The Light at the End (Australian Review)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 November 2013 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

The Light at The End
Produced by Big Finish
Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: November 2013
“But you’re not the Doctor!”
“Oh but I am – the definite article you might say!”
Charlie Pollard meets the Fourth Doctor, The Light at the End

With The Day of the Doctor almost upon us, fans’ expectations as Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary draws closer is reaching pressure cooker proportions. Fans are fickle beasts most of the time but there is little doubt that on 23 November, the 50th anniversary will be all about the new TV serial. They will all but forget the other Doctor Who spin-offs honouring the parent series’ milestone – the audios, books, comics and short stories will all pale by comparison.

It is for this reason that Big Finish undoubtedly chose to launch its own tribute to the 50th anniversary – The Light at the End – a month early so that the story could have some oxygen, free of the very celebrations of which it is a part. However, when you consider all the publicity about this release, it has from the outset been deliberately low key. That is probably the right approach, especially for someone like me (who despite writing this review) is a little fatigued by yet another multi-Doctor reunion.

I have to admit that I was never going to reserve for The Light at the End the kind of baited breath that I have for The Day of the Doctor. There are numerous reasons for this. The first, of course, is that Light was always going to be a fairly predictable multi-Doctor reunion. Yes, it marks the first time Tom Baker has actively shared the limelight with the other Doctors (I don’t count Dimensions in Time! No one damn should!) so perhaps that is extra cause for celebration. However, that small landmark aside, Doctor Who spin-off fiction over the last 30 years has literally done multi-Doctor team-ups to death – and mostly not very well (there is a good reason why the TV series only does them sparingly). Occasionally, there are standout efforts (such as the Missing Adventure Cold Fusion, Big Finish’s own Project: Lazarus or IDW’s The Forgotten) but the majority of these stories have been average at best (Big Finish’s Sirens of Time and The Four Doctors) or atrocious at worst (Uncle Terrance’s The Eight Doctors). It definitely takes something – and often someone - special to do a multi-Doctor story that is clever and innovative.

The Light at the End at least gets a pass mark but is average all the same. Nicholas Briggs delivers an adventure that will never be hailed in the annals of Doctor Who as a classic – or even as a classic of the Big Finish audio range. It is a relatively simplistic story at its heart and it never really tries to be daring or ambitious, whether with its premise or its characters – which is perhaps its saving grace. Although the story throws the Doctor’s first eight incarnations and numerous companions together, Nick Briggs does not allow it to get too bogged down in the series’ continuity. Instead he focuses on a fast-paced, workmanlike tale that resists being a Five Doctors-style extravaganza.

Aided willingly by a new race of arms dealers called the Vess and inadvertently by a bunch of rogue and incompetent Time Lord agents, an earlier version of the Master (brilliantly portrayed as ever by Geoffrey Beevers) finally obtains the means to wreak his ultimate revenge on the Doctor. No dark Doctors, no Time Wars, no Dalek and Time Lord armies to be seen here! The Light at the End is an almost simple, plain (dare I say dull?) and traditional Doctor Who adventure.

There isn’t really a lot of intrigue in this story. The exception comes at the half-way mark of the narrative when we encounter poor Bob Dovie. His story is chilling – the atmosphere in his home as the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa investigate his plight is sinister and frightening and you cannot help but sympathise for an ordinary man whose world has been shattered by the impromptu, random appearance of a police telephone box (in a manner similar to the Eleventh Doctor’s arrival in Amy Pond’s garden in The Eleventh Hour). Despite what the back cover blurb of the CD sleeve may say, the story is not solely about Dovie (although it could have been a so much more interesting, disturbing and darker tale if it had been).

Where Briggs succeeds is in his characterisation and plotting. He manages to spread the action around the different Doctors and companions relatively well – this would be no easy task yet the changes to the listening experience are almost seamless and flow smoothly. One moment you’re listening to the Eighth and Fourth Doctors striving to stop the TARDIS from self-destructing, the next you’re listening to the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa investigating the source of the mysterious anomaly that has brought the Doctors together. The Seventh Doctor and Ace are then escaping from intelligent mud (yes, you read that correctly!) and the Sixth Doctor and Peri are back in the TARDIS averting near disaster. There is no doubt all the to-ing and fro-ing is dependent on a deep knowledge and understanding of the conventions of the TV series and of the audios. A casual listener – or at least someone only familiar with the modern series of Doctor Who – would be utterly flummoxed trying to follow what is happening.

All of the major players in this story acquit themselves well – Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (the “incumbent” Doctor in this tale, as it begins and ends with him and companion Charley Pollard). Tom Baker’s Doctor is surprisingly muted, especially considering the commanding presence he had at his peak. Perhaps this is down to Tom’s age but his Doctor seems a lot mellower than he was during his era and even in his recent Big Finish adventures. He also doesn’t take charge of the other Doctors (as one might expect) – it is actually Colin Baker’s Doctor that unravels the mystery and marshals the other Doctors in the climactic stages of the story (which pleases this Sixth Doctor fan immensely). From the exchanges in dialogue between the two, McGann clearly enjoys the pairing with Tom. Indeed, he revealed at an Australian convention earlier this year that he found working with Tom fascinating - showing that even a veteran like McGann can learn a new trick or two from Tom’s wily old dog.

There are some memorable exchanges between the different Doctors which show a different side of our favourite Time Lord’s vanity. For example, the Fourth Doctor has a predictably aghast reaction to the Sixth Doctor’s wardrobe:

Fourth: Do I really end up with such a terrible sense of fashion?
Eighth: Says the man in the impractical scarf! It’s all a question of taste, I suppose.
Fourth: I suppose that would explain your Wild Bill Hickok costume!
Eighth (As if he’s only just considered his attire!): Hmmm ... Most people think it’s something to do with Byron!


Obviously all of this is written with lots of subtle in-jokes and asides to the fans. The Fourth Doctor’s claim to be “the definite article” not only repeats a remark he made to Harry Sullivan in his debut story Robot but recalls the similarly emphatic declaration by Richard Hurndall’s First Doctor in The Five Doctors that he is “the original you might say!” Even the Sixth Doctor’s compliment of his immediate successor as a “charming fellow” is a knowing wink for long time listeners of the Big Finish audios – it shows how much the Big Finish version of Colin Baker’s Doctor has matured from the aggressive TV persona which looked down his nose at his second incarnation in The Two Doctors.

The first three Doctors cameo in a manner that is eerily reminiscent of The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors (sadly, it seems the real life universe abhors too many Doctors in anniversary stories!). It is heavily implied that they are also working behind the scenes to assist the later Doctors, although their participation in the tale is conveniently stifled by temporal interference. William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar provide sound caricatures of the Time Lord’s first three incarnations (they’re not really accurate recreations). It’s a pity Briggs could not have given them more to do in the narrative but I suspect with so many Doctors and companions, this would have been stretching a relatively one-dimensional story far too thin.

As it stands, this tale predictably renders the Doctors’ various companions redundant. Louise Jameson and Sophie Aldred as Leela and Ace respectively get the best treatment in the story – most likely because of their more dynamic and action-driven characters – and their meetings with the other Doctors are memorable (Ace in particular makes a great foil for the Sixth Doctor!). Nicola Bryant (Peri), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and India Fisher (Charley) all make the most of their limited roles but otherwise would not have been missed.

My greatest disappointment with this audio is the climax. I’m reluctant to talk too much about it as I will give away a major spoiler but it employs a deus ex machina that I personally loathe and which I consider a cheat, a cop-out and downright lazy – especially from an experienced writer like Nicholas Briggs. Nevertheless, the epilogue with the hapless Bob Dovie provides some light relief and some reassurance to a disappointed listener.

The Light at the End is inevitably a sentimental, entertaining romp from Big Finish that was always intended to celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. It doesn’t really offer anything groundbreaking to the Doctor Who mythos (not in the way I expect The Day of the Doctor will) nor even to Big Finish’s own corner of the Whoniverse. But then again it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not either. What you hear is pretty much what you get! If you’re a keen follower of the classic series and enjoy hearing the Doctor’s different incarnations butt heads, then you’ll be pleased. But if you want something with more gravitas for the anniversary, then you’re better off waiting for The Day of the Doctor.





The Light At The End (US Review)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 28 October 2013 - Reviewed by Lani Smith

The Light at The End
Produced by Big Finish
Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: November 2013
The Light at The End was built up for quite some time as the true Doctor Who fan's 50th. Where many seemed fit to ignore the majority of the show's time, Big Finish, as per usual, decided to do quite the opposite and revel in the past. They wanted to do a proper 8 Doctor story, shattering the previous televised records (which was essentially held by The Five Doctors, which, despite its name, had about 3 and a half Doctors).

However, this sort of thing had been attempted by Big Finish before with Zagreus. Zagreus, for those who are unaware, has something of a rather unfortunate reputation about it. The common narrative surrounding why Zagreus flopped so immensely was that it simply had too many Doctors and returning cast members. Indeed, for the long-term Doctor Who fan who defends the upcoming rather New-Who-Centric televised 50th, Zagreus was always a go-to example for the age-old proverb of "Too many chefs spoil the broth."

Challenging this narrative, however, is The Light at The End which, thus far, has received a warmer and much more enthusiastic response. The question here is why? Why did this succeed where Zagreus failed?

Put simply, The Light at The End understood what it was. It was a celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who. Where Zagreus tried to expand upon the universe, in often very interesting ways, it was bogged down by narrative, rather than filled with celebration. When Zagreus was properly celebrating Doctor Who, as-in the rather brilliant recasting decisions, it shined. When it went on about exposition and nothing happened, it failed.

The Light at The End fixes this problem. Before we go into this, I should describe what a beat is. In directing and scriptwriting a beat change is a moment when the perspective of a character, or the audience, shifts in relation to a scene. For an example of one of the most famous beat changes in film history, look to Star Wars Episode V and the infamous "Luke, I am your father" line. Both Luke and the audience, in this moment, had their perception of events change entirely. Beat changes are directly related to the pacing of a piece and are vital to understanding why Zagreus failed where The Light at The End succeeded.

In essence, it saw that the core problem with the previous anniversary celebration was that it relied on glacial, or nonsensical, beat shifts. In Zagreus, the beat shifts never came quickly enough, often relying on people talking and the situation remaining static for huge swaths of time. Likewise, following the intense and emotional beat at the end of Neverland, the story made a nonsensical shift towards the humdrum as the protagonists trapsed about the TARDIS calmly for an hour. It was jarring and made little sense in context of the previous beat.

The Light at The End has no such problems. The beats come quickly, they land well, and they keep the two hours flying by. It felt dynamic, exciting, and fun. The script is also cleverly edited and every single scene, except one short scene with The Master gloating to himself, has a clear intention and purpose. The script does not waste your time as a listener, which is vital.

But, I'm sure you are all wondering, how the script holds up with so many cast members? Well, this is rather brilliant actually. The various Doctors and companions are split up into teams, much like The Five Doctors, and each has their own largely separate stories (that come together well at the end). We see about three or four groups form, which by definition makes the vast cast more manageable. However, due to the nature of The Master's plan, the various companions eventually flicker out of existence, delivering a much more manageable cast as time goes on. But, of course, not before delivering some amazing character interaction with some great combinations. Who knew that Charley and Four could get along so well? It's certainly a combination I would never have imagined working. Or what about Ace and Peri? Or, most tragically, Seven and Peri. As the script goes on, the groups form and the companions drop off, so that the cast actually becomes quite manageable with each group having their own basic section that is laden with Doctor-interaction dialogue. Four and Eight were the highlight for me (and a combination I hope to see much more of someday!), but there was plenty here to like. The “too many chefs” argument falls absolutely apart when the chefs are being overseen properly by both an experienced scriptwriter and, more importantly, an experienced editor and director.

It should also be said that there were some other moments of brilliance with the handling of The Doctors and the large cast. Firstly, and most impressively, the first three Doctors actually have rather a large role – with tons of lines! I was incredibly impressed with this, only expecting Big Finish to give them lipservice and some reused lines from their televised time. However, they got a spot-on impersonator for Three, returned Frazer Hines's Two, and possibly used the wonderful William Russell as One. The interaction between One, Two, and Three is a joy to see and it's wonderful to see how they interact with some of the later incarnations that they have never really gotten a chance to meet in the past. Secondly, it was nice to use the script to allow some “time bleeding” and enable the other companions that were not featured prominently to have some one-liners. We hear Tegan, Susan, Zoe, Jamie, and plenty of others. Even if it wasn't for long, it was still nice for a celebration to bring them all back for that.

One thing you'll notice in this script is that the script compliments the complications inherent in the casting. Mainly that the script and the story allows for the script to simultaneously expand the cast without allowing it to become unwieldy (the one-liner ghostly visions), while also allowing the cast to shrink and become more manageable as the plot goes on.

That said, the script is also necessarily quite simple in nature. The purpose of the script was not to tell a good story, or even a remotely compelling one, but to celebrate the years and the characters that have made the show what it is. One will not come away from this script thoroughly impressed with the plot as in something like Jubilee or Farewell, Great Macedon. The plot is secondary to the celebration here and, in reality, that is precisely what is needed for a good 50th celebration. If one puts too much focus on the plot, as in Zagreus or likely the upcoming televised 50th, the focus comes away from what made the show great in the first place and the characters that helped craft it. This is the one time of the decade when it is fully appropriate, and even ideal, to look back fondly instead of looking forward. And that's where the script shines. It delivers exactly what is needed – tons of character interaction and lovely combinations of Doctors that we would never get to see any other time of the year. This includes the first time we really get to see Four interact with any other Doctor or companion (Tom Baker is an absolute joy here, by the way). It's got enough references and returning characters that any long-term fan will be positively thrilled, but it's a simple enough plot that anyone with a basic understanding of who The Doctors are and what their personalities are like will enjoy it as well. For the casual fan and the dedicated one, there's plenty here to enjoy.

Oh, and get the Limited Edition. Trust me – you'll want to hear it all. There's so much content there.

(You can check out more of Lani's Big Finish and Doctor Who reviews at http://who-reviews.com/dwnews)




The Light at The End (UK review)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 25 October 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

The Light at The End
Produced by Big Finish
Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: November 2013
“You know, old girl, sometimes I think you’re probably the finest ship ever to have sailed the Vortex.”

It’s a scene that has played out before our eyes a thousand times- a wearied, eternal time traveller verbally caresses his ship, readying it for a new adventure in the fourth dimension, his gentle care for its complex machinery as unyielding as his faith in the human race. Even after fifty years, however, depending on the talented British thespian cast in the role, this subtle, familiar sequence can still feel fresh, each incarnation of the Doctor developing a unique relationship with his TARDIS and yet at the same time rarely deviating significantly from the established status quo. The Light at the End, Big Finish’s spectacularly ambitious 50th Anniversary Special, similarly lays its foundations in the familiar, what fans have come to expect of the ‘classic’ era, then rapidly subverts those preconceptions in order to tell one of the studio’s most captivating narratives yet.

That the Special’s scribe, Nicholas Briggs, can find the time to craft a cohesive and engaging storyline at all is in itself a notable accomplishment. The prospect of integrating each of the first Eight Doctors, their companions and the ever-villainous Master into one delicately structured drama must have been daunting enough, even before the need arose for the plot to neither ignore nor become too dependent on the programme’s legacy. Briggs is careful in the latter regard, not shying away from throwbacks to 1963, The Three Doctors, Logopolis, The Eleventh Hour and other landmark moments in the show’s history, but simultaneously ensuring that the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth incarnations of our titular hero each have their moment to shine, to remind the listener why this iconic science-fiction drama continued to survive and thrive with them at the helm.

Inevitably, this balance of nostalgia and narrative cohesion which Briggs has struck won’t please everyone. Anniversary tales can often be something of a double-edged sword, in that many fans (perhaps rightly) want as many elements of days gone by to be referenced or have a physical presence within the episode, whereas others desire a storyline which pushes the boundaries of the show’s storytelling. While Briggs fulfils both of these desires to an extent, at the same time he arguably fails to completely excel in either regard. The Daleks, the Cybermen and plenty of companions are barely name-checked here, a stark departure from the nostalgia-fuelled ‘glory days’ of The Five Doctors, and equally the justified blockbuster-esque storyline brings little in the way of heartfelt emotion or dramatically challenging content, falling short of the heights attained in recent televised episodes such as Human Nature and The Doctor’s Wife by some distance.

All’s not lost by any stretch of the imagination, though, for where The Light at the End falters at times in the execution of its audacious Anniversary narrative, it more than compensates the listener with its stellar cast ensemble. Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann each capture the essence of their respective Doctors perfectly, the sheer brilliance of each of their incarnations demonstrated masterfully without the need for CGI or extensive make-up to cover up the age which these five men have gained since their last televised appearances in their role. Try as some fans might to contest against the notion, it is impossible to overlook the unmistakable fact that were these five Doctors to have appeared on-screen in The Day of the Doctor through new rather than archived footage (the latter eventuality all but inevitable), their bare resemblance to their appearance in the 1970s and 1980s would become all too apparent within moments of the viewer catching sight of them. Here, in an audio medium, fans new and old can remember the first eight Doctors in a guise purely rendicative of their original selves and thus worthy of the esteemed thespians who maintain their loyalty to the show decades on from their departure. To paraphrase a much-cited lyric, you can’t always get what you want, but instead, sometimes, you get what you need.

Of course, such as fans would also expect from a Special of this prestigious, rare ilk, the Doctors aren’t alone in their battle with an old foe. Louise Jameson’s Leela, Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa, Nicola Bryant’s Peri, Sophie Aldred’s Ace and India Fisher’s Charley all join their respective incarnations of the Time Lord, and for the most part they all provide substantial contributions to the wider narrative, even if at times that boils down to a nostalgic rendezvous between old friends and adversaries. Fisher is arguably the most short-changed supporting actress of the piece, relegated to a brief appearance alongside McGann in the opening scenes and a diminished return in the drama’s final moments. Other than that odd case, though, the ‘gals’ find plenty to do here, and not one of them finds themselves reduced to pantomime- screaming while tumbling down a relatively harmless incline, for example- which is always a positive omen in this reviewer’s book.

If only Geoffrey Beevers were so lucky. Returning to the role of the Master in his pre-Logopolis decrepit guise, Beevers’ portrayal is overexaggerated, shallow and dictated by superfluous dialogue which does nothing whatsoever to broaden our perspective on this iconic antagonist. Whereas Steven Moffat no doubt aims to challenge the viewer’s assumptive preconceptions of the character of the Doctor in The Day of the Doctor, it appears in this case that Nick Briggs has simply aimed to cast the Doctor’s arch-nemesis in a purely nostalgic light, neglecting to add any layers of depth in his construction such that Beevers is forced to rival Eric Roberts’ TV Movie portrayal for unreservedly outrageous expressions of evil.

What does prove to be an additional distinctive trait is Briggs’ direction of his own piece. Over the course of Light’s two-hour running time, listeners will ‘visit’ 1960s British homes, pocket universes, various TARDIS control rooms and plenty of other diverse settings, and whether through the eclectic soundtrack or the manner in which Briggs structures the dialogue and exposition, there’s rarely a chance to become lost in terms of where events are taking place in spite of the whistle-stop tour on which the narrative takes us. If this particular special release is anything to go by, then Briggs should definitely consider taking up joint scripting and directorial duties on a more frequent basis.

Like any Doctor Who Anniversary Special before it (indeed, Dimensions in Time knows this better than most), The Light at the End has its share of shortcomings. Like the majority of celebratory episodes that have preceded it, though, this is a drama which is worth the time of any fan, regardless of whether they were present at the time of An Unearthly Child’s broadcast or only just began to tune in with The Name of the Doctor this Spring. This isn’t the most original, stirring or effective instalment of Doctor Who by any means, yet it revels in its familiarity, in taking the scenes we’ve witnessed playing out a thousand times over and putting a glorious new spin on them.

For too long, uncompromising ‘fans’ of the show have lamented the impending absence of the first eight Doctors in next month’s celebratory movie- their focus should always have been on Big Finish, the only studio possessing the ability to bring these timeless characters back to life with no visual blemishes of age or otherwise. Steven Moffat surely knew that he would never even need to resurrect the classic Doctors for his Special- they’ve received their own, spectacular 50th Anniversary epic in The Light at the End, an adventure which does greater justice to the pre-2005 legacy of Doctor Who than a nostalgia-burdened televised outing ever could. It inspires wonder, awe and mystery, just as the show always has, and encourages us to remember how those same feelings came from a mere trip into a near-abandoned junkyard housing a strange blue box half a century ago- after all, that’s how it all started.