THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Catch-1782

Written by Alison Lawson Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity Between Trial of a Time Lord and
Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford

Synopsis: When the Doctor and Mel visit the National Foundation for Scientific Research as it celebrates its centenary, Mel expects only to be able to catch up with her uncle. She doesn?t expect to meet her own ancestors...


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 31/5/05

I have very rarely listened to a Big Finish audio from beginning to end in one sitting. It's usually two episodes at a time. Catch-1782 was different - because I was so intrigued to know what would happen next!

I really like the 6th Doctor. Thanks to Big Finish he is emerged as probably my favourite incarnation of them all (it was always the 4th Doctor before, who admittedly is much superior on TV!). The 6th Doctor audios to me seemed much fresher and exciting than the new stories of the 8th Doctor. Colin Baker excelled, and in Evelyn he had the perfect foil for his excesses. I have always liked Peri too, but again in this audio it is Mel who excels - thanks to the skills of Bonnie Langford, who is brilliant in audios time and time again.

Catch-1782 is written by a woman, I know my wife will love it. It's evocation of austere country house living, of delicate women there to be adored or to serve their masters' every whims. The talk of pretty dresses and even prettier lawns, it at times feels very Jane Austen-like. However this is hardly a play full of strong women - only two feature at any length. Mel is largely housebound, Mrs McGregor hopelessly in love. The men stride about giving orders, trying to resolve what they perceive the problem to be.

John Hallam, Mel's uncle, is an additional travelling companion for the Doctor here. With Mel trapped in the past, he fulfils the normal companion role - and a jolly likeable chap he is, nicely played by Derek Benfield. With Mel as the central cog in this time paradox machine, it's lovely to see an uncle's concern override all else.

Henry Hallam is the ancestor who looks after Mel in 1782. This is a fascinating character. Full of remorse at first, he seems the most kind-hearted man alive. But then he has moments of coldness and anger - and you're never sure which way he will turn next. I personally felt rather sorry for him. His friend Doctor Wallace is the other Georgian gentleman here. Like Hallam he represents the upper class side of Georgian England. He's hardly the quack doctor, but you can't help but feel his character is rather one-dimensional. He rather quickly turns round his opinion of the Doctor too, rather conveniently for the plot.

It is the Doctor and Mel though who dominate, as it should be. This is Mel's story, with lots of men flitting around trying to do what's best for her. Her trip back in time seems to be paradoxical, but the explanations just about ring true by the end, even though it is hardly the temporal jigsaws of Steve Lyons. What doesn't quite hang together unfortunately is her recovery time. But then a story needs to be told, and as opposed to a book there is no time to stay with the repercussions of Mel's anguish. The Doctor remains ebullient throughout, and at times seems rather callous to Mel's plight - but then this could just be confidence in being able to solve Mel's conundrum. Mel doesn't seem to blame him in any way, even though many a companion of the Doctor would have.

The evocation of 1782 is pretty well handled. The Georgian era was not too great for women, and that is accurately depicted. The country house locale was also nicely portrayed, with constant birdsong adding tranquillity throughout.

Overall I really enjoyed Catch-1782. It's a little unrealistic on the Mel emotional side, but it's a nice old-fashioned, rather quiet tale with a Doctor Who time paradox thrown in. Alison Lawson is a name I would love to see again on these dramas. 8/10


Seductive... by Joe Ford 13/6/05

Whilst I will never be swayed from my opinion that Evelyn is the ultimate companion for the sixth Doctor I am growing increasingly fond of his adventures with Mel. Their two stories on the telly revealed a genuinely watchable chemistry, with further exploration cut short by Colin Baker's unfair dismissal. Big Finish have once again taken a forgotten thread of the series and given it a more thorough examination and the results have been fascinating. Turns out the combination of Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford (to some the most blatant expression of woeful miscasting in Doctor Who) shines and their work together has yielded three very good stories and fans bandying for more. Return in your mind to a time before The Fires of Vulcan when fans were horrified at the thought of Mel returning and it is obvious we have much to thank Big Finish for with her character.

Catch-1782 features Bonnie Langford's best performance in Doctor Who and thanks to a script that gives her the opportunity develop her character beyond its sketchy beginnings she delivers the sort of performance we all knew she was capable of. There is lots of meat for her to get her teeth into... her reunion with her uncle, her abduction in time, her desperation at being trapped in the past, her mental illness and finally her reaction to John's proposal... all good, dramatic material. She felt like a genuine character here, which is odd because she spends most of the play as Nell and I was quite shocked at how much I wanted the bubbly Mel back. The highlight of the play was at the cliffhanger to episode two, Mel suddenly realising she is trapped in the past with no way of letting the Doctor know how to find her. A daunting prospect and beautifully portrayed by Bonnie. Equally touching is her reunion with the Doctor when he sees how she has been "treated" in the eighteenth century and unable to rescue her, as he cannot break his disguise. Her quiet "Don't leave me here..." is heartbreaking. I never thought a genuine character drama could be built around this Doctor/companion combination but Alison Lawson has pleasingly proven me wrong. I only hope Big Finish capitalise on the groundwork here and use them in more "straight" dramas in the future.

It is a good thing that the Doctor/Mel character work is so refreshing because the actual plot of the story leaves a little to be desired. It is one of those self-contained time travel stories, which drops a few clues in its early scenes that have to be followed through in later instalments. There is nothing actually wrong with the plot but it is pretty easy to join the dots and as soon as you realise Mel has travelled back in time it is fairly obvious who she will become. There is no real struggle to make sure the timeline is preserved, it sort of falls into place fairly easily with everybody happy at the climax. As such it is probably one of the lightest Big Finish stories in some time without being a comedy, but I am not criticizing it as such. Sometimes it is nice to switch the brain off and enjoy a good atmosphere and fine performances and on these scores Catch-1782 is one of the best releases in a good while.

I remember grumbling to Simon when I picked this CD up from the BBC shop. They had this, Her Final Flight and the first instalment of the Gallifrey series ready for me and guess what? All three were directed by Gary Russell! Is Big Finish going through a director's strike or something? However much like his superb work with The Game two months ago, this is an exemplary effort from Russell, a million miles away from his slapdash approach to last month's Dreamtime. This is a truly evocative soundtrack with some of the very best sound design Big Finish has ever delivered and anybody who has followed their releases from the beginning will realise that is high praise.

The National Foundation of Scientific Research is set in the midst of wintry blizzard. The whistling wind and gusts of snow are highly atmospheric and inside is even better, muted conversation, a mewing cat and an extremely memorable TARDIS materialisation. But when the story pops back to 1782 the story sounds even more authentic, the chimes of a grandfather clock, gorgeous birdsong and general domestic goings-on all combine to create a believable picture of eighteenth century life. Russell has clearly spent a good deal of time on creating his environments and a beautiful score from Andy Hardwick only adds to the already fine production values. A story without horrid monsters and arch villains demands a quieter, more realistic approach and that is exactly what we are given and it manages to be one of the most convincing soundscapes yet.

It is a simple story that puts its characters first and as such they are some of the more memorable in a while. Derek Benfield delivers a decent performance as Mel's Uncle John, the sort of solid, reasonable chap that doesn't appear in Doctor Who because he is so unremarkable. He makes such a good friend for the Doctor and their investigations into Mel's disappearance makes for good sleuthing. But it was Jillie Meers and Keith Drinkel who excel in this story, playing out the unrequited romance between Mrs McGregor and Henry Hallam. Both play their characters with subtle nuances that makes them far more interesting than your average Doctor Who supporting cast. Drinkel's Henry is always on the verge of his breakdown, his vicious temper bubbling to the surface at unpredictable moments and Meers' McGregor distances herself from Mel because of her raging jealousy and there is the constant impression that she would wants to strangle her whilst she is being polite and friendly. The scene where Mrs McGregor reveals her feelings to Henry only to have him violently rebuff her should be embarrassing melodrama but thanks to some quality writing and great performances it is unexpectedly touching, proving just how much you care for these people after such little time.

I cannot help but wonder something more could be done with the catch-1782 situation with Mel forced to stay in the past thanks to her being a part of established history. It is a fantastic idea and a great title for the play but is dismissed by the Doctor soon after Mel expresses the notion. Again it felt like she escaped the situation a little too easily. Perhaps this is one Big Finish Doctor Who release that deserved extra running time to explore its concepts a little more. However maybe it isn't such a good idea to dwell on the fact since Mel has had time-travel worries in three of her six stories so far (the TARDIS in the aftermath of Pompeii's destruction in The Fires of Vulcan, her timelines-altering personas from Flip-Flop and now invading her own family tree in Catch-1782) and is starting to become the living embodiment of why you shouldn't travel in time!

A seductive release then, thanks to the stunning direction and performances. I cannot think of the last time I relaxed and let a Big Finish wash over me so totally without being tied up in mad plot details or endless padding. This is a pleasant character tale and one of the more enjoyable releases from recent years. And for Bonnie Langford it is her most important story to date.

Thumbs up.


A Review by Ron Mallett 21/6/05

How ironical, what must be the weakest premise for a Big Finish story ever is given to perhaps the strongest combination, Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. Written by Alison Lawson, this rather odd little adventure which sees Mel thrown back through time to 1782, wherein she is drugged and salivated on by one of her ancestors is more laughable than spooky. The incidental music seems forced and some of the performances are that arch they wouldn't be out of home in Ghost Light!

I'm a big fan of Colin and Bonnie, but this just proves a combination is only as good as the material they are given to work with. The cliffhanger where the Doctor self-consciously declares that they must leave Mel behind to save the web of time is really cringeful. The fact that he changes his mind himself a little while later assuring Mel that it's okay to come home after all, although it's clear he should have realised that before he makes it all seem more like a badly written soap opera than a serious sci-fi audio play.

I think Alison Lawson needs to take up writing Mills and Boon and leave Doctor Who to those who know what constitutes a real adventure. If anything else it's dull, and only fans will listen to more than the first 5 minutes. Sorry, but it's a turkey!


More Like This, Please by Mekel Rogers 5/7/05

It's so nice to experience a Doctor Who adventure that doesn't have to have a death or an explosion every five minutes to compensate for a lack of plot.? Could it have something to do with the author's gender?? Maybe, maybe not, but the story is much better for it.? This exploration into Mel's family history is both a period drama and a character study with a temporal plot twist for good measure.

Colin and Bonnie are fantastic together, and Langford has once again done an excellent job in turning the character of Mel into a real person as opposed to the one-dimensional screamer from much of her television tenure.? The supporing cast is also impressive, particularly Keith Drinkel who comes off as compassionate and haunting at the same time.

Nice touches are also peppered through the story such as Jupiter the cat, and the Mendelssohn background music.? Details such as these establish a wonderful ambiance and are often overlooked by less talented authors.

As a big fan of historicals (and Colin Baker), this audio had me hooked from the cover, but I was also very pleased that the story rose to my expectations.

Bottom Line: Quiet, reserved, and well done.


A Review by Brian May 25/9/12

Catch-1782 is a nice little story. It's slight, undemanding and passes the time pleasantly. It's almost a ghost story, but not quite, despite the main inspirations being the gothic and romantic genres, what with the tale of a haunted house, a mysterious portrait and the themes of obsessive and unrequited love.

The acting is all good. It's perhaps Colin Baker's most underplayed performance as the sixth Doctor, but wholly appropriate given the back seat he takes in the story. Mel has been written with more care, as has been the case with her previous Big Finish appearances, so Bonnie Langford once again has some proper material to act with (and against). The guest cast are all fine.

There are a few areas with room for improvement. The means to propel Mel back to 1781 is rather silly; being sent there just by thinking about the period is more than a contrivance! The time paradox is quite interesting, but its resolution is simplistic and convenient, while the final escape lacks any sort of tension whatsoever. But for a debut feature, Alison Lawson has produced a reasonable effort. Catch-1782 isn't fantastic, profound or groundbreaking, but isn't trying to be. It's aiming to entertain, and it succeeds.

That's about it; slight stories beget slight reviews! 7/10