Full marks to Big Finish for going ahead with this adaptation of Paul Cornell’s original novel to mark the 20th anniversary of Benny’s first appearance. It’s been far too long since I’ve read it – an error I tend to remedy soon, although I know that means I’ll end up re-reading the whole NA line again! – but Jac Rayner’s skilful adaptation hits all the high points that I remember.
The significance of the novel has perhaps been lost slightly, with the various new companions that have appeared in print and on audio, but this was the first time that we got a complete new companion for the Doctor outside of the comic strips, and DWM editor John Freeman sensibly gave her prominence. (After all, when your show is off air, the novels are an obvious place on which to focus the attention of an official magazine…)
It’s an interesting story looked at with hindsight: as Sylvester McCoy points out in the extras, the manipulative Doctor we see here is very similar to the one currently appearing in the Big Finish line, and the confrontation between the Doctor and Ace at the end of this makes for an intriguing contrast with the end of Gods and Monsters. McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman all recreate younger versions of the characters we’re now used to, backed up by a strong supporting cast.
Inevitably there are going to be bits that those who can recite the entire book will regret losing from this version, but Rayner and director Gary Russell have created a story that works on audio, rather than a slavish rewrite of Cornell’s book, which the writer himself admits that he had to expand during the writing when he ran out of plot. They’ve also dramatized the prelude from DWM (which I’d advise listening to before you start the main discs if you want the full 1992 experience!)
Verdict: An important story, given the treatment it deserves. 8/10