Big Finish Folly, Part 116a – Stage Fright (Last Adventure: 3), by Matt Fitton
The Doctor takes Flip to Victorian London, to visit his old friends Jago and Litefoot, and discovers that Henry Gordon Jago is feeling rather flush – his entire theatre is closed for a private hire! But the man treading the boards is no ordinary actor – re-enacting all of the Doctor’s regeneration scenes so far, with the help of local talents, is one Mr Yardvale… With Flip called in as an understudy, it could be time to draw the curtain on this performance, and there’s unlikely to be an encore…
It ought to be a genuine pleasure to be in the company of Big Finish’s elder statesmen (am I allowed to call them that?) for this episode of the Last Adventure. After all, the two special adventures – Voyage to Venus and Voyage to the New World – were absolutely corking, essential listens, and the J&L series itself goes from strength to strength. So by rights… but no, not entirely. The setting is right, the dialogue is there, the characters are drawn in the right shades of post-Dickensian (and pre-Holmesian) drama, but here Jago and Litefoot are playing second fiddle to the Valeyard’s scheming. Flip is adventurous, in peril, and manages somehow to save the day as she is on the very brink of failing (again, completely in character, as her arc bears out, but if you haven’t heard Scavenger yet I won’t spoil things), but Jago and Litefoot feel as though the spotlight isn’t really shining their way during this particular play.
If you were to take our intrepid duo from the cast it wouldn’t suffer without them, and I think that’s the nub of the problem. Venus and New World relied on Jago and Litefoot reacting to events, their perceptions and roles as companions of the Doctor driving the plot as much as the Doctor’s presence itself did. Stage Fright is far more about the Valeyard; it’s a transitional episode that carries the overall plot through from the second episode to the finale. As an author (of epic fantasies, natch) myself, I can tell you that this is a standard problem with any series that is spread over three or more episodes. The middle section always loses some kind of impetus as it transitions between set-up and finale. (Note that I don’t include the main range itself in this diagnosis because those stories are meant to be split in four; I’m meaning here those arcs that are split into separate stories. Make sense?)
We do however get the Valeyard’s hatred for the Doctor – and this incarnation of the Doctor in particular – reinforced, amplified along with the Valeyard’s own powers. This will be important next time around.
So in total? Not the greatest adventure, but definitely the penultimate adventure…