Oh no! What have I done to offend Mr Simon! Not only has he tried to explode my namesake the BIG TENT, now he has ASSASSINATED my Daddies on page 169 of "Short Trips: Time Signature"!
Perhaps I had better stop Daddy Richard from writing rude things about the Big Fish audio adventures of Dr Who!
This up-and-down series of radio adventures continues to prove something of a roller-coaster: after last week's run-of-the-mill yarn, this week returns another high.
What starts off as an intriguing – and charming – garden party mystery evolves swiftly into a grand tragic love story.
Joining the Doctor and friends part way into an adventure is a rare but not unheard-of move for Doctor Who, though clearly the unsubtle continuity announcement from BBC7 clearly felt that this might be beyond some listeners.
Delightfully, it is companion Lucie who is leading the charge. Developing much along the lines of Rose Tyler, Lucie has evolved into a prototype time agent herself, aggressively confronting the villain where once she wouldn't have been bothered. In return, the Doctor now shows great confidence in her to sort out bad guys, look out for herself and uncover mysteries wherever he sets her down.
Here she is up against Doctor Zimmerman, a gentleman time-tech thief. Well, not so much of a gentleman actually, as his use of the Time Whip proves, and he seems most ungallant in his plan to leave fair Lucie – and the Doctor, of course – on a crashed timeship under attack from vortex dwelling Tar-Modowk. Still, he is played by Nigel Havers and so sounds as smooth as butter on glass.
Contrary to what Barney may say in "Beyond the Vortex", Doctor Who, particularly from Big Finish, has done love stories before: not least "Immortal Beloved" just two weeks ago, but also don't forget "Arrangements for War" and "Thicker than Water" with the sixth Doctor and Evelyn.
A much better unique selling point for "No More Lies" is that this is a story about a villain who has been redeemed. Thirty years, the love of a good woman, a happy life have all worked on Zimmerman to make him give up his hunger for money and power.
But have they actually made him a better person, or has his innate selfishness found a new way to express itself? Again reminiscent of "Immortal Beloved", we have to ask: is doing the wrong thing for the best of reasons – to save a loved one – perhaps justified. Or is it still an act of selfishness, the product of the desire to keep the loved one rather than accept the loss.
The other actors in this little romance are Rachel, Zimmerman's human wife, and Gordon, her brother.
Julia McKenzie turns in a startlingly mature turn as Rachel, both wise and kind and also full of warm humour. Zimmerman – Nick – has told her everything and she is remarkably quick to put the pieces together from the little hints that Lucie gives her.
Gordon is played by famous Doctor Who face Tom Chadbon, whose warm and reassuring tones suit the concerned brother down to the ground. And, charmingly if you recall "City of Death", he gets to punch the bad guy at the end all over again.
Rachel and Gordon are both in on Nick's secret, but we should remember that there are other guests in their perpetual garden party. They are not the focus of the story, in fact it would unbalance it to focus on them, but it is still a shame that they're only there to provide background chatter and to be victims when the monsters arrive. These people are certainly the most victims here – trapped in a bubble of time even before they turn out to be red shirts! At least the Doctor remembers and decries their deaths.
The monsters too are undeveloped, and again it is surely to keep the play best focused on its emotional core, because clearly there has been some thought put into how the Tar-Modowk evolved, and how their history affects their motivation. They become rather more of a sketch, necessary to perform a plot function but not quite given the room to flower into something more. It probably doesn't help that the "big growly voice" that they've been given makes me think of them as rather like the Garm. Sorry!
On the other hand, good use – or rather re-use – is made of that great "screaming Vortisaur" effect already in the Big Finish archive.
Now, I've been caught by this sort of seeming continuity reference from Big Finish before, but it seems that there was a hint here that these adventures with Lucie take place after the eighth Doctor's travels with Charlie: the Doctor recalls having once had a pet Vortisaur, surely a reference to the time "Ramsey" the Vortisaur was aboard the TARDIS during the first "eighth Doctor season" ("Storm Warning" to "Minuet in Hell").
Of course, previously we had the reference to "Sam" in "Minuet in Hell" suggesting that the Big Finish adventures where in the future of – at least some of – the BBC's eighth Doctor novels. (Which they would have to be, since Terrance Dicks went and made "The Eight Doctors" follow on directly from the eighth Doctor's one televised adventure.) But then along came the giant retcon pen of doom, rewriting that reference from "Samantha Jones" into "Samson Griffen", merrily decoupling everything. Sigh.
Still, that's no fault of Paul Sutton, the writer here.
I suppose I had better mention the incidental music, since Tim did say hello to Millennium last week. Tim Sutton, eh, could they by any chance be related? Hello back, Tim! And the music is lovely. Julia McKenzie has a beautiful singing voice and it’s appropriate that Rachel tugs at the heart with her melancholy Hungarian love song, before it trickles into the incidental score for the rest of the play and winds itself around your heart and brain.
For once, I didn't think that the fifty minutes was enough – I would have enjoyed hearing more of these people, delving deeper into the background of the Tar-Modowk, and perhaps we could have taken another turn around the time loop… but then when one of the themes is knowing when to say goodbye, perhaps it was better to leave us wanting more.
Next time… Lucie has been headhunted, but will she be looking to upgrade her new situation? Just what is it they are providing in "Human Resources"?