Written By: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor); India Fisher (Charley Pollard); Louise Rolfe (Edith); Lennox Greaves (Mr Shaughnessy); Sue Wallace (Mrs Baddeley); Robert Curbishley (Frederick); Juliet Warner (Mary)
Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016
This deluxe vinyl edition of The Chimes of Midnight follows on from the story being voted the best of Big Finish’s main range in their 2015 poll (runner up Spare Parts will also get the vinyl treatment next year). The release is limited to 500 copies and comprises the original story and a brand new retrospective documentary spread across four discs.
As noted above, The Chimes of Midnight has been voted the best of Big Finish’s main range, and I’m not going to argue with this. Chimes is one of those Doctor Who stories where all the elements come together to create something truly exceptional. The writing, performances and production are pretty near faultless.
Putting a Doctor Who spin on classic TV shows Sapphire and Steel and Upstairs Downstairs was a clever choice by Robert Shearman. From those inspirations he tells a story which is both darkly funny and genuinely moving, skewering the injustice of the British class system in the process.
This is a story all fans of Doctor Who should own, and demonstrates not only the best of Big Finish, but one of the best Doctor Who stories in any medium.
The move in format CD to vinyl has resulted in some unavoidable modifications to the story. Instead of the original CD’s four episodes, this edition is split into six parts of around 20 minutes each. Rather than ending on a cliff-hanger, each disc finishes at a convenient (usually dramatic) point in the dialogue. It’s better to think of this as a compilation spread across six sides than as a six episode version, although I suspect some purists may miss the original cliff-hangers.
The fourth disc in this collection contains a brand new documentary looking back at the production. We’re fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the start of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range and it’s great to see the company celebrating their history. The audio releases have been a significant part of the Doctor Who landscape for nearly two decades, and it’s nice to see them getting some more in-depth exploration.
The documentary rounds up a broad range of contributors to Chimes’ creation, and conveys they sense that the story’s success was in part due to the coming together of the right people at the right time. Along with writer Robert Shearman, director Barnaby Edwards and the Big Finish producers, we also hear from sound designer Andy Hardwick and composer Russell Stone. Hardwick and Stone give a wonderful insight into their craft, and it’s great to see these (sometimes neglected) areas getting the attention they deserve.
For me the highlight of the documentary is the interview with Robert Shearman, in particular his discussion of discarded ideas for the story, and an audio tour of his own house (which inspired the story’s setting).
The one thing that feels missing from this documentary is a contribution from the cast. It would have been nice to hear Paul McGann and India Fisher’s take on The Chimes of Midnight’s continuing popularity but it’s a minor oversight in this excellent piece.
The Chimes of Midnight is a Doctor Who classic of the first order and is essential listening for fans. The documentary accompanying the release is a fascinating insight into the story’s creation, which brilliantly captures the context of the time it was created.
This release is a limited edition of 500 at a premium price, so it’s a shame that it will have a small audience. Hopefully the documentary will get a wider release at some point. If Big Finish have plans to explore their back catalogue in future such releases it would be great to see some cheaper downloadable options, alongside premium, physical releases like this.