I’m massively behind on this blog at the moment; this tends to happen when I’m on holiday. But I’m still driving forward through to the end of the Colin Baker era, and there’s not far to go.
Big Finish Folly, Part 125 – Catch 1782, by Alison Lawson
Visiting Mel’s uncle, Professor John Hallam, to join in the centenary celebrations of The National Foundation for Scientific Research, should be little more than a walk in the park for our dynamic duo. But things quickly go wrong as the Doctor spots a time distortion, a time capsule that shouldn’t have been there turns up in the grounds, and Mel herself disappears to visit some strange relations she never knew she had. The real problem is that if she leaves, she might never have been born at all…
What starts off as being a light, slight tale of paradox and genealogical whimsy quickly becomes a little more sinister. There are no real villains in this story – no Cybermen, no Master, no Daleks or mind-devouring psychic parasites anywhere within range – but Mel’s predicament is nevertheless very real, and very well written. The plot itself feels very true to 18th Century literature – here are points of honour, love, madness and class, which primitive notions of medicine and mental health cannot resolve.
Our nominal antagonist, Henry Hallam, is not a bad man as such, laced into an emotional straitjacket by his inability to mourn the death of his wife. His housekeeper is similarly hamstrung, her jealousy over Mel’s presence warring with her own feelings for Henry. Doped to the gills with laudanum to quell these queer notions of time travel (a lovely, unenlightened method of dealing with “hysteria”), Mel hardly knows when or where she is, and is on the verge of agreeing to Henry’s proposal of marriage if only to ensure that the web of time is secured. Like I say, it’s a veritable confusion of motives and desires, one that the Austens and Brontes would surely have loved.
Quaint it maybe, harking back to much earlier periods of Doctor Who, but Alison Lawson helps to prove that you don’t necessarily need the whiz-flash-bang of modern-era Who to tell a good, thoughtful story with characters who progress, develop and change through the course of the play. High stakes doesn’t have to mean world-shattering. And you know what? In this play, nobody dies to progress the plot. Now, that’s good storytelling. I’ve only just realised it myself while writing this, so that gets an extra half a star.