that accompanies the Companion Chronicle's range mainly due to its shorter run time, not everything here is doom and gloom, there were quite a few funny little scenes!
And that really is all that lets down The Alchemists. It's just a little too ambitious for the fifty-minute runtime. The scientist Fritz Haber gets mentioned quite a lot, and Potter seems determined to make us take something away from his involvement, the good and the very bad, in twentieth century science. But the problem is that the Doctor or Susan don't actually meet him, so the commentary on his actions and later actions and the motives behind them doesn't feel entirely earned, but if all I'm going to complain about The Alchemists is that it's a little too ambitious, then Potter is to be praised again.
This is another solid pure historical Hartnell adventure, and now the audio range is littered with them, one that is entirely enjoyable and dark, The Alchemists is a triumph.