THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Creatures of Beauty

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2003
Continuity Between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity.

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring David Daker David Mallinson, Jemma Churchill, The Koteem Nigel Hastings, Michael Smiley, Philip Wolff, Emma Manton, Nicholas Briggs

Synopsis: A planetary ecological disaster. An incurable, disfiguring, genetic disease. Aliens, in breach of galactic law. Nyssa, under arrest. The TARDIS, inoperable. The Doctor, facing interrogation.


Reviews

Very Unsettling by Mekel Rogers 14/6/03

Creatures of Beauty was very disturbing to listen to. I did not come away from it happy, I came away feeling very uncomfortable. However, that was the point.

The format of the story is brilliant in that it starts in the middle and works its way both forwards to the end and backwards to the beginning. The transitions are so clean and logical so that the listener never gets confused. Thumbs up to Big Finish for this original thinking.

Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are brilliant as usual, with Sutton getting many good chances to shine on her own, especially during her interrogation scenes. Davison's character is perfect for this story as the Doctor is trying his best to help the citizens of Veln but realizes too late that he just shouldn't have gotten involved (a common theme in many Davison television episodes). As with each of the Davison/Sutton CDs, the highlights of the story are the ethical discussions between the two on the subjects of getting involved, changing history, the nature of the universe, etc. In this case, the Doctor compares the universe to a painting in a metaphor that is quite disturbing.

On the down side, there are several violent scenes in the story which seem uncharacteristic of Doctor Who. The Big Finish trend towards a darker less optimistic universe over some of the last few adventures makes me uneasy. Violence is needed in Doctor Who to establish realism in the stories, however, the excessively violent scenes in Creatures of Beauty (Veline's suicide and Gilbrook's torture of Brodlik) were needlessly graphic. One cannot ever imagine scenes like these ever appearing on a television episode.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion is both shocking and uncomfortable, yet brilliant. Like the rest of the story, it makes you squirm in your seat. I like being unsettled once in a while, but a steady diet of this will get old. Let's hope that Big Finish is intelligent enough to mix experimental formats such as these with more traditional stories such as Spare Parts and lighthearted romps like The Church and the Crown.

Bottom line: It's brilliant, but it isn't pretty.


A Review by Bob Aylward 28/6/03

This story will likely generate two distinct groups of fans: those that hate the story and those that love it. I love this story and it's easily in my top 3. For those of you that despise Doctor Who with violence you will want to avoid this one.

The story is told out of sequence so it requires some work by the listener to stay focused. Well done background music that conveys an eerie and ominous setting. The jumbled nature of the story-line is realized in the end when a shocking element is revealed. This is not a story which is especially generous to the Doctor and some die-hard fans will loathe this aspect.

Very good performances by all involved. David Dakar is outstanding as Gilbrook, an incredibly sinister character. Sarah Sutton really shines in this story and reveals a Nyssa with more depth than what we saw on the TV series.

Creatures of Beauty is a beauty!


A Review by Richard Radcliffe

This could very well be the most bizarre review I have ever written. I always try to be honest and open with my reviews, and I hope I can describe and put across the changing emotions that beset me during the last week - as they relate to this latest Big Finish Audio production.

I received it in the post as part of my ongoing subscription to Big Finish. I often tape the CD first, turning the volume down, so I can listen to the cassette later. Me and my wife often listen to them in the car you see, or I listen to them on walks on my cassette personal stereo. The 2nd CD wouldn't play though, so I had to send off for another. No problem, the replacement arrived in a couple of days, and I could listen to it all.

I listened to episodes 1 and 2 together, and I couldn't make head nor tail of it. I thought I had put the 2nd CD in and not the 1st, but I hadn't. The Doctor and Nyssa had arrived on the planet already it seemed. There was this brash security bloke, resenting all and sundry, particularly a race called the Koteem. There was disfigured people, there were beautiful people. But it all was out of order, and apparently out of control. I left it a few days, really believing Big Finish had produced their first big failure. I tackled episodes 3 and 4, and felt just as bad. When it had all finished I was totally confused. The events were all out of order still, and I just couldn't grasp what the thing was all about.

Now I usually do these reviews after a first listen, but I couldn't here - it simply wasn't fair. There are only so many times you can say you were confused, before it gets dull. I broke with tradition therefore, and delayed this review. First of all though, after the initial listen, I re-read the DWM Coming Up article on it. It was supposed to be out of chronological order - it was presented as a matter of perspective! Now I had this info (for once DWM came out after Big Finish, or else I would have picked up on this sooner) I was eager to proceed again. Apparently Peter Davison had asked Nicholas Briggs if he had thrown the script up in the air, and presented the story in the order they came down! Nicholas Briggs apparently wrote it in the order we hear it!

Onto my 2nd listen then, and I was sure that I would solve the puzzle this time. I listened to Episode 1, then my wife wanted to hear it too, so I listened to Episode 1 again, filling in the blanks for her (with clever use of the pause button!) - I was getting clever about this, and felt quite smug about understanding it. We listened to Episode 2 together, the initial confusion diminishing all the time. I knew what this was all about! My wife went out, and I simply couldn't wait - I had to listen to the 2nd half immediately. I did, and it was wonderful.

I really got into the perspective that Briggs was trying to portray. All the characters were alive and totally relevant for the drama. I didn't like them all, but I understand them. Most of all I understood the overall story - allowing me to go deeper into the motivations on show, the essence of the production. The Doctor had seemed sidelined on first listening, now he was an integral part of the presentation. My eyes were open, and Creatures of Beauty became so much more than I had originally expected.

Seeing as Nicholas Briggs practically did everything on this CD, apart from act in it, I have to give most of the credit to him. A big slap on the back in his direction then! The way each piece of the puzzle is revealed, and then twisted at the end, was quite brilliant. The eerie music providing one of the most effective backdrops to the action (Briggs has this medium down superbly) DW has ever brought us.

Each and every character has a strong reason for inclusion - all are brilliant in their roles. David Daker, as Gilbrook, stands out more than most, he sounds unlike anyone else on these audios, and I am all for them employing distinctive voice actors in these plays. His hatred of the Koteem, and pursuit of the truth was wonderfully obsessive. His assistant Grodlik isn't quite as driven, but portrays more than his fair share of nastiness. With companion Nyssa all his best scenes are in Episode 1. Sarah Sutton is splendid in her highly charged role. Jemma Churchill as Lady Forlean is equally as impressive, but for very different reasons, as is her assistant Quain. The guards Seedleson and Murone give an everyman approach to events, but then Veline shreds expectations completely. Each one is vital to understanding the play, each one is brilliant in their own huge or small way.

Creatures of Beauty has to be listened to at least twice, don't give up on it after 1 listen. The perspective approach, as opposed to the chronological approach demands this. Please do give it more of your time, you will be glad you did. I am tempted to give it full marks, but for that initial confusion (which was considerable) it loses a point. 9/10


A matter of perception by Joe Ford 16/8/03

Dost me ears deceive me? Was that actually a very good Peter Davison led Big Finish adventure? Yee-hah! After two veritable stinkers (the shallow and repetitive Church and the Crown and the dull as dishwater Nekromanteia) the walking celery stick chalks up a winner and by jove it's about time!

There are lots of things to commend this story for but first and foremost I must put in a word for Nick Briggs, the author. Before I discuss his excellent script I must point out how very underated his work has been in Big Finish. Embrace the Darkness was, like this, highly atmospherice and interesting and his work at the helm of both Dalek Empire series has been nothing short of genius. He gave the metal meanies a new lease of life in the new millenium, he gave us back the end of story cliffhanger that Doctor Who used to thrive on and what's more most of his post production work (oh my, have you heard Jubilee?) is astonishing. So a big thumbs up for this very talented man.

What a delicious script he has written here. I just love it when Doctor Who manages to surprise me. The show has the most changable formula and yet annoyingly has a gang of writers and directors who loved sticking to the 'traditional' flavour... arrive, get captured, escape, get told the evil plan, foil it, leave... it's such a bland formula and plagued the show for many years. But the stories that try something different (episode one of The Daleks... a little character tale before the story kicks in, Eye of Heaven, telling the story from Leela's point of view, The One Doctor... dismantling the show for a bit of a laugh...) are the ones that really impress me.

Nick manages to do something very clever with the narrative of this story, so clever in fact that it must have been absolute hell to write. He manages to tell an interesting Doctor Who story but scrambles the narrative up so it is as far from linear as you could possibly imagine. The story starts halfway through episode three, the Doctor and Nyssa leave at the end of episode three, the story begins at the end... these are not spoilers my friends, it says as much on the back... but it does make an already fascinating story absolutely compelling to listen to. Somehow, incredibly, he manages to save a whoop-ass twist until the final few seconds and needless to say it demands you give the story a second listen. The way the story is pieced together means you have no time to be bored, trying to give the storyline a chronological path is a piece of work and I don't recommend this for anyone who found the likes of ...ish difficult to comprehend. I, however, love the stories that you have to work at for the rewards and in many ways this is one of the most rewarding scripts the company has made.

But not only is the story good but the acting is top notch too. Leaving aside the regulars for a moment the guest actors David Daker and Jemma Churchill were phenomenal as Gilbrook and Lady Forleon. I love perfomances with a lot of aggression and these two came across as quite frightening in places. Gilbrook's sadistic torture of one character is stomach churningly horrible. Not only does the story afford them the chance to grow as the story develops but its nonlinear narrative means we get to see them in extremely different parts of the story... from angry to calm, from inquisitive to nasty... it is quite a shock as their mood shifts with the narrative.

Another Sarah Sutton triumph after the superb Spare Parts, if she had scripts like this on the telly Nyssa would be championed not booed off. A shame that Ms Sutton has giving acting a rest for the most part, her acting here is terrific. She mostly holds up the extremely discomforting episode one on her own, as an experiment to see if a previous TV companion could support a story this is definitive proof. I loved her evasiveness in answering the interrogators' questions, I loved her desperation to help the girl in pain and I loved her scene with the Doctor once they leave. Forget Peri and Erimem, we have a decent enough foil for Davison already.

Want me to say some nice things about Mr Davison? Oh all right then. As with most of his Doctor Who work he is sidelined in places (perhaps that's why I find him so unmemorable) but what lines he does get he performs admirably. There is an urgency to this story and Davison catches onto it and plays his role with a little more gravity than usual... a million miles away from the 'I can't be bothered' attitude from Nekromanteia. His last line is everything the parting line from Warriors of the Deep should have been, but wasn't.

Great music, strengthening the already uneasy atmosphere of the story and the sound effects are so good you just have to shut your eyes to get whisked away to another planet. How cool is the alien voice in this one? Surely there cannot be many voice modulations left for Big Finish to try out?

And only one hundred minutes long, perfectly adequate for these audio adventures I feel, these two hours and longer version do drag somewhat. This is a triumph of strong writing, well chosen actors and the intimacy to get everything right that you only get with the same writer and director. If this is the last script Mr Briggs writes for a while he has bowed out on a winner.

A different sort of story but all the better for it.


Black Beauty by Andrew Wixon 1/10/03

There seems to be a bit of trend developing in the recent BF releases - or at least a tendency towards unorthodox narrative structure. This year has seen ...and the Pirates, a wildly eccentric venture into post-modern meta-fiction, and the technically-clever but dramatically-hobbled Flip-Flop in the main range alone, while Unbound's Full Fathom Five is wholly dependent on then-and-now plotting for its impact.

And now here comes Creatures of Beauty, which has a similarly jumbled storyline. At first listen the scenes appear to have been edited together entirely at random - the TARDIS arrives and departs in episode three, for example. But it quickly becomes apparent that this is a very skilfully assembled script indeed - I was never in doubt as to what was going on, even on my first listen to the story, and it's very involving in a peculiar way - not the usual 'what happens next?', but 'what happened before?'

There are many TV stories that could probably be improved no end by this sort of treatment (for some reason, Terminus springs to mind), and the flip side of this sort of musing is - what kind of story would Creatures of Beauty be if it had been assembled conventionally?

And the answer is... a fairly conventional Davison-era plodder, I think, in that there's some quite nasty violence (we are invited to infer), and the Doctor doesn't really do very much except make a bad situation worse before buggering off in the TARDIS. There is the classic DW incongruity of a supposedly totally alien society where people have Irish accents and a grasp of insults such as 'git' - that dull thud is the sound of my disbelief losing its suspension. Set against this must be some rather good performances (David Daker turns in another great characterisation to sit alongside Irongron) and the general quality of the production.

But I must confess to not liking this story very much, mainly because it's so pessimistic. Most DW stories are about the power of the individual to be a force for good, to make a difference and improve the world around them. Creatures of Beauty is about how good intentions can count for nothing and the way that someone with the best of intentions can be unwittingly responsible for suffering on an unimaginable scale. Make no mistake, I don't dislike grim and gritty stories per se, but this kind of crushing, doomy fatalism just isn't my cup of tea at all. The Doctor is supposedly a hero, but he does virtually nothing heroic in these four episodes.

This is just a personal objection though. By every objective standard this is an extremely well written, acted, and directed piece of drama, powerful and involving. Even if it is, on closer inspection (brace yourselves, cliche fans) a bit of a triumph of style over substance.


Creatures of Briggsy by Jamas Enright 8/11/03

Okay, so the obvious way to present this review would be to write it, then cut and paste all the sentences into a different order. Nick Briggs presents yet another story-telling technique, one where story order just doesn't matter any more. The TARDIS doesn't land in episode 1 and doesn't leave in episode 4, and yet everything is here, just... scrambled.

It's an interesting technique with both good and bad points. Good point: it's something fresh. Flashbacks become just another part of the story and there are just as viably flash-forwards. Bad point: it's more work on the listener to tell if a scene takes place before, after, or during what has gone before. This displaces focus from the story to the way it's told, which makes it that much easier for the listener to lose the plot of what is going on (and given it's all mixed up, any attention away from the plot is a bad thing). Another bad point: by episode 4 we know most of the story with a few gaps to fill, so when we get a filling scene we know exactly what the scene will be telling us, making it rather pointless. Not sure if this is a good or bad point: some of the brief scenes ('scenettes'?) at the beginning make a lot more sense a second time around, but that does reduce their impact.

So that's what, two hundred words just talking about the style, but what about the story? In many ways it's another instance of 'good=beautiful' and 'ugly=evil', as epitomised by Lady Forleon and Gilbrook respectively. (Have we learnt nothing from Galaxy Four?) The Veln are a race that became ugly due to the actions of an alien race (the Koteem), and at the time of this story the Koteem are trying to help undo the damage they've done. The 'good' guys are the ones helping the Koteem, and yes, they are the 'beautiful' people. The ugly ones are trying to stop them, so they're the 'evil' characters here. It may not be quite that black and white, but the shades of grey aren't hard to distinguish. As stories go, a few minor interesting point but not exactly an entirely original piece.

However, this story is also a play about 'what is right?' Is it right for a whole world to pay for the mistakes of an outside race? Is it right that those who are trying to help are hunted down as villains? Although it's never addressed, there's another question: is it right that those who really had a hand in the cause of the problem never know about it and never help in the solution?

Rather than answer these questions directly, the story presents points of views. The listener can understand the viewpoint of Gilbrook, of Lady Forlean, of the Koteem. Beings are willing to pay the price, but this isn't appreciated by the victims. What we are striving for here is sympathy for the characters.

Which is a shame because, as a whole, I couldn't care less about any of them. All these characters are, in one way, 'ugly', from a moral viewpoint. All the main Veln, the ones we are supposed to be interested in, are all so self-righteous you just want to reach into the story and slap them all silly. The Koteem are about the only ones who aren't, but they are acting out of guilt after their ancestors played the stupid card and got smacked for it (and if you're going to be stupid, then you deserved to get smacked).

In one way, the Doctor and Nyssa have a very important role in these events, in another they spend most of the story doing nothing but going from one group of characters to another and finding out all their motives and beliefs. It has to be said that nothing much happens in this story, and even the Doctor and Nyssa wonder about how much impact they had and whether or not anything would have been different if they hadn't been there (which is supposed to be ironic, given the audience's knowledge, but it just manages to fail any level of humour to make it acceptable). On the other hand, it's amazing just how much time can be taken up by a decent study of people and their reasons.

Turning to the cast, it's obvious that David Daker enjoyed his role as Gilbrook, really getting into the part of psychopathic security chief with bone-crunching glee. David Mallinson comes across as rather weedy as Brodlik, but that's right for the role. Jemma Churchill generates the right amount of self-arrogance as Lady Forleon. The rest of the cast don't really stand out to much, expect for the broad accent of Michael Smiley as Seedleson (an Irish comedian who played the character Tyres O'Flaherty in that excelled TV series Spaced).

Due to the Doctor's and Nyssa's rather reactive role in this story (shades of Caves of Androzani?), Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton don't have much to do but sit back and react to what others tell them. That said, Sarah Sutton makes Nyssa believable as she has been battered at the hands of the guards. She makes you want to hit Brodlick as he just sits there, facing Nyssa in the aftermath of that treatment, so full marks for that.

Due to the nature of the story, transitions become important, and the production side needed to be up to the cuts back and forth. Most of the scenes are clear, but one or two are quick cuts that don't make much sense. There's also a lot made of Gilbrook's 'B-b-be-be-beautiful', although that sort of emphasis can become wearying (see, for example, the Dalek War promo included with this story). I can't remember the incidental music so either there wasn't any (unlikely) or that it worked well with the story. I tend to notice jarring incidental music, so this is a good thing.

Creatures of Beauty is an experiment from Big Finish, both in terms of ways of telling a story, and what sort of story is told. The performances are good, but it takes a lot of work from the listener to make it work. An interesting experiment, but one I hope they don't repeat too often.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/4/04

Creatures Of Beauty is problematic, because it's a one trick pony. While the nonlinear storytelling approach works upon a first listening,its effectiveness wears off upon repeated listening. This aside it is still a strong story, excellently acted. Particularly effective are the scenes where Nyssa is interrogated, the brutality of which contrasts nicely with the character of Nyssa. Peter Davison is once more on fine form, although having the Doctor and his actions having such a profound effect on the story`s outcome feels like a copout, as this type of resolution can equally be applied to any number of Fifth Doctor tales.

Of the guest cast David Daker stands out as the brash Gilbrook, although no performance is without merit. Creatures Of Beauty is by no means the best Big Finish audio ever, but its certainly thought provoking enough to make you enjoy it the first time round.


A Review by John Seavey 13/10/05

Call me crazy, but I really liked this one a whole lot. The fragmented narrative worked as a way of conveying the emotional impact of being thrown in at the deep end of a situation you might never fully understand no matter how hard you try, which is what essentially happened to the Doctor and Nyssa; at the same time, it helps to draw you along as you proceed through the narrative, eventually arriving at a more complete picture than the Doctor will ever have... and a bleak one at that. Grim, but very very impressive.


A fractured gem by Thomas Cookson 13/7/08

As a Dalek Empire fan, it was only a matter of time before I checked out Nicholas Briggs' other celebrated works. I was very impressed with this. I wasn't sure whether I'd review it though, but when I looked around at other reviews, all the emphasis on the story's particular narrative gimmick had detracted from what I felt made the story important. So I'm stepping forward with my unique analysis. Especially since some listeners have dismissed this as being a gimmicky, one-trick pony and nothing more. There is certainly substance within the style.

I'm starting to notice Nicholas Briggs' trademarks. His stories tend to be very eco-concerned. Doctor Who has a long legacy of that, through The Green Death, Battlefield, Cat's Cradle: Warhead and indeed Nick's own Airzone Solution. This is a story of a world that is dying due to an ecological disaster in its not so distant past. That also reflects on Nicholas' common theme of the scars and legacy of history. Indeed, Nick's stories tend to deal with primitive people (or people decimated back into primitivism) who have to rely on either meagre resources and ancient wisdom, or sheer blind hope in order to survive.

We jump quite early to the scene with an arrested Nyssa being interrogated. So, like her, we feel lost and treated as being guilty of something we don't even understand. I think this is Nyssa's best story. When under duress she still stands up to the policeman and tells him that he's just a common thug, it makes her seem so dignified and strong. From that point on, we are eager for the Doctor and Nyssa to escape this world of depression, where everything is colourless, joyless, vindictive and interrogating.

Joyless is the word. This really is Doctor Who without any jokes or humour. And that actually works in the story's favour. It gives the place a real choking, dehumanising atmosphere. So it is almost a typical Peter Davison story. Everything is very serious and the characters are either unpleasant or untrustworthy. It has that Sawardian paranoia. As a Williams-era fan, I do bemoan the humourless tone that the show adopted once the accountant took over. I don't dislike taking a serious tone per se, but when they cock up with Time-Flight or Warriors of the Deep, it looks so embarrasingly earnest.

I said once that Dalek Empire was humourless, and I take that back now. Dalek Empire was certainly incredibly bleak, but not humourless. There was Alby's relief at being rescued - 'Tell me, do you have a bar on this ship?' - Tanlee's sarkiness and even Kalendorf's ironic wit. But this really is humourless. Humour only comes in the form of the Fifth Doctor knowingly trying to inject some good cheer into a grim situation and failing, or the cruel humour of people talking about the prospect of taking revenge on the Koteem, repeated to a discomforting degree, which is intentional.

If you're going to be serious, do it well, and Creatures does it well. It may represent the very dark tone of ineffectual heroes and downbeat endings that I found unpleasant about the Davison era, but it also demonstrates how good it can be for delivering hard-hitting, poignant stories. However, the Saward era and Dalek Empire are examples of where that approach can go wrong when overused. A few downbeat endings makes the show unpredictable and keeps the audience on their toes. But too many makes the audience take it for granted and stop caring, because they're being presented with a storytelling in which victory no longer matters.

I mean, this is a story in which victory isn't important. The ending is ambiguous as to whether there'll ever be a happy ending for these people or whether they'll all die out. So it's more about how the dilemma happened and the emotional impact of it.

The fact is that I can't think of any other Doctor Who story to my mind that compares to this. It's rather like a Season 7 story, with its themes of prejudice, benevolent alien visitors and misunderstandings. This revisits that very well.

Doctor Who exhibits the best and worst kind of morality plays. The worst are ones that, like Warriors of the Deep, force its morality down your throat. The best compel you to ask questions and look at consequences and make their crucial decisions seem like a real moral dilemma (rather than glibly saying, if you destroy them you're just as bad as them). And this really is a misunderstanding between races. In fact, what motivates the Koteem to come to the Velm world to help them is guilt, and a desire to make amends.

And not the contrived guilt of the Sixth Doctor feeling remorseful for attacking Peri in The Twin Dilemma, making it seem like the Doctor only attacked her so he could have an excuse to look guilty afterwards and manipulate the audience. It's more like in Briggs' Cyberman series, where fascist humans find the guilt of torturing their victims to death coming back to haunt them, which emphasises what separates us from Cybermen. This is guilt as a positive emotion. Something humanistic and noble that connects people and makes them want to do right by one another and brings races together. But of course we remain dubious. Can we trust the intentions of the Koteem? The Doctor doesn't, and they are so alien that their voices don't express recogniseable emotions, so we don't really know if they genuinely feel that compassion or remorse.

It is also like Season 7, in regards to its realism. This story feels like it's real. We have probably seen many humourless, desolate worlds in Doctor Who, but this one really makes me mull over the miserable, colourless existence that these people must have. The opening stabbing suicide is far more disturbing and tragic than anything in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the sense of a wasted young life that no one could save. Somehow, it's even more disturbing than (figuratively) watching the Daleks burn an entire galaxy. Because it feels like a close-to-home, real event, real violence. In Earthshock, it always seemed melodramatic and falsely unprecedented when Nyssa was so distraught over the death of a woman she hardly knew. Here, when she's recounting the suicide, she is genuinely haunted by the death, and also nursing her guilt and helplessness at failing to save her, and it's a beautiful scene. Whilst Earthshock felt like it was forcing a moment of sentimentality, here it draws naturally on the character. Likewise, Nyssa being beaten by brutal police (and how fitting to have such an innocent character as Nyssa in that situation) and the real bitterness of mean spirits makes it feel even more real world.

This isn't Doctor Who's usual safeness and etiquette, where even the teenagers and villains talk in a dignified unprofane manner that would make the Queen sound common. This is about real indignity, real bitterness and misery and it's a story in which the swearing actually does make it more gritty and real. Every curse uttered is understandable and relateable from a cursed people. I'm actually quite a proponent of swearing in Doctor Who; it's the kind of thing that gives the stories more realism, and certainly it seems almost hypocritical to have such a ridiculous body count, and yet no naughty language or hanky panky. So long as it's not done gratuitously or for sensationalism like the tasteless, cynical New Series.

The story is very slow moving. Fitting for a story about a planet that is slowly dying. And so, the absense of action or sensationalism make it feel more genuine, more experienced, with only the rather cartoonish scene where the mean-spirited David Daker attacks his subbordinate rather spoiling the effect. But even that is small potatoes.

Big Finish seems to base their story selection for each Doctor on that Doctor's personality traits. Colin Baker tends to get 'sympathy for the devil' stories like Jubilee, Holy Terror and Davros, to match his vindictive, judgemental quality from Attack of the Cybermen. Peter Davison tends to get presented with morally complex situations where he has to mull up the consequences before making his final decision. This is a story about pivotal moments and the consequences of actions and really asks whether the Doctor's influence maybe does more harm than good. It's like a very dark, dark version of Terminus.

This represents what the Davison era always wanted to be. Spiritual, new age, empathising and concerned with the shades of grey. A shame it often ruined the effect in Season 21 by indulging in pointless massacres, which made the morality seem hypocritical. But this is up there with Kinda and the Black Guardian trilogy in terms of the spiritual and poignant, and using religious symbolism (Eden, the lepers) to tell contemporary stories of morality and compassion.

My ideal version of the Davison era would have only lasted two seasons, with no Master stories after Castrovalva. No King's Demons, Time-Flight, and while we're at it, no Arc of Infinity. And basically Season 20 should have ended instead with Resurrection of the Daleks as planned. Which probably would have been more effective for when the Doctor point the gun at Davros without us thinking back to his moments of pleading mercy on the Master or Silurians in King's Demons and Warriors of the Deep and realising immediately that he's not going to go through with it. And I'd gladly have ended the show there before it went seriously downhill.

I often find that, as the show carried on, the few spiritual or poignant moments of the Davison era were undermined and ruined. Kinda and Terminus both show us why we should preserve life and try the peaceful resolve and we shouldn't just destroy thoughtlessly. Then Warriors of the Deep comes along and represents the trash of pascifism and, in doing so, makes a joke of pascifism (making a trigger-happy war nut look good isn't as demoralising as making the man of peace look bad). The Doctor's soul-destroying decision to let the Master burn is discounted when he turns up again in Mark of the Rani. The Doctor seems to be growing stronger through his buddhist experiences with the Kinda, but by Season 21 he's oddly become far weaker. But he finally goes through the very buddhist ritual of venturing into the caves of Androzani and facing death in a labyrinth, all for the sake of his friend and then sacrifices his life for her. But instead of being reborn spiritually anew, he becomes deranged and tries to kill her, thus cheapening his sacrifice, as indeed The Twin Dilemma cheapens the whole show. Hell, Colin Baker's first lines are enough to desecrate the tragedy of Davison's death.

Maybe Saward's vision might have fitted better elsewhere, but was simply mismatched to the show and producership at that time. He might have made a tougher Doctor work if he didn't keep having the Silurians and the Master turn up to make the Doctor look incompetent again. He might have been a better script editor if he chose the shopping lists himself. Though his idea to have the Doctor go berzerk and choke his female companion would be unacceptable in any era.

Davison's era really was a mixed bag, and this really showed how good it should have been, and it shows how the Davison era's tendency to be low on action didn't have to make dull or boring viewing. This actually works best by being low on action and in a way seems far more crystalline, dignified and genuine for it. The Davison era tried desperately to milk emotional responses but it never brought me to tears the way this and Spare Parts have done. When David Daker, our principal antagonist no less, retells the story from his great-grandfather's experience of the disaster, with Nick's wonderful poetic way with words, a skyline oil spill like ink poured over a painting and how "it was almost beautiful" it makes me cry, every time. The cruel hand of fate on a cursed people, the tragic source of a man's helpless bitterness, and the way what we see doesn't always allow us to understand. And that's what makes the twist so much more tragic. That elusive truth that none of the people here will ever really know and will one day die in ignorance.

That's why twists can be so important to narrative. Not for gimmickery but to challenge our perceptions, our arrogance, our truisms, and our misunderstandings and prejudices and indeed our disconnection from one another.

Coincidence is such a factor in this story that it seems almost fate-driven. Doctor Who was always susceptible to this by condensing epic stories into a brisk runtime in a confined environment. But there are times when it genuinely does seem to be suggesting a fate-laden view of the universe. Particularly in the Master Returns trilogy. The idea that sometimes it's as if something is forcing the hand of chaos. The forces that govern causality are deliberately setting up terrible tragedies for our characters to trip over. It begins with Nyssa getting her fingerprints on a suicide victim's weapon by trying to disarm and stop the victim, and thereby being framed, but it gets even more cursed as it goes on (narratively if not chronologically). I've said in my Dalek Empire reviews that in the first two series, it played like a traditional, old-school tragedy of fatal flaws and rash, reckless emotions bringing about the character's demise. But in the third series, with the character of Siy Tarkov, it seemed to abandon the fatal-flaw idea for simply cursing one character to an incredible ammount of bad luck. And here we're likewise dealing with a cosmic curse, something doomed to happen simply by chance and fate. So in a way the obvious final twist should be predictable to prevent it from seeming too crass in playing a last minute magic trick after dealing with such delicate, sensitive material.

I often tend to think of the Big Finish stories as cinematic. This in particular strikes me as cinematic, not so much in terms of a sci-fi SFX action bonanza like Dalek Empire, but more like World Cinema. The kind of cinema where every shot is like a beautiful portrait. Which is also a metaphor frequently used in this story of the limitations of perspective. In many ways, this couldn't be more removed from Nick Briggs' Dalek Empire. Dalek Empire is the cinematic equivalent in the Aliens movies, with courageous heroines on cryogenic ice, sinister corporate figures in a technologically poisoned dystopia and pacy, gory action, and of course the third instalment starts on redundant ground from the outset and sends the whole overall story off the rails. Creatures of Beauty, however, is more like Grave of the Fireflies, an existential cinema slowness, picturesque, heartbreaking story of futility and painful memories.

And yet, both share something in common with Nick's approach. Nick's stories seem to delve deep into his worst fears and nightmares, stories where the worst thing that can happen does happen. Stories that play on the terrible things man does to his fellow man and the environment, and our worst fears about the future. His stories are often open ended in a way that leaves those questions about the possibly bleak destiny of things to come to stew, but since they are presented in a dream-like way, they usually find a kind of psychological resolution somehow. Like in the films Paperhouse, Company of Wolves or Sweetie.

At his best anyhow. Where Nick usually fails is when he tries to repeat past glories, when the same dream rarely happens twice, and sequel dreams are practically unheard of. Nick's updated stories from back in the Audio Visual days, Sword of Orion and The Mutant Phase have been pretty lousy. Dalek Empire III and Cyberman both suffered from being rehashes of the first Dalek Empire series, and as such left me cold. In addition, Dalek Empire III tried too hard to get philosophical thoughts together. It had too many 'waking moments' tacked into it for it to work as a nightmarish piece. But this, like Dalek Empire, is something unique.

Creatures is about a world's moment in time. It's not really about saving the planet, but it is about cause and effect. More than that, it is a world characterised by emotions and moods. It's a nightmare piece, but apart from the opening suicide and its tragic realisation of the worst possible outcome, it's not what I'd call a horror piece. It's a mindscape story with the world representing depression, in a beneath-the-surface, raw-nerve way. David Daker runs his police division like a totalitarian surveilance state (the cameras echoing the perspective theme) and in a real, unsettling way. Every conversation is an interrogation, determined to dig every piece of dirt. Doctor Who's never been a stranger to portraying totalitarianism, but this is like 1984, it makes you feel as though it could really happen and the emotional impact. The Tholian estate is the equal but opposite side, the denial side of depression. The non-linear storytelling is important in terms of establishing this mood. A fragmented, almost fragile mode to the storytelling, as if reliving painful memories a piece at a time.

So what we've got here is something that is like Doctor Who, and yet totally unlike it. A very hard-hitting story, where the familiar ethos of Doctor Who is strong. A story of peace, cross-cultural understanding and overcoming prejudice, of free agents doing the noble thing against a totalitarianist authority, and ultimately it's about the reasons why. Except of course that the free agents are other people and the Doctor here is simply a helpless bystander, and for all his clue-finding talents, he leaves with mysteries still eluding him. And yet, it's sharper, more real and more poignant than I've normally experienced Doctor Who, and makes me weep for the tragic world it conveys, even its villains.