Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

The Plot: The TARDIS has landed on Platform Five, a floating city in the sky of the planet Jobis, and for a time the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki get the chance to enjoy this idyllic place. And then the Rocket Men arrive, led by the sadistic Ashman. When the only other option to certain death is suicide, Ian Chesterton takes the gamble of his life…

“When do you know?”

John Dorney has been writing some of my favourite Big Finish releases of late, including that really excellent Charley Pollard vs. Celestial Toymaker story Solitaire and the delightful Jago & Litefoot time travel adventure Swan Song, so when I saw that he had written this Companion Chronicle I snapped it up with eager anticipation. This range of dramatised readings offers a wonderful opportunity to develop stories featuring the first three incarnations of the Doctor where the principal actor is no longer with us  – but thankfully William Ruussell is still around and is as good, if not better, than he was nearly 50 years ago when he first played school teacher Ian Chesterton …

John Dorney, Gus Brown and William Russell (Big Finish)

This is a First Doctor story narrated by Ian from what would have been the second season, when he was traveling with Barbara and Vicki . It is told with what one is beginning to recognise as Dorney’s distinctive blend of fanboy glee, clever plotting and a surefooted sense of how to wring unexpected emotion from the drama so as to give it an additional layer of meaning. While the plot is comparatively simple, as with most of these hour-long Companion Chronicles it is split in two halves and has cracking cliffhanger in the middle, the storytelling technique is quite sophisticated. Dorney in fact uses the two parts to create a narrative structure which is also split into two strands, which run in parallel and play tag team with each other. This is then subdivided for the two principal voices, with Chesterton as himself and as overall narrator and Gus Brown playing Ashman, the heartless villain of the piece, who dominates in the second half as the two square off against each other in spectacular fashion. Dorney uses verbal cues to make the transitions from one part of the story, which details the Doctor’s arrival on the floating city of Jobis, with the dramatic aftermath occasioned by the boarding by Ashman and his eponymous rocket men. Which brings us to …

There is just something very alluring about the idea that one can slip on a jetpack and truly take off for some independent flight – it seems the purest science fiction yet it has been a scientific reality for decades now. In popular culture the signposts go back to the King of the Rocket Men serial made by Repubic in 1949. In typical cheating fashion (serials always cheated, especially when it came to it cliffhangers), the exciting title proved to be a totally misleading misnomer – there is only one rocket man in fact, but his name is King (groan …). But the outfit is wonderful and the special effects were in many cases remarkably good for their day – here are some clips:

Jet packs have since been featured in episodes of NCIS as well as the Bond movie Thunderball and were the focus of a loving Hollywood pastiche in The Rocketeer, a comic that made the transition into a pretty entertaining movie that also payed homage to the old Republic serial …

… Dorney’s story combines elements of these old serials with pure pulp such as space pirates, a floating city straight out of The Empire Strikes Back, rocket-propelled villains, a fist fight in the heavens and sky chasing mantarays with a romantic description of how Ian fells in love with Barbara, which tugs at the heart and simultaneously leaves you breathless with excitement. It also makes exceptionally clever use of the audio medium to make its cliffhanger work as Ian does something awesomely romantic and only apparently suicidal because we can only hear, and not see, what is going on and have to rely on what we are told …

… William Russell confirms his superb command of language with his pitch-perfect delivery, whether narrating as Chesterton or portraying Barbara, Vicki or the Doctor and helps make this another truly first-rate release in the series. I really hope Russell is able to record many more of these as his vocal skills are truly exceptional, being able to seemingly bring anything convincingly to  life thanks to his dynamic and expressive performance. Once again Dorney has delivered an intelligent script which here is superbly told and given a truly top-notch production with a fine musical score and great support in the audio design too. Cracking fun.

***** (5 stars out of 5)

This entry was posted in Big Finish, Companion Chronicles, Doctor Who, John Dorney, William Russell. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

  1. As a massive fan of King of the Rocket Men and the Rocketeer, I was really looking forward to this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. And the narrative trick is excellent, albeit foreshadowed by the trailer a bit – must avoid those in future…

    • Hello there – Dorney is really proving to be a great discovery at BG isn’t he? And there has been a lot of variety in the types of stories and approaches – can’t wait to see what he might be able to add tot he main range. Yes, I know exactly what you man about the trailer though it’s not too blatant – luckily I only listened to it afterwards – having said that, I do rate it as a very exciting trailer!

  2. Well, I suppose Ian could have tackled a flying Rocket Man as he fell… which was how I thought it would have been resolved. Dorney’s solution is much better though and I hadn’t worked it out until it was revealed.

    • What’s really smart of course is matching the physical and emotional leap ‘into the unknown’ and that’s what makes it such a great ‘cliffhanger’ as well – really nicely done and will certainly repay additional listens!

  3. Pingback: BEAUTIFUL THINGS by John Dorney | Tipping My Fedora

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