Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Audio Review: The Light at the End

So, as mentioned a couple of months back, we've become slowly hooked on the range of Audios that Big Finish have been doing starring classic Doctors and Companions in new adventures. They're not flawless, but we've been listening to the earlier ones (because the're cheap, and because they're in order) and some of the issues tend to be inherent to Audio Drama anyway. By which I mean that sometimes the characters have a tendancy to over-describe their surroundings and situations, which you can't really get away from, even if it occasionally clunks. Anyway, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the show they've gathered together all the Doctors they can and made a giant crossover, which naturally we skipped straight to, as early as we could. 

The Light at the End opens at 5.03pm, on November 23rd, 1963, when nothing of any consequence is happening, an no Sci-Fi shows were being first broadcast on the BBC. Starting with the Eighth Doctor (we've all suddenly been reminded of him, haven't we?) and companion Charlie Pollard, one by all all the "Classic era" Doctors are drawn to the same place and time, lured by the Master, determined to enact a devilish revenge. Because, y'know, he's the Master, and that's the sort of thing he does. Actually, the plot is pretty thin, if I'm being honest, more a linking device to get everyone together than something that functions in it's own right. 

That said, the joy of this is seeing all the Doctors together, right? Having started down the lower end of the Big Finish range I'm quite to used to 6, 7 and 8 in their audio versions but I have to admit that I got quite the kick of our hearing Tom Baker intoning the 4th Doctor through our speakers. Was a smart move to pair him with 8, too, whilst the other three largely follow their own paths though the story. 4 and 8 carry most of the first act, and I wonder if Big Finish are expecting some new listeners trying out this for the first time, and do this to give them a good (yet safe) introduction to Paul McGanns version. I hope so, and I hope people go on to listen to his stories, because I like them. 

Much of the script gets to hit the big nostalgia buttons for fans - some snippets from the first three Doctors artfully written off to the side, along with their companions, but also Leela, Ace, Nyssa and, um, Peri, all get solid roles accompanying their Doctors. Sylvester McCoy gets to shout at things, Colin Baker gets to be dry and snippy, and Peter Davidson gets to be terribly polite. The characterisations are spot on and the actors radiate a quiet confidence borne of long familiarity. Its all very...charming. 

This all sounds a little like I'm damning it with faint praise and I don't mean to. This really is a great fun audio romp that is well worth a couple of hours of your time. But the level to which it is steeped in affection for its characters, and the amount of nods and nudges, end up being slightly double edged; they make it great fun but also make it slightly shallower and less consequential that I would have liked. In some ways this is exactly what elements of the fanbase wanted the TV show to be doing, and that seems to be taking a completely different tack, so it will be an interesting comparison come Saturday.