Big Finish Productions
The Condemned

Written by Eddie Robson Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2008

Starring Colin Baker

Synopsis: Manchester, 2008. The TARDIS lands inside a run-down tower block, beside a dead body - which leads to some awkward questions when the Doctor is found there by the police. Made the prime suspect, how can the Doctor prove to the no-nonsense DI Patricia Menzies that this is not the open-and-shut case it seems, and that she's actually investigating the death of an alien?


A Review by Brian May 9/1/14

The Condemned sees Big Finish make an admirably bold and audacious move, shaking up the long-standing Eighth Doctor and Charley team, replacing the former with the Sixth. Now, I've slackened off in my listening, not having heard any Paul McGann/India Fisher audios since The Creed of the Kromon, so I'm not eligible to comment on whether this partnership was getting stale and needed such a change. But it seems neither actor was preparing to leave, meaning that Fisher believed she was destined for a forced departure, and was only informed of Charley's continued adventures during the recording of her final story with McGann.

So it's effectively a Doctor/companion introduction all over again, but this series has been fortunate enough to have strong, well written stories for these occasions. The Condemned is no different. Eddie Robson's script is a clever and multi-layered one, with sharp dialogue and some skilful interweaving of scenarios. The characters are great, especially when you think they're going to be genre cliches (i.e. British police and crooks) but end up being nothing of the kind. There is a nice blend of humour and horror, the former typified by Charley's cultural fish-out-of-water status, particularly her interactions with Maxine over curries and her hilarious phone call to the police. The notion of clandestine aliens on Earth "recommending" Dr Aldrich's services to their friends is also chuckle-worthy. The horror elements are dominated by the scenes when Charley is on the phone to Sam; and believe you me, they're creepy. It gets even creepier as Charley enters the basement. In a great use of the audio medium, an everyday telephone ring becomes a terrifying sound (and just you wait until episode three when they ring en masse!). David Darlington's score underpins the mood most suitably; the foreboding tinkles as Charley and Sam talk, so too the brooding crescendo that brings the third episode to a close, which in particular reminds me of Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch's usual composer.

There's a clever appreciation of subtlety in the script. A case in point: the story's two major deaths aren't even heard, only mentioned after the fact. (I'm not sure how to describe it: if this were a TV serial it'd be "off-screen"; a book, "off-page"; a play, "off-stage". I suppose as it's an audio play "off-sound stage" might be the best way to put it.). The performances are all very good. William Ash should get a special mention as Sam, so too Anna Hope as the sarcastic DI Menzies; she and Colin Baker work together extremely well.

As a combined suspense thriller and murder mystery, The Condemned works. I hope Robson wasn't earnestly trying to make this an allegory about urban decay, social alienation etc, for if he was then I'd have to deem the play to be not so successful. The condemnation of Ackley House and pending evictions are just plot points and elicit no "statement"; go to Paradise Towers, despite its faults, for the social commentary. Oh, to turn negative for a moment, the cliffhanger to part one is dreadful. For part two, there is an awkwardly inserted moment of random peril, with a resolution that allows the writer to show off some fanboyish knowledge. (To any newbies, lapsed or forgetful fanboys, check out The Mind of Evil). He tries to weave it into the greater story, and thus justify its inclusion, but doesn't quite pull it off. However, part three's ending is brilliant!

Whether the introduction of Charley into the Sixth Doctor's timeline was in the script from scratch or inserted at a later point is immaterial. Either way, the outcome is the same: a very enjoyable tale that stands up well to repeated listening, combined with the beginning of what promises to be an intriguing story arc. 8.5/10