Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 10/16/17 11:22 am
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In The Outliers, by Simon Guerrier, the Second Doctor and his crew arrive on an asteroid in the year 7691 that's being mined by a crew, led by Richard Tipple (Alistair Petrie). But upon their arrival, the four discover that people are disappearing left and right, swallowed up by something lurking below the water. Involving themselves with the case, the TARDIS crew will be forced to go up against monsters both under the water and above the surface. The Outliers is a delightfully creepy story that doesn't really pull any punches with the story its trying to tell. A lesser story would've copped out at the last part of the story, but Guerrier sticks to his guns and crafts an excellent Doctor Who story that shows what happens when humans are the invaders. Both Anneke Wills, with her steady narration and excellent performance, and Frazer Hines, with his strong dual performance, stood out as parts of the main cast, while guest stars Elliot Chapman, Alistair Petrie, and Matilda Ziegler were highlights of the guest cast. Guerrier's script was an exceedingly creepy story, enhanced by some excellent sound design and music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, telling a rather gruesome tale filled with greed, loss, and, of course, aliens.
Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines are the main cast members for this story, reprising their roles as Polly Wright and Jamie McCrimmon, respectively, from the TV series. Wills has been having an excellent year as Polly; from her excellent appearances in June's Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02, and her great performance in last month's The Early Adventures: The Night Witches, she's slowly having just a brilliant year in the role, and that's frankly due to the excellent performances she keeps churning out, and her performance here is no exception. She has slowly emerged as an excellent lead for these stories, taking charge, in contrast to her time on the TV series often. There's an excellent scene where she manipulates Matilda Ziegler's character into letting her see Ben and Jamie, only to go and escape with them almost immediately after. It wasn't an unexpected turn of events, but Wills still sells the hell out of it, making a plan to escape, and taking on the "Doctor" role of the story from that point on. Combined with her steady narration, Wills shines throughout this story. That's not to say that Hines didn't do a great job as well. His Jamie is still impeccable, having lost none of the charm, even if his voice sounds inevitably older. His impression of Patrick Troughton falters a bit here and there throughout the story, though it's still really damn good. I've found myself particularly liking the chemistry that Hines has with Chapman, as the two seem to share an easy, ribbing relationship through their characters throughout the story. The opening scenes where Chapman and Hines trade little barbs really helps the story to shine, giving it a bit more realism, in my opinion.
The guest cast for this story was a delight, with every member of the cast standing out in some way. Elliot Chapman is the highlight of the guest cast, starring as Ben Jackson, a role originally played by Michael Craze in the TV series. Chapman does an excellent job as Ben; his performance is as close to perfect as you can get, capturing the excellent intonation and accent of Craze well, and keeping an excellent rapport with Wills and Hines throughout the story. I particularly liked his performance at the end of the third part, as he leads the expedition down to the lake to confront the monsters, as he runs the gamut of emotions throughout that scene. Alistair Petrie and Matilda Ziegler also guest star in this story, as Richard Tipple and Chatura Sharma, two members of the mining crew. Petrie is an excellent villain of this story, playing a rather uptight leader, solely devoted to money, only to have everything crumble down in the end. His final scene, his back and forth with Hines and Ziegler, as it's explained that his plan will never succeed, is a highlight, as you can feel the desperation slowly creeping into Petrie's performance. Rounding out the guest cast, Ziegler also shines as mining worker Chatura, a reluctant ally to the Doctor. The character didn't really come into her own until the back half of the story, especially with Ziegler's performance as she effectively switches sides, going against her boss to help Polly, Ben, and Jamie go try to find the Doctor. She's excellent from that point on, and her quiet contemplation at the end, as she wonders why the monsters chose to spare her, is a quietly excellent performance.
Simon Guerrier really outdid himself with this story, writing an exceedingly creepy story, but also one that doesn't really hold back. One of the darkest aspects of the story comes from the fact that these aliens are kidnapping people, and they slowly build up, kidnapping more and more people as time goes by, culminating with the entire TARDIS crew swallowed up by the end of the third part. Going into the final part, my fear is that Guerrier would reveal that everyone was safe and sound within the belly of the beast, or hiding in a cave underneath, and that the miners were the bad guys all along. Well, I was partially right there; the Doctor and company were safe in the belly of the beast, and the miners were the bad guys. But Guerrier gives a satisfying explanation for why the TARDIS crew and Chatura were all saved, while also showing the gruesome reality; in an effort to understand the species, the aliens killed several humans, leaving only the five who didn't want to destroy the alien menace, but rather those who wanted to understand it. This story is essentially a reverse alien invasion story, the Doctor, his friends, and the humans, all arrive somewhere where the aliens were first, and start trying to subjugate the inhabitants. It's a powerful message, and I'm extremely pleased that Guerrier didn't pull any punches, deciding the fate of the mining crew.
Beyond that aspect of the story, I really liked how the story was built. It was a very creepy story; the scene at the end of the second part, where the Doctor asks what the creatures want, and the aliens echo his own voice back it him to say, "want you", right before they drag him under the water, was extremely unsettling. I was listening to it when it was dark out, so I think that enhanced it a lot, but it was just one of the creepiest things I've heard. A lot of the credit for the creepiness of the story goes to sound designer and music man Toby Hrycek-Robinson, who really crafted an unsettling atmosphere for the story. Things sound unsettling, with drips and an almost claustrophobic design to the music and sound effects throughout the story really give a sense of being trapped with a horrific menace. The characters too, throughout the story, were extremely well written. Regulars like Polly, Ben, and Jamie were written faithfully to the characters, while Guerrier also added his own personal spin here and there, especially with the rapport between the TARDIS crew. The guest characters too felt like interesting, full characters throughout. The conflict in Chatura's personality throughout the story, torn between her duty to the mining crew and the desire to do the right thing, makes for an interesting emotional conflict that's wrapped up well in the end. Even the ending, usually something Big Finish struggles with, was a well thought-out ending to the story, ending it on a simple note, but one that feels natural to the story. Often times, Big Finish tends to end the story with a bit of a bullshit reason, a deus ex ending, so it's nice to see someone think out a good, simple ending to wrap up an excellent story with a bow.
Overall, The Outliers is a brilliantly creepy story, with a lot of great work by all the players involved with the story. The cast was on rare form in this one, with Anneke Wills turning in another excellent performance, as well as a strong performance by Frazer Hines. The guest cast was also quite strong, with Elliot Chapman leading an excellent guest cast with a great performance, while Alistair Petrie and Matilda Ziegler also shined as strong additions to this story. Guerrier's creepy script was an interesting story, revolving around an alien invasion where humans are the aggressors and a supremely creepy alien menace. The story was wrapped up with a bow by the excellent sound design and music work by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, who crafted just a really creepy atmosphere for the story, that did nothing but enhance Guerrier's already excellent story. The trend with both Anneke Wills-led stories, and The Early Adventures range, so far this year, has been rather excellent, and this story is no exception to that. I'm hoping that Big Finish continues to do some more excellent work with both Wills and this range in the coming years.