Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles — The Rings of Ikiria
Poor Yates — an alien girl gives him a ring and then he's betrayed by his UNIT chums…
Writer: Richard Dinnick
Starring: Richard Franklin, Felicity Duncan
Captain Mike Yates is one of the more interesting characters of 1970s Who. He first appeared as a bland UNIT soldier in Terror of the Autons because producer Barry Letts wanted to give new companion, Jo Grant, the possibility of romance. As if. In stories like The Green Death, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders he charted a complex history of fall and rise. No other companion pre-2005 has had such a fascinating arc, not even Ace.
But I think most fans would agree that the success of Mike Yates is in the character, not the performer. Richard Franklin is likeable enough, but he's no great shakes as an actor and his line reading has always been suspiciously forced. And he's the least likely soldier in the history of the world. Perhaps he wanted to join the Salvation Army but got his recruiting offices muddled up.
The Rings of Ikiria is set before Yates joined the TV programme, and well before any complexities of characterisation appeared. It tries to suggest there's something a bit deep about Yates from early on, and the story perhaps deliberately echoes The Claws of Axos in its depiction of beautiful aliens visiting Earth with the gift of something wonderful. Penned by Richard Dinnick, author of previous Companion Chronicle, The Wanderer, it's an atmospheric little tale. It only goes pear-shaped at the end, when the characters succumb to technobabble diarrhoea. It's like listening to Patrick Stewart reading out gas boiler instructions. Apart from that, it's a pleasant fifty minutes' listen.
Felicity Duncan plays the female parts, most notably the title role of Ikeria. This she does in suitably ethereal fashion. She's ear-candy of the highest order, and Franklin is clearly besotted with her (if you believe the behind-the-scenes featurette). Franklin narrates the story and plays himself, and, disparaging comments about his acting aside, he does a jolly good job of it. He also impersonates several recognisable TV actors with varying degrees of success. His Brigadier is rather more Patrick Newell than Alistair Courtney, but it's good enough. His Pertwee Doctor has flashes of brilliance, but it's hampered by a bizarre comedy lisp that makes it sound as if Franklin's taking the piss. Pertwee's real-life lisp is so minor I'd never noticed it—to make it a defining characteristic is inaccurate as well as offensive, in my opinion. Franklin's Benton sounds like a Worzel, which is fun.
I liked this audio a lot. But I can't help feeling that by having Yates play these characters in 'proper' scenes, rather than as reported speech, the production comes across as sounding distinctly cheap. The Chronicles started out as narrated first-person stories, but by opening them out as bona fide dramas, without increasing the cast, newcomers to the range might just feel short-changed. But that said, it's hard to dislike The Rings of Ikiria simply because it gives a good flavour of the era and it's very well made by all concerned.
Listen to the trailer here:
Doctor Who: The Rings of Ikiria is out now.
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