Doctor Who Audio Review: Tales from the Vault
Written by: Jonathan Morris
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Featured Characters: Captain Ruth Matheson (Daphne Ashbrook) and Warrant Officer Charlie Sato (Yee Jee Tso)
Featured Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury), Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Romana I (Mary Tamm)
Down in the U.N.I.T Vaults there are many interesting artifacts and closely guarded secrets. Officer Charlie Sato has just been called down there do to his keen interest in the place (or at least the myths around it) and he’s met by Captain Ruth Matheson, the person in charge of keeping the Vault safe, and she makes Charlie a proposal: he can join the Vault security team or he’ll forget all about it in the next 24 hours. He readily agrees and Ruth offers to show him all the various alien items they’ve captured over the years, like that strange coat over there, or that talking crystal or maybe even one of the time capsules…
So, this story is part of “The Companion Chronicles” range of Big Finish Audio Stories, which are usually short stories read by former Doctor Who companions. However, they break away from that format sometimes and this is one of said times, since not only do we have multiple companions, we also have a kind of “story” bridging the tales.
The first thing to note about the framing device has to do with the two actors playing the U.N.I.T Agents: Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso. Both of them played semi companions in the Doctor Who TV Movie (the first appearance of the 8th Doctor) except they’re not playing those characters in this story, because Universal owns their rights and they’ve never allowed anyone to use them. I bring this up because this choice is a good summarization of what Big Finish is: It’s a completely unnecessary little thing… but the fans appreciate the tip of the hat, so why not? It’s sort of the opposite of what Comic Book companies do, quite honestly.
This mentality is really the driving force of this entire story, because not only do we have the return of these two former companions in the framing device, more and more return. Whenever they explore a new item in the Vault, Ruth pulls out a recording made by one of The Doctor’s companions (since most of the stuff on there is in some way connected to him) and they tell the circumstances of how that thing got there. Basically, this story ends up combining the more organic Companion Chronicles that pop up occasionally (Peri and the Piscon Paradox, Solitaire, etc.) with the traditional style, without ever feeling too compacted or full.
It’s actually rather impressive that this 58 minute story, manages to tell 4 different short stories, plus a framing device, and none of it ever feels forced or confusing and, in fact, turns out to be very fun and even a little atmospheric. Doctor Who has generally done pretty well with stories that are light on The Doctor (it’s not for nothing that Blink is still one of the show’s most famous episodes) and this one in particular works very well to emphasize how it feels to “pick up” after The Doctor.
There’s a great sense of wonder in this story, because when you follow The Doctor things tend to be a little “Been there, seen that, sent it back to where it came”, but with the U.N.I.T Vault there’s a bit more mystery to things and you’re just left to put the pieces back together with what you could find. It’s a little like going to a battlefield after a major battle, once everyone’s gone away and all the bodies have been picked up. There’s a general sense that something important happened there and you can kind of pick up the gist of it, but the actual feeling of it or the exact events are lost to the winds of history forever.
If each of these shorts were adapted into their own full length stories, they’d probably be fine but kind of mediocre, but with the framing device gluing everything together and providing a mystery you want to solve, without REALLY knowing if there’s a mystery to even be solved, it’s easy to get involved and fun to just… listen to it. That’s really it, in the end. Do you want a fun, quick shot of Doctor Who that feels comfortable, yet a little mysterious? Well, then sit back, put your headphones on and take a trip into the U.N.I.T Vault…