That latest trilogy with new companion Constance Clarke leads naturally into the first story in the box set that details the Sixth’s Doctor’s previously unseen regeneration into Sly Seven. I was in two minds about covering this as part of the Folly but, well, in for a penny, in for a pound, so to speak. It’s not like the chronology isn’t already complicated beyond comprehension – the Sixth Doctor is splattered all over the vortex like an n-dimensional Jackson Pollock. What I’ve done is try to locate each piece of this particular box set in appropriate parts of the timeline, with varying degrees of success. You can judge my efforts against those, in a more complete fashion, of Craig Brawley in the (somewhat elitist) Big Finish Listeners group on Facecrack.
But, on with the show!
Big Finish Folly, Part 106d – The End of the Line (Last Adventure:1) by Simon Barnard & Paul Morris
The 8.15 is late. As usual. But in an infinite universe, with infinite possibilities, somewhere there’s an 8.15 that made it on time. But that means there’s also an 8.15 lost in deep fog, onboard which the passengers are busy killing each other… Guess which 8.15 the Doctor has just found…
This is an absolutely cracking opener. Trains, fog, a station with an ever-expanding number of platforms, multiplying realities, alternate versions of the passengers, dead bodies – it’s difficult to keep the spoilers out of it, but there aren’t many of the Doctor’s enemies who would be using this sort of setting to destroy/control the universe – and this time, though the Doctor doesn’t know it, the Valeyard is actually on his side.
Michael Jayston’s manipulative “Dark Doctor” is here to shepherd ol’ Sixey down the line to this incarnation’s eventual demise, but I guess he has to make sure the Doctor actually gets there first… But a lot of this subtext isn’t necessary to really enjoy the play. An hour is just enough to keep this frantically-paced locomotive on track without the sort of meandering and delays suffered by British Rail (or one of the modern sub-franchises – privatisation sucks, y’all). With that cut-down running time however – which will become an issue in a couple of episodes time – the supporting characters are reduced to broad brushstrokes. Of the stranded passengers, Anthony Howell’s Tim Hope stands out most, Howell keeping muted and confused rather than playing over-the-top. Hamish Clark’s Norman is also brilliant.
Barnard & Morris cleverly evoke timeless English railways stations while at the same time giving the setting some real menace. If you’ve ever been stuck in fog outside Coventry then you know exactly what this looks like. There’s also some properly dizzying handwavium and quantum physics shenanigans, which is what Doctor Who is very good at, as well as sideswipes at the human condition and a distant echo from the next station along of that long-lost British apocalyptic TV series The Last Train. If you could listen to this one on its own, I’d recommend you go out and buy it now. As part of The Last Adventure, it certainly gives the other three stories something to live up to.