The tinsel and lights are down and packed away for another year as the Christmas/ New year holidays are swiftly running out. The most-watched tv moment of the festive period appears to be Matt Smith’s final bow in The Time of The Doctor. I have enjoyed his performance over the last three years for its emotional range- although I have found some of the wackiness forced and tiresome and the sexualised and sexist aspects of the character quite inappropriate.
Steven Moffat orchestrated the fall of the Eleventh with less sentiment than his predecessor did for Tennant. Smith gave a performance of great dignity and poignancy as the Man Who Stayed for Xmas- an increasingly elderly, Hartnell-esque Doctor defending a human settlement against the armed forces of his enemies, prophesied since 2010.
I was also touched by the final and fitting appearance of Amy Pond although I felt it was heavily and annoyingly implied that space nun Tasha Lem might be another incarnation of her daughter,”bespoke psychopath” River Song. (“Lem” being “Mel”(s) in reverse…). Clara’s to-ing and fro-ing in time was anticlimactic and frustrating, as was her hapless admission that she was attracted to Eleven. Still, it was the Impossible Girl’s impassioned ( if illogical) plea to the Time Lords (revealed as the true prisoners beyond the Crack in the Wall) that kickstarted the Doc’s new cycle of regenerations. Yes, there was only the flimisiest of stories and one that felt stretched to fit the running time but Moffat resolved some of his dangling plot threads- even if it was in exposition. He also gave us a glimpse of the intense new Capaldi Doctor- who appears to have failed to retain his memories, despite Eleven’s promises.
There seemed however to be a disconnect with The Day of the Doctor, the 3-D Golden Anniversary extravaganza beamed into cinemas and front rooms across the planet, a mere six weeks ago . Time felt less satisfactory to me than Day; less satisfying still is The Light at the End. This is the 50th Anniversary special audio play from Big Finish productions and it features all four surviving “classic” Doctors in a struggle with the Master. The renegade is played again here by the silkily malevolent Geoffrey Beevers. Each of the Doctors is assisted by a recurring audio Companion- Leela, Nyssa, Peri, Ace and Charley Pollard. There are also cameos by surviving Companions of the Sixties and Seventies. As if that weren’t enough, the first three Doctors are all vocally impersonated – unfortunately, William Russell’s First Doctor isn’t as convincing as the version Peter Purves has delivered. I also felt it unfortunate that Maggie Stables did not have a cameo as BF’s first original audio Companion: cocoa-loving academic Evelyn Smythe .
The plot of Light is a thin one: the Master infiltrates a trade show run by alien arms dealers and sets a trap for the Doctor in the home of an ordinary mortal in November, 1963. This domestic and tragic aspect of the play is the most successful; the team-ups between the old Doctors are nostalgic but scarcely dramatic. It’s the equivalent of a child’s action figure battle on Xmas Day and the play could have been condensed on a single disc. Given that Big Finish employ the slogan “We Love Stories”, it’s frustrating when that story is a secondary concern to the event itself. (2/5)
Exactly the same can be said of The Five Companions. Here, the usually-inventive Eddie Robson delivers a series of encounters between Five and biochemist Nyssa with a handful of Sixties companions – Ian, Steven, Polly and a revived Sara Kingdom. The Daleks and Sontarans provide the peril.This was the subscribers free gift of December 2011 but it’s essentially plotless and is a fan-service tie-in to 1983’s The Five Doctors. (1/5)
A third audio play I listened to while travelling in December was Prisoners of Fate. Jonathan Morris had cornered the market on “timey-wimey” Who stories long before Moffat. This audio sees the climax of a long-running subplot in which a much older Nyssa is reunited with her offspring. She has finally obtained a cure for the space plague – the mission on which she embarked back in Cobwebs ( Jul 2010). This is a long and complicated story about time paradoxes, involving a rogue Tardis and its milieu seems inspired by Minority Report. I found it unmemorable but the ending is poignant. (3/5)
Much more satisfactory was Heroes of Sontar by Alan Barnes. An earlier installment of the Nyssa arc, it parodies legendary sitcom Dad’s Army as its premise. A squad of comedy Sontarans- the senile veteran, the doom-monger, the dim new recruit- find they have been dispatched on a suicide mission as offerings to a gestalt entity known as the Witchguards. Alongside the black comedy, Nyssa is infected by parasitic lichen and the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough undertake hazardous journeys on – and above-a poisoned planet. I’d definitely award this one with five Talmars.
Coming along in the next few weeks: The recovered 1967 adventure The Enemy of the World and the audio Lost story, Lords of the Red Planet.
All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners