Big Finish Folly, Part 108 – City of Spires, by Simon Bovey
The Doctor arrives in the Highlands, where the Redcoats are still fighting a brutal war against Black Donald’s clansmen. But there’s something odd going on in this variant Scotland, where the rivers run black, the evil Red Caps tear men to shreds, and the coastal towns have become terrifyingly advanced slave-cities filled with bizarre and dark technology. Wrong-footed, the Doctor needs a friend. And there’s one Highlander in particular he is very happy to see. But Black Donald doesn’t know who this dandified Frenchman is – and a Tardis? What’s one of them, then? Hoots, mon, it’s all kicking off…
This play is the beginning of a longer saga – Big Finish’s now-tried and trusted formula of trilogy story arcs. The observant listener might well have guessed the twist before the end of this first story, though I certainly didn’t guess the meaning of the “black water” that is the Macguffin running through these stories like a narrative river.
Obviously, given Frazer Hines’s name on the cover, Jamie McCrimmon returns to the main range. An older, wiser Jamie, battle-hardened and cynical, he doesn’t recognise the Doctor, and remembers nothing of his time in the Tardis. He still makes for an excellent companion however, despite the Doctor’s frustrated and plaintive huffing and puffing as he attempts to jog Jamie’s memory – Frazer Hines gets a fair amount of action, running, general biffing, and girl-saving to do along the way (and said girl, played feistily by Georgia Moffett, also gets to return the favour). Jamie’s presence is a subtle nod to the eventual destination of this trilogy, but don’t worry about that for now, just enjoy the evolving dynamic here.
Narrative-wise – and again there’s an explanation for this, even if it isn’t presented on a plate – the play jumps about from one place to another, time-shifting forwards to critical points. Very quickly we reach Grangemouth, which has now become a nightmarish metropolis of spires and “oil” refineries, controlled by a vampiric, alien Overlord. (Business as usual then, one assumes) While the denouement is effective and satisfying, there’s still a lot left unexplained, some of which are questions that you’d think the Doctor – especially in this incarnation – would be pinning down and interrogating fiercely. But the plot demands that they move on, and move on they do.
“Effective” and “satisfying” don’t make this a five-star play, unfortunately. I like it, it’s a fun romp, but it’s a bit caught up in its own arc to be entirely enjoyable out of context. Once you’ve heard the rest of the trilogy, you can go back to the earlier stories and work out all the relevant nods and plot devices, and it’ll make a lot more sense with those Easter Eggs unwrapped. (To be fair, I’ve done the same with my own forthcoming novel – there are subtle clues throughout the text that make perfect sense only when you’ve reached the end…)