Welcome back ladies and germs to Big Finishing Move where I take a look at Doctor Who audio dramas from powerhouse company Big Finish and tell you if they are crap or not. This November marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and while we wait for the BBC to release The Day Of The Doctor, Big Finish went ahead and released their own celebratory special, The Light At The End. I’ll be looking at Collector’s Edition for this review, but a cheaper Standard Edition is available as well.
Fourth Doctor and Leela
Fifth Doctor and Nyssa
Sixth Doctor and Peri
Seventh Doctor and Ace
Eighth Doctor and Charley
The story focuses on all the Doctors, well at least all the ones Big Finish is allowed to use (1-8) being drawn towards England on November 23, 1963, a date fans know as it is the date Doctor Who was as they say in the UK, first transmitted. The first three Doctors are barely in it with former actors from the show William Russell (Ian Chesterton) and Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) portraying not only their companion role, but that of the Doctors from their respective eras along with passable at best sound-alike for the Third Doctor. The story proper focuses on the Doctors whose original actors remain with we the living (4-8) as they try to figure out what’s going on and what role common man Bob Dovie has in a much larger scheme.
Little snippets of dialogue make it clear that each of the Doctors is in the beginning to early middle of their respective lives and their companions for the story are still early in their days traveling with the Doctor. To give us a rough sense of where in the timeline each TARDIS team is coming from is a nice touch, adding flavor for the vets without bogging the story down. All the timey-wimey goodness allows for some fun crossover stuff to occur, a personal favorite of mine being the Fourth Doctor and Leela’s interactions with Charley.
Everyone does a good job, but the standout performance of the piece without a doubt is Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. Baker is given scenes that work perfectly for the brash and bombastic nature of his Doctor and he does not waste them. He manages to be a standout among his peers, which is all the more impressive considering who his peers are.
What really hurts the story is how pointless the Seventh Doctor is in all of this, aside from some cool zingers courtesy of Ace nothing trusty number Seven does is of any consequence. While both the Fifth and Sixth Doctor do most of the heavy lifting for the story and the Fourth and Eighth form a kind of buddy team and have some great moments together, McCoy’s Doctor does little more than run around and throw some righteous indignation at the extra crispy mastermind (hint!) behind this plot. Nothing in those scenes is stuff that isn’t covered elsewhere in the story however, so much so that you could go and delete the Seventh Doctor from the story entirely and next to nothing of the overall story would change.
Part of the problem with this story is that multi-Doctor stories are inherently hard to do, creating a scenario where the Doctors can meet and where each has something to contribute is a herculean effort . To make these stories work even halfway right requires a really clever author.
Unfortunately in this case we got Nick Briggs.
I don’t mean to pick on Briggs, by all accounts he is a nice guy, a talented actor, producer, director and one of the biggest and truest champions of Who out there, but he is far from a great author. For some reason Briggs has has decided to step up his writing duties in the last year or so, doing four out of seven episodes of the last series of Fourth Doctor Adventures and handling many of the higher profile special Doctor Who releases such as Unit: Dominion and Dark Eyes and the property has suffered for it.
Briggs suffers from one big weakness as a writer, he does not know how to trim the fat. Audio is one of the least forgiving formats for bloat because we lack the physicality of an actors performance to either distract or heighten a scene from being just filler. Long sections of scenes that ultimately go nowhere stick out badly enough already in a series as plot driven as Who is, but when you add the limitations of audio you elevate the tedium of those moments even further. A byproduct of his overstuffed stories, Briggs spends so much of his time winding intricate and complicated plots that his resolutions often feel like afterthoughts. It shows he has an ambitious and creative mind, but his endings are usually weightless puffs of nothing, taking whatever impact the story so far had on the listener and retroactively squashing it. Briggs shines brightest in short, focused pieces so he either needs to stick to those or get a writing partner/editor willing to slap his hands away from the keys from time to time and do some serious script surgery.
Again, let me be clear, I love Briggs and every Whovian owes the man a debt, but perhaps he needs to step back from writing so much and concentrate on making what he does write tighter and more focused.
The audio extras for the Collector’s Edition include two seventy minute documentaries, a 5.1 mix of the story, and a Companion Chronicle from the First Doctor’s era. The documentaries are the highlight with a wide array of stars from all of Who get a chance to reminisce on what the show means to them plus we get to hear how this story came together. Nothing of great import is said in them, but is nice that they are there. The 5.1 mix is a nice touch for audiophiles, but it comes in a different format then the audiobook and I don’t listen to these on any fancy sort of set-up so it doesn’t really mean that much to me. The Companion Chronicle also serves as a nice distraction and provides further proof at just how good William Russel has gotten at mimicking William Hartnell, but it isn’t anything I will be revisiting.
In the end, nothing on the Limited Collector’s Edition is worth the extra cash, at least in terms of the downloadable version, so save your cash and grab the standard edition instead. The Collector’s CD box set and the vinyl version (yes, they put this sucker out on vinyl) have cool cases and some extra artwork and photos so if you have the inclination and the cash it may be worthwhile to pick up a copy. While the story is flawed and may be more fun novelty than anything else, it is a piece of history and part of the grand celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who, so I say go ahead and get whatever version makes economical sense to you and enjoy it for what it is.
Purchase Doctor Who: The Light At The End Here:
Next time we are once again delving into Big Finish’s past with one of their earliest Sixth Doctor stories The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.
Along with this upcoming review will be an announcement on my plans to make Big Finishing Move bigger and better in 2014! Please also remember that Big Finish aren’t the only ones making audio dramas, One Of Us has its own show, Infinite Variations. The second episode has just been released so be sure to check it out!