Big Finish Folly, Part 115 – The Fourth Wall, by John Dorney
Disturbances between dimensions bring the Tardis to Transmission, the private domain of media mogul Augustus Scullop. Mr Scullop’s empire however, is on the brink of collapse. He needs his new show, Laser, to be a resounding success. Wit the help of some purloined alien technology that allows the fictional show to play out for real from a bubble dimension, it may be just that. But wait… strange alien tech, industrial espionage, over-sensitive actors, and Porcians hell-bent on death, destruction and domination even though they’re too inept to get one out of three? Just goes to show that even here you can’t make this shit up…
I will be talking a big spoiler – you may not wish to read further.
It’s one that requires careful attention from the listener, this next Sixth Doctor adventure. Most of the cast are playing actors (a lot of them bad actors) who themselves are playing characters in the show Laser. When those characters step out of the screen and start running riot through Transmission, they interact with the actors. Martin Hutson in particular gets to carry a couple of scenes by himself. Breaking the Fourth Wall turns out to be the least of Scullop’s problems.
It’s nice to meet an alien race that, like the Grel, aren’t actually very good at their chosen profession of galactic conquest. The Porcians do shade over the line at points into father/son Pigs In Space-style comedy (and I can’t avoid seeing Chimbly as Link Hogthrob, which rather nullifies the supposed effect of the Warmongers that the Porcians were employed to play), but they do get harshly treated by the Doctor, who blames them for Flip’s death.
Eh? Flip’s death? Hold on, she’s only just got into the Tardis…!
But yes, Flip, stranded inside the Laser programme by the same odd quirk of dimensional gymnastics that brought the Tardis to Transmission to begin with, is shot by the evil Krarn at the end of episode two, expiring in horrified disbelief while the Doctor literally can do nothing but watch. That’s a brave cliffhanger, and it does make it difficult to want to carry on – it’s a large hurdle to jump. If the intention is to show that Big Finish’s invented companions risk the kind of mortal danger that the likes of Peri, Ace and Nyssa just don’t, then it works, though it’s a pretty bloodthirsty way of showing it (and without getting too spoilery, BF have already shown their colours in this regard during the McGann run, but we’ll get there ourselves in good time…). And it’s one thing to make this sort of threat, but another entirely to renege upon it at the end of the play – this being a very knowing sort of play, it goes the whole hog (snerf!) and lets the Doctor introduce a very hammy (arf!) deus ex machina to save both Flip and the day.
So while the peril is well presented, well paced, and very real to everybody (including the invented characters), there’s a bit of a reset button issue that doesn’t quite do it for me. I’d give this less than a star per wall, but for Martin Hutson’s performance as the multiple Krarns and the riffs on poor narrative logic in James Bond films.