Tuesday, 2 October 2012
Audio Play: Doctor Who - The Chimes of Midnight
An odd and creepy tale by playwright Robert Shearman that benefits from some clever direction from Barnaby Edwards and a great score from Russell Stone. Set in an Edwardian house peopled by servants who keep dying and then coming back to life again, the play borrows maybe a little too much from Shearman's last offering The Holy Terror but is still one of Big Finish's most effective and enjoyable plays up to this point.
The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard (Paul McGann and India Fisher) arrive in the scullery of a large deserted Edwardian house. Odd things are happening: jars that smash are then found reformed and names written in the dust disappear. Why can the pair hear voices in the deserted house? The Doctor is worried - something is wrong with time. Suddenly the travellers find themselves in the same house but populated by servants, including Edith the maid, Mrs Baddeley the cook and Shaughnessy the butler. Why are they so accepting of the sudden appearance of two strangers? Why do they behave in suich repetitive and ritualistic ways? And why does one of them die every hour, when the clock chimes only to reappear alive the next time the hour strikes, replaced by the death of another servant? The Doctor fears that unless they solve the riddle soon, they might end up a permanent part of this macabre game too. Above all, what has this all got to do with Charley?
If you think about the plot for too long the whole artifice crumbles, with its tall tale of a house that has become sentient that is living through the constant manipulation of its occupants. Best just to not think about it and soak up the atmosphere. Shearman excels at making you laugh one moment and shudder the next and there are moments that are genuinely creepy and disquieting. I certainly wouldn't want to listen to this one last thing at night. This ability to turn the everyday and comic into the horrific is so very Doctor Who, with a plum pudding being used to suffocate the cook and the chauffeur run over by his own car. Shearman has fun with the Upstairs Downstairs pastiche but manages to make us sympathise with the servants nonetheless, especially the reveal that Edith the maid later becomes Charley's cook when she was a child and whom Edith loves because the young adventuress was kind to her. Once again it is suggested that the Doctor saving Charley from the R101 (back in Storm Warning) has damaged time in some way. Let's credit Big Finish here - four years before Russell T. Davies was being acclaimed for bringing in story arcs, the audio company are pioneering it here with Charley's story. The Chimes of Midnight is a great addition to the range.
GK Rating: ****