Ton up! The Folly has hit 100 posts! Well, technically we’ve already reached that milestone, thanks to the necessities of having to fit in Davison & Baker tales that came out after we’d passed them in the chronology, if you see what I mean, but still – this is post 100, excluding all the timey-wimey stuff!
Big Finish Folly, Part 100 – The Doomwood Curse, by Jacqueline Rayner
Who’d have thought that attempting to return a book to a library would cause an entire timeline to collapse in upon itself? Not the Doctor, and certainly not Charlotte Pollard, who has come across the aforementioned overdue gothic romance in the Tardis Library. But when the book is damaged, the hunt for a pristine first edition replacement becomes a desperate race against time to prevent the legendary outlaw Dick Turpin from reaching the gates of the city of York – where Charlotte Pollard will meet her end…
I’ve heard that some people can’t actually finish this story – some even think that the second two episodes are from a different story altogether. Some people are strange. The Doomwood Curse is actually an entertaining contrast to the previous entry in the chronology – where The Condemned was concrete, high-rise and Northern, The Doomwood Curse takes itself far less seriously and (stands and) delivers a fresh and frothy mystery while at the same time herding gothic romances down a darkened alleyway and giving them a damn good tickling.
Remember that Jac Rayner was responsible for Dr Who and The Pirates! – in which ol’ Sixey murdered Gilbert & Sullivan while Evelyn Smythe was forced to endure the torture of an innocent cabin boy. Jac Rayner also adapted Oh No It Isn’t! from Paul Cornell’s novel – she has a track record in pasticheing popular culture, and she does it exceedingly well. So when the Doctor’s visit to the country house of Sir Ralph and Lady Sybil suddenly turns into a trope-laden romance, filled with curses, tombs, long-lost sisters and a poisoning… well, it’s very well done. The supporting cast (including Hayley Atwell, who veers from breathless Austen to sensible Austen with the snap of the fingers) are all game for it and over-act and over-emote to the hilt.
Of course the plot gets more twisty than that – the titular “curse”, which is really Grel technology attempting in a very binary fashion to make fact from fiction, thrashes through the time period like a mutating virus, turning Charley from herself, into a long-lost sister of the family, and then into Dick Turpin’s gypsy accomplice. This is the part where I suspect less literary-minded listeners threw in the towel. India Fisher is plainly loving every minute as the gun-totin’ gypsy outlaw, while the Doctor has to follow in her wake with only a bouquet of rosemary to keep the “curse” at bay.
The second half of the play is silly, but not overly so – and it does follow on logically from what has gone before. There’s even – my god! – a song about the virtues of Dick Turpin’s horse Black Bess.
While Charley’s off pretending to be someone else, the Doctor still isn’t too sure who she really is. Charley just about manages to keep her wits about her, never quite giving away the fact that she knows her way around the Tardis, but the Doctor doesn’t entirely trust her. Some of that nuance gets lost in the pace of this play, but to be fair Big Finish are playing a much longer game with Charley and there’s still time for it all to come out…