Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DOCTOR WHO: THE LIGHT AT THE END

BIG FINISH LOVES STORIES.  That's their catchphrase, after all.  And they quite rightly moved forward the release date for their own 50th anniversary celebration of DOCTOR WHO so as not to compete with "THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR" in November.  Together with the recent recovery of the lost Patrick Troughton stories "THE ENEMY OF THE WORLD" and (almost all of) "THE WEB OF FEAR", Big Finish's "THE LIGHT AT THE END" really kicks off the official 50th anniversary celebrations for me. 

Big Finish brings together ALL of the still-living "classic era" Doctors (as well as the three no-longer-living ones . . . more on that in a moment) into a two disc adventure along with scads of former companions, one ordinary bloke and one arch enemy.  Big Finish may love stories but these multi-Doctor adventures have usually been a little underwhelming if still a lot of fun.  The classic TV series attempts in "THE THREE DOCTORS", "THE FIVE DOCTORS" and even "THE TWO DOCTORS" have been something of a dog's breakfast even though they have a lot going for them.  Oddly enough, Big Finish seems to have gotten the knack down better than their TV competitors with "THE FOUR DOCTORS" of several years ago being a rather good attempt and "THE LIGHT AT THE END" this go 'round being even more entertaining.

So we've established that (at least in recent years) Big Finish knows how to do multi-Doctor stories.  And as a story, any adventure featuring 8 Doctors in it provides vast problems of simply giving them all equal time and something compelling to do while weaving it all together into a coherent plot.  Big Finish's head honcho Nicholas Briggs has given it the old college try and he's actually come up with a very satisfying adventure for the Doctor's 50th; although necessarily the actually plot of the story must take second place to the collection of great moments that this adventure is simply chock-full of!  Geoffrey Beevers played the Master in the telly story "THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN" in the Tom Baker era (which incidentally first introduced Nyssa) and has now done several for Big Finish and his performance as the Doctor's arch-enemy is always superb; especially given the circumstance of the recent loss of his wife Caroline John (Pertwee companion Liz Shaw).  Beevers' voice still sounds exactly the same and I can picture in my mind's eye his crispy Master menacing Tom Baker on telly while here menacing all incarnations of the Doctor's very existence by blackmailing the Time Lord "dirty tricks" organization the C.I.A. into giving him a secret weapon known as "the conceptual bomb".  Now, it's been noted how similar this idea of erasing the Doctor from all existence is to the Greater Intelligence's plans to do the same thing in "THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR" but does the plotting in such a story as this really mean that much?  It's just an excuse, of course, to bring all these classic actors together into a story and have one hell of a 50th birthday party, innit?  Therefore I'll give not much more info about the plot other than to say it revolves around an ordinary bloke named Bob Dovie (John Dorney) and a certain London address on November 23rd, 1963. All the Doctors at various points notice a flashing red light on their Tardis consoles which has never been there before which indicates something is interfering with the telepathic circuits, time is folding in on itself and somebody (guess who) is breaking the first law of Time!  

But enough of that plot thingy and on to the REAL reason we're listening to "THE LIGHT AT THE END" . . . and that is to hear Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all together with classic companions Louise Jameson (Leela), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Sophie Aldred (Ace), India Fisher (Charley) as well as (rather too brief) cameos by Carole Ann Ford (Susan), William Russell (Ian), Peter Purves (Steven), Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Mark Strickson (Turlough).  Each of these classic companions get only one or two lines of dialogue and, even though the logistics of giving them all larger roles to play would've been a nightmare, one wishes they were heard a bit more.  Also, no other classic villains appear (i.e. Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Yeti or even the Candy Man) despite the vocal appearance of Nicholas Briggs (veteran of Dalek voices) as the rather underwhelming villains called "The Vess".  The voices of the now-deceased Doctors William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee are provided by William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar respectively.  While Hines' Troughton impression is rather good, Russell's Hartnell is only slightly successful and Treloar's Pertwee is frankly unlike the third Doctor as far as I could tell; in fact I often had trouble trying to figure out exactly which of the first three Doctor's I was supposed to be listening to given the audio distortion which is also placed over the performances.  This is, of course, only a minor niggle in the proceedings due to the sad fact that the first three Doctors are no longer with us and therefore their inclusion is problematic at best.  Big Finish had the gumption to actually voice the first three Doctors in the best way available and actually the results are quite serviceable due to their brief appearance in the narrative.  The best of an impossible situation. 

Of course the interaction between all these beloved DOCTOR WHO actors is the paramount purpose of "THE LIGHT AT THE END" and it doesn't disappoint.  The teaming together of McGann's 8th Doctor with Tom Baker's 4th is particularly fun and the two actors really work well together; as do each Doctor's ineraction with Fisher's Charley and Jameson's Leela.  Another big part of the fun is shuffling characters who wouldn't normally interact such as the wonderful juxtaposition of Aldred's Ace with Colin Baker's 6th Doctor.  Frankly, listening to the two discs of "THE LIGHT AT THE END" is pure bliss for any fan of the classic series.  Lovely lovely lovely!  "THE LIGHT AT THE END" comes in a special numbered limited edition which I naturally couldn't resist so I sent to England for it; it wasn't cheap but frankly Big Finish doesn't make much on their product and, for the exemplary work they do in keeping our favourite Time Lord's audio adventures coming at such a high rate of quality featuring our most-loved WHO actors, they deserve our financial support!  The special edition comes in "book form" inside a beautiful slipcase featuring as cover art the first photo in this post.  Inside we have 5 cds which insert inside pockets in the book's "pages" exactly like last year's Universal Monsters Blu-Ray box set; and while I'm definitely not a fan of sliding my cd's inside a cardboard sleeve which inevitably scratches same, the design is quite handsome.  The book portion features a "report" by the Celestial Intelligence Agency on the events featured in "THE LIGHT AT THE END" as well as countless photos of all the actors involved (sometimes in costume as their characters!).  After the two discs containing the story itself, we have disc three featuring "THE MAKING OF" which is quite interesting and features interviews with all the cast.  Disc 4 is entitled "THIS IS BIG FINISH" and was admittedly something of a disappointment to me as I expected something different, probably.  I somehow got the impression that this would be an audio documentary on the history of Big Finish's DOCTOR WHO audio adventures but actually is more of a reiteration of the previous "MAKING OF" disc combined with upcoming projects; in fact some of the exact same audio clips from interviews on "THE MAKING OF" disc are repeated here.  Now, there's nothing wrong with that; it's just that I had one thing in my mind and got another.  Not their fault but something of a missed opportunity as I'd sure like to hear an overview audio documentary on Big Finish's DOCTOR WHO history similar to the one we got as a special feature on one of the recent DOCTOR WHO special edition dvds.  Ah well.  It did contain some rather earth-shaking (or do I mean "earth-shocking") news that Big Finish has somehow managed to corral Matthew Waterhouse to do some upcoming audio adventures as Adric!  Now, Big Finish is rather famous for taking the probably least-liked TV Doctor Colin Baker and making him the BEST Doctor on the audio adventures; something most fans (and myself included) never would've believed had we not heard it for ourselves.  They pulled off another astounding coup by making Paul McGann probably the second best Doctor in his series of audio adventures!  Now, if anybody can make Matthew Waterhouse's Adric compelling, it would be Big Finish.  So I'm actually quite interested to hear how that all pans out. 

But for me the best "extra" in "THE LIGHT AT THE END" special editon is the inclusion of the previously unavailable audio adventure that was only given away in an issue of DOCTOR WHO magazine:  DOCTOR WHO:  THE COMPANION CHRONICLES - THE REVENANTS starring William Russell as Ian Chesterton.  This audio adventure is slightly different as it's more in a "storybook" form with William Russell narrating as well as voicing Ian, the Doctor AND Barbara!  Only one other actor appears in the adventure:  Sharon Small as Janet/Jeannie.  This is a one-disc two-part audio adventure which apparently takes place in DOCTOR WHO chronology right after "THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH" in which the Doctor left Susan behind.  Here the story opens with the Tardis landing in 1956 Orkney; Ian and Barbara exit the Tardis onto the windswept moors and the Doctor apparently takes off without them!  As Ian and Barbara become lost in the peat bogs and almost perish by sinking in the mire, a local woman saves them and warns them of the demonic mud-zombies named "the Marsh-Wains"!  This story is deliciously creepy with superb sound-work by Toby Hrycek-Robinson and written with scary delight by Ian Potter.  The inclusion of "THE REVENANTS" alone makes the purchase of the special edition of "THE LIGHT AT THE END" justified!  So, as a multi-Doctor adventure and a 50th anniversary celebration, "THE LIGHT AT THE END" succeeds on almost all counts!

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