Reviewed By: TCar96
Review Date: 10/24/17 9:51 am
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Staggeringly enjoyable stuff.
In the Ghosts of Gralstead my one substantive complaint was how derivative many aspects of the serial were and how much of a patchwork it felt. I assumed this was to allow for a safe landing - after all, Nick Briggs always talks about stock plots allow for greater characterisation and make for better introductions. My assumptions (for once) were mostly correct.
Medieval Britain is a period rarely traversed by Classic Who or New Who. When tackled by New Who it's so weak as to not even register as pastiche (Sherwood?) and often when tackled by Classic Who, base under siege stories take those rich centuries and boil them down to dungeons and baddies - The Visitation & the Time Warrior being good examples exploring the Restoration and the middle ages. Alternatively, they're just bad (Kings Demons?). I remember a Peter Davison Big Finish set a century earlier dealing with the Princes in the Tower, and it just leads me to wonder why Classic Who was never able to tackle something that ought to have been so easy for the BBC and fit the studio format so well!
Regardless, it leads to a refreshing environ with plenty of rich, almost panto pastiche in the typically Hinchcliffe vein. Catholics on the rack; ducking stools galore; dastardly puritanical Protestants and Greensleevesesque motifs. It's as 'researched' or grounded in Elizabethan history as Weng-Chiang is grounded in latter Victorian history - that is to say a heightened, half-winking artifice for our characters to muck about in.
And muck about they do! Like Gralstead Tom and Louise sparkle - Tom's voice in particular seems remarkably close to television performances, much more than the prior serial. The Eliza Doolittle dynamic is expanded upon; the Doctor's placed into plenty of hilarious and pithy little situations that for whatever reason, only Tom Baker seems right for.
Personally I didn't find the antagonist derivative whatsoever, without spoiling, this is again typically Hinchcliffian in that the villain is an alien with pretty clear objectives (and a unique conceit) that's been misinterpreted by superstition. Science being indistinguishable from magic, yadder yadder. In their battles and intrigues we have a witch hunt in a Merry English village; tense cat and mouse in priest holes; a ghost story in a country estate; Elizabethan politicking in London; high concept sci-fi dimension hopping and a sail into the heart of the Spanish Armada - providing an absolutely stellar cliffhanger!
My one tiny tiny gripe is that the many threads culminating in part 4 did so in a way that felt a little disparate. There were a lot of emotional gear changes in quite a compressed bit of run-time. Perhaps a second listen will change this - and I'll certainly be listening again. I often binge on Doctor Who across mediums before getting exhausted after a few months, then I have a period of recovery (!) before ramping up again. This is one of those audios that remind me why I love the show so much and why Big Finish are so valuable. One reviewer states this is how Doctor Who should've been upon its return. Could not agree more. I remember reading of an animated Doctor Who project that never got off the ground. If the calibre of this boxset (10 episodes all in all) was maintained for the duration of one animated television series, I'd gladly exchange it for a good 85% of the televised Who we've had on BBC One for the last 5 years.
By a clear mile the most impressive boxset I've yet purchased from Big Finish. Stonkingly enjoyable and will be buying the next few Hinchcliffe productions asap.