Welcome brothers, sisters, friends, family, and everything in between to Big Finishing Move, where we take a look at Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas to see if they are worth your money and time. Doctor Who and Christmas have enjoyed a long history with one another. Even before the Christmas specials that have become such a staple of modern Who, the series went out of its way to mark the holiday. For example, the time when the First Doctor stopped for a moment to wish his companions and the audience a happy Christmas and the short skit Doug Who?, a Christmas gag for the people on the show during Tom Baker’s run:
When Big Finish got around to the idea of making a proper Christmas adventure for the Doctor, they decided that the Eighth Doctor would fit the bill. This was likely because his companion, Charley Pollard, was from an era where the traditional British Christmas so often depicted in classic literature was still observed. Let us then get into the meat and potatoes, or I suppose in this case should say the turkey and plum pudding of The Chimes of Midnight.
TARDIS Team: Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard
Right as the theme music ends, instead of going straight to some establishing scene, we are treated to a brief musical interlude. The interlude itself starts as an enchanting little diddy, but as it continues, it morphs something more haunting and sinister. This interlude is more than a fun piece of audio design to set the tone. This bit of music is full of audio foreshadowing. Once you get through the story and understand all of what happened, going back to listen to that interlude is an eye-opener.
The whole first episode is an interesting case; it is almost entirely world-building and character introduction with little to nothing actually going on. We are given two groups of people: the Doctor and Charley caught in some weird form of limbo and a group of Edwardian servants going about their duties during Christmas time. The servants all prove to be gloriously horrible people save for Edith, the lowly uneducated scullery maid who all the other staff seem to revel in abusing. Each ascribes to the position, especially in regards to Edith, that they are nobody, they are nothing, reflecting on the real life classism that had been such a staple of British culture and the entire western world for centuries.
At first it seems as if the two groups are entirely separate, but as the episode progresses we see that this is very much the same story. The Doctor, finally realizing just how dangerously out of sorts this situation is tries to make a beeline for the TARDIS, but whatever force is at hand here sweeps in to make them fully a part of the story.
Some may call this entire first part padding and filler, but I do not see it that way. What we have here is a story so complex that if we were just dropped right into it we would most likely find it incomprehensible. Instead the writer of the tale, Robert Shearman, eases us into the story in a way that allows us to follow along until those mysteries are solved, even though we don’t know what is going on and why immediately.
Speaking of mysteries, with the Doctor and Charley now pulled into the story, they are tasked with solving a series of murders, starting with Edith’s. Except of course for the parts where she isn’t dead… and those where she is outright forgotten by the staff. If that last sentence doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s because some force is playing fast and loose with these people’s lives and the very rules of time and space.
Having Charley as the Doctor’s companion is very important to the story. This is part of the larger payoff I spoke of when reviewing Storm Warning. Furthermore, to make this story work you need someone born slightly after the time this story takes place, but grew up with many of the same cultural ideas of that time. When Charley first sees the scullery maid, she is hypercritical of Edith without even having met her. As she begins to learn more about who Edith is and why they are connected, Charley’s view of the girl changes drastically. The final words Charley says to Edith show great sensitivity and maturity on Charley’s part, having gained some perspective on the value of others. Who and what Charley is are of the utmost importance here. To say anymore would trip into the realm of spoilers and I’d much rather let you experience those revelations yourself.
All the actors turn in fantastic performances. Both McGann and Fisher are on the top of their game because of each other. The way they feed off one other and always seem to bring out the best in each other are delights to hear. I also must commend all the actors playing the staff. They have to play characters that are quite honestly stereotypes bordering on the outright cartoonish. Despite this, they all have moments they have to inject some real humanity into their roles and they all do so beautifully. They also have the task of repeating lines over and over again and keep them interesting. One weak performance from the staff here could thrown the whole thing off, but each actor brings just what is needed to make their role work.
The Chimes of Midnight is one of the best things Big Finish ever managed to pull off and is a personal favorite of mine. The story is full of wit and charm, it is a fascinating piece of science fiction/fantasy writing as well as being a period piece, and it manages to throw in some Christmas-appropriate social commentary and character development for the lovely Ms. Pollard. With that much content this story should be a bloated mess, yet somehow it does more than just pull it off, it makes it look easy. This is the best piece of Christmas related material the franchise has EVER done and it comes with my highest recommendation. Even the most casual of fans will find enjoyment here, and for the low price of $2.99, you’re doing yourself a disservice not checking it out.
Buy Doctor Who: The Chimes Of Midnight Here:
Remember folks, we here at One of Us have our own audio drama series Infinite Variations, so go check that out if for whatever silly reason you haven’t already. For more Doctor Who and Big Finish goodness you can check out my previous revews on Phantasmagoria,The Fearmonger, The Light At The End, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Storm Warning, and Blood of the Daleks.
For next time, we go ahead and round out the year and our just over a month long focus on the Eighth Doctor with another entry with a bit of a holiday twist. I’ll be back for: