Saturday, October 26, 2013

Big Finish's Mighty Mouse Moment

Librarian in the TARDIS - Bonus Review #3

SPOILER WARNING! This review contains some mild spoilers for “The Light at the End.” I stay away from major plot elements, but I do mention a few minor things that most “Spoiler Free” reviews have taken pains to omit. Read at your own risk!

Title: The Light at the End
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Team TARDIS: Seriously? If I list everybody, we’ll be here all day!
Adversary: The Master
Originally Released: October 23, 2013
Range: Special 50th Anniversary Release

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors...

It's the day that Bob Dovie's life is ripped apart...

It's also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart...

From suburban England through war-torn alien landscapes and into a deadly, artificial dimension, all these Doctors and their companions must struggle against the power of an unfathomable, alien technology.

From the very beginning, it is clear that the Master is somehow involved. By the end, for the Doctors, there may only be darkness.

My Review -
(I'm making a habit of this "Bonus Review" thing, aren't I?)

When many fans heard the news that the BBC’s officially official 50th Anniversary special wouldn’t have any Classic Doctors, the uproar was... somewhat deafening (and I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed myself - even though in my brain of brains, I knew there was no respectful way they could do that. Not on TV - and then they managed to do that with “The Name of the Doctor,” but that’s another discussion). But when we heard further news that Big Finish had their own 50th Anniversary special to contribute to the festivities, well, a lot of people (yours truly included) had this to say about it -

(I swear, there were probably fans filking this song to fit the situation in their heads).

All the Doctors who’ve ever done anything for Big Finish, the main companions who’ve turned up for the ride, PLUS a shedload of cameos from other companions, AND they’ve finagled a way to get Doctors One, Two, and Three into the story???

(the download, though. I have nowhere to store CDs anymore).
Okay, since last spring, we’ve had developments aplenty in the 50th Anniversary department and, speaking purely for myself, I don’t think we’re in any danger of “The Day of the Doctor” being a disappointment (the perpetually malcontented notwithstanding). Still, it’s very fitting that Big Finish got “The Light at the End” together and that they did it so spectacularly - pretty much par for the course with Big Finish’s output. And it’s even more amazing that they got it out a month earlier than most people expected (“most people” meaning “me”).

Now, from a fan’s perspective, multi-Doctor stories are really, really cool. In a fan’s mind, all the Doctors and all the companions exist together in the same space. We may not see them in a story all together, but they are all part of the same franchise and the same over-arcing stories. That’s why there is so much multi-Doctor and companion fanart. Here are but three examples (I have these wallpapers on a rotation on my laptop - they make me giggle) -

Doctor's Girls Wallpaper by ~mimi-na on deviantART

Doctor's Boys Wallpaper by ~mimi-na on deviantART

Muppet Dr Who by ~mimi-na on deviantART

(Yes, Muppets. Your arguments are invalid)

The tough thing about creating multi-Doctor stories is things get a little tricky. Beyond actor availability (whether it’s schedules simply not matching-up or something much more major like the fact that many past Doctors and companions’ actors are no longer with us), there’s the issue of a decent story that gives all the characters enough to do that it’s worth having them around. “The Five Doctors” did it brilliantly - it’s a story that knows it’s fanwanky-celebration of the show and it doesn’t try to be anything else other than that. And the audience is okay with that. Personally, I watched “The Five Doctors” before I’d seen any other Classic Who. I knew enough going into it that I treated it like a sampler of all the Classic series had to offer. When it was over, I wanted to reach back and learn who these characters were and see more of their stories. Consequently, I absolutely adore Classic Who. And I’m somebody that used to shy away from black-and-white TV shows, but now the black-and-white Doctor Who stories are among my favorites!

Anyway - back to “The Light at the End.” I don’t want to give anything major away, but I do want to hit on some of the things I loved about it -

Let me start with the special version of the theme tune, which is a fantastic mix of all the different versions of the theme, plus a few additions that the Big Finish music crew threw in to make it all work. And it is PHENOMENAL! Now, I don’t know if it’d work in a regular Main Range story, but for this 50th Anniversary Extravaganza, it fits the bill perfectly. What’s great about the opening theme tune is that it creates an atmosphere in which you know that they’re throwing the kitchen sink into this story, and everyone’s excited about it. It’s fireworks and cannons and bright lights and razzle-dazzle and AWESOME!

But then you have the ending theme. They end - not on the HUGE BLOWOUT theme - but on the simple end-credit theme from the First Doctor’s era. It fits so well with the tone of the ending of the story - you could almost imagine this being a TV story: You’re sitting in front of your TV, having enjoyed this feast of sights and spectacle, but are slowly reminded of the show’s humble-yet-brilliant beginnings. The original Delia Derbyshire theme playing it’s haunting melody as you imagine the screen flashing through black-and-white scroll of the credits (which would be a lot longer than the average Hartnell-era cast and crew list, but you get the idea). And you’re back to where everything started. Which is what the 50th Anniversary is supposed to be celebrating.

There are some great interchanges between the eras and I don’t want to spoil too much, but I have to make mention of the interactions between the Fourth Doctor and the Eighth Doctor. I love that they have (as much as they can) the oldest Doctor playing off the youngest Doctor. Now, I don’t know if Tom Baker and Paul McGann were actually recording their lines together at the same time or if those audio tracks were mixed in post-production, but it actually sounds like Four and Eight get along splendidly. I never would have pegged those two incarnations of the Doctor as being friendly (it just never crossed my mind), but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked and I could actually imagine Four with his scarf and mess of curly hair working together with the dapper and suave Eight and I just loved it.

As I am wont to do, here’s a list of things that I found absolutely charming -

- When the Sixth Doctor and Peri see the Seventh Doctor and Ace, Six says “That’s a future version of me.” Peri replies, “And a future version of me!” You wouldn’t think Ace and Peri would get along, but they actually do.

- Leela’s insistence on calling Charley “Charlotte.” Leela and Charley worked just as well as Four and Eight did.

- Ace: “Weapons don’t always work.” Says the girl carting around homemade Nitro-9 in her backpack...

- Five and Nyssa. Just... Five and Nyssa. All of their scenes. Their placement within the story is one of the most masterful things I’ve seen Big Finish do in the history of ever! I will love them until the end of all things and no one can convince me otherwise.

Of course, everyone was curious how in the world they were going to get the First, Second, and Third Doctors into this story. And I have to say, Big Finish carried it off in the best way they possibly could (and in such a way that gave me “Fangirl SQUEE!” all the way down the freeway - I admit to bouncing up and down in my seat and clapping my hands while the car was speeding along at 70 mph on the freeway. But it was only once - okay, twice - and there wasn’t much traffic anyway) and it’s actually kind of a no-brainer, when you think about it. Especially if you’ve ever listened to any Companion Chronicles featuring William Russell or Frazer Hines and heard their performances of the First and Second Doctors, respectively. Sure, you’re fully aware that it’s not actually William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton, but there’s a little bit of audio wizardry that goes on that makes it okay. And I’ve never heard Tim Treloar before (at least, his name wasn’t familiar to me), but his Third Doctor was really great and I have nothing but high praise for it. So, yay Big Finish for using the resources you have!

Now, it’s me you’re talking to. And you might be wondering (or you might not be) - how was the story, oh She Who Loved Story Above All Else. And I will say this - even though this was a multi-Doctor and multi-companion full of whizz-bang and flashing neon lights and pure awesomeness - the story was top-notch. Nary a plothole remained after all was said and done and everything was explained to my satisfaction. And there was even a little emotion to bring it all home (there’s a little moment at the end when the Third Doctor says something to Sarah Jane - and you know darn well that Elisabeth Sladen would be in on this thing if she were here to do it - that’s just about when I lost it). The story was full of happy moments and sad moments and poignant moments and funny moments - everything that Doctor Who has been to so many people in the past 50 years. It may have not always been on the best terms with the audience, but the audience kept coming back. And even brought a few new friends along the way.

Thumbs up, five stars, 10-for-10, standing ovation - whatever ranking system you want to apply here, it applies. Big Finish lived up to their name and gave us all a cracking good story to help us celebrate and honor the show we love so much. And when the adventure is over, echoing through all time and space, are these simple words -

“Come along. Back to the TARDIS.”

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 11.2 - Winter is coming (direwolves not included. Darn it).

Previously -
Review 11.1 - While Greater Love Lies Further Deep

No comments:

Post a Comment