Big Finish Folly, Part 152 – Night Thoughts, by Edward Young
‘I warn you, things could get very nasty here before they get better.’
A remote Scottish mansion. Five bickering academics are haunted by ghosts from their past. Reluctantly they offer shelter to the Doctor and his companions Ace and Hex.
Hex, already troubled by a vivid nightmare, is further disturbed by the nighttime appearance of a whistling, hooded apparition.
Ace tries to befriend the young housemaid, Sue. Sue knows secrets. She knows why the academics have assembled here, and she knows why they are all so afraid. But Sue’s lips are sealed, preferring to communicate through her disturbing toy, Happy the Rabbit.
And then the killing begins. Gruesome deaths that lead the Doctor and his friends to discover the grisly truth behind the academics’ plans, and as the ghosts of the past become ghosts of the present to recognise that sometimes death can be preferable to life.
Um. Somewhat inevitable I suppose, that after the summit of format-bending drama that was LIVE 34 we come down to earth (and indeed Earth) with a bump. The Doctor’s warning, quoted in the line at the top, has an unintended second meaning. Tonally we’re still following in the footsteps of the previous plays, from Colditz onwards, the line between life and death very slender and sometimes not at all clear. Companions face constant physical peril in a way that they never did in the TV series (despite the cliffhangers and the shadow of Adric), and are regularly wounded, especially with sharp implements. You’ll see more of this in the next few as well.
But that’s not the problem with Night Thoughts, which at its heart is a story about the perils of trying to change the past and meddling with dark forces wot man shud nevva mess wiv. Returning from the dead, terrorising island-bound academics who all have guilty secrets, unlocking the secrets hidden within the mind of a disturbed young girl, uncovering the bodies – sure, all in a day’s work for the darker end of Doctor Who, but all this is done in the manner of a nasty ’90s horror film or ITV drama serial rather than, say, the gothic horror of a Tom Baker/Hinchcliffe Who like Fang Rock or Weng Chiang. The drawn out killings, intended to chill, grate on the senses. The whistling killer overstays their welcome. The device of using a recording of the Doctor’s voice to entrap characters is lumpy. The guest cast – including Bernard Kay and Joanna McCallum – feel like they’re not entirely happy with their characters. Everything about the play feels artificial – and yes, I do know this is fiction, this is Doctor Who, time travel isn’t real etc etc etc, but I’m talking about the suspension of disbelief, which I can’t make kick in.
There’s a good story stitched up in the belly of the beast, so to speak, but I don’t think it’s the one that made it through to final release. Night Thoughts would have been quite perfect as a solo Doctor adventure, a quieter, spookier piece on the potential perils of sending warnings back to the past, rather than signalling itself up as a zombie/killer feature that never quite decides which side of the fence it wants to land upon.