Big Finish Productions
Light at the End

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2013

Starring Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Louise Jameson, Sarah Sutton, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred

Synopsis: November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors. It's the day that Bob Dovie's life is ripped apart. It's also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart...


A Review by John Aston 6/3/14

If you watched The Five Doctors and thought "I want more Doctors spending more time talking to each other" then this could be the story for you! If you want genius, a subtle and fscinating plot, or an in depth character study, then it's probably not the right kind of thing.

At the centre is an original idea for a weapon - though one that sounds more like magic than science fiction. However, this does allow for a quite interesting and intricate piece of science fiction about time travel.

The main thing with Light at the End, though, is that it is good quality geek product, with lots of nice little cameos, the odd good line and that all-important-for-geeks sense that "yes, it could happen". For me, it perfectly captures what you might think of as a good anniversary story. There is a fair smattering of lines that show the characters as distinctively that Doctor. Pretty much all the Doctors get their chance to shine in addressing the problem. The Master has a clever plot that he springs with some subtlety and he lets himself down in due course through a well-established character flaw.

I'm writing this before the 50th Anniversary TV Special Day of the Doctor - and I no longer need an anniversary "fix" of "a story for the fans". Light at the End does this well - better in some ways than TV could, because the Doctors and companions all sound about the right age.

I noticed a few flaws. As you are constantly jumping around between a large set of Doctors, you don't get to really settle on and enjoy any one, or pairing, of them that much. It's also a slightly complicated story and hard to follow in perfect detail on the first listen. (It's the kind of audio you're just bound to re-listen to, though, so maybe that's no problem.) In the end, it's a small story compared to some anniversary stories, with a resolution that might feel slightly anti-climactic (but maybe that's picking nits).

Overall, it has many of the things that have been good about Big Finish. It comes from a deep understanding and appreciation of the central character. It is intelligent and considered. It knows what its target market are likely to want specifically from an Anniversary story - and, for me, it delivers very well. Cards in the table: I think that The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and (to a degree) The Two Doctors are all rubbish stories, dragged down by their inability to work satisfyingly with the number of Doctors. That Light at the End works well even though it has to accommodate so many Doctors shows just what a good piece of work it is!

A Review by Charles Berman 14/5/14

The Light at the End is on the whole a very enjoyable story to listen to, and it does what it needs to do as Big Finish's release for the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who. It's far from flawless, but it is a story that was given a very particular remit, it's made intelligently enough to to fulfill the important parts of that remit as an anniversary reunion story satisfyingly.

As a Big Finish anniversary story involving multiple Doctors, Light at the End naturally invites comparison with Zagreus, the fortieth anniversary story that preceded it in 2003. It's not a fair comparison, though; Zagreus had a very different job to do than Light at the End. In 2003, Paul McGann's Doctor was the current one and Big Finish was the medium for his new adventures -- adventures that followed a very particular story arc. Zagreus built that arc into its long running time, and the many Doctor Who actors who returned at that time were used to add texture to a story that Alan Barnes wrote (with a clearly less influential Gary Russell) to pick up threads he started in Storm Warning and lay out new ones. That led to a more complex and substantial story than Light at the End would be or would need to be, and the 2013 story isn't best served by that contrast. With Doctor Who back on television, it doesn't have to concern itself with advancing a larger story.

A better point of reference would be The Sirens of Time, the multi-Doctor story that the same Nicholas Briggs wrote to initiate the Big Finish line in 1999. Light at the End does compare very well with that, and Briggs has clearly improved in the all-important areas of story structure, dialogue and sense of humor.

The story is a fairly simple one, and where complications and explanations would become involved, they are summarily hand-waved. This would be a big problem in a story that relied heavily on plot for its impact, but this is none such. The task of incorporating five Doctors and their companions is already Herculean; without a simple plot, it would, I imagine, seem impossible. Instead of appearing in isolated segments and meeting at the formula that I found so memorably not to work in Briggs' Sirens of Time, the various Doctors involved are dragged one-by-one into the villain's plot, and get to meet, discuss the situation and split up to reconnoiter. It's an effective way to give the various Doctors time to establish themselves and then engage in amusing verbal sparring in pairs and threes -- an expectation for this story, established by multi-Doctor meetings back to 1973, which Briggs is only too happy to meet.

I had found previous Briggs writing, such as The Sirens of Time and the completely bland a characterless Sword of Orion, to be curiously lacking in a sense of humor or interesting dialogue. Briggs goes an admirable way towards having this remedied, and there are several funny moments and lines to be heard. This most often seems to involve the Fourth Doctor and Leela, who is used several times to excellent deadpan effect by Briggs, who seems to have the greatest knack for writing for this pair. Ironically, Charley and the Eighth Doctor seem much more "themselves" from the early 2000s than they did in the generic Sword of Orion.

Noticeably, though, the dialogue does show numerous weak points as well. Occasionally, it devolves into recitation of catchphrases at almost-appropriate moments, and the number of times each Doctor refers to the TARDIS as "old girl" becomes noticeably downright ridiculous. Occasionally, a character is given something completely out of character to say, so we have the nitro-9-toting Ace for some reason observing, "They sell the worst kind of weapons here -- not that there are any good kinds."

As William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee are dead, the decision was made to reduce their role, but to recast their parts so their respective Doctors could be included. A bit bold, perhaps, since Richard Hurndall's performance in The Five Doctors is rarely remembered with admiration. And, without hearing the performances, the idea of having the First and Second Doctors played by their companions (with the flattering aid of some audio distortion) sounds gimmicky. However, eighty-nine-year-old Willaim Russell naturally sounds old enough and duplicates enough of the right vocal mannerisms that he sounds like a very good William Hartnell. Frazer Hines famously does a surprisingly accurate Patrick Troughton impression, through which a hint of Scottish accent only occasionally seeps through. Tim Treloar is much less of a "name" playing the Third Doctor, but he manages to sound enough like Jon Pertwee and has few enough lines that his impression doesn't wear out its welcome.

Although the multi-Doctor scenes may be the star attraction, the actual best, saddest and funniest scenes may have been the ones in which the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa interview a confused Bob Dovie after the loss of his wife. These scenes are good enough that they make me wish more of the story had been shifted to this area, with perhaps several Doctors in turn interacting with Dovie, instead of the more colorless weapons factory.

In all, by sticking to a fairly simple plot and premise, and focusing on giving the many Doctors and companions who had to be involved enough time to breath and interact, Nicholas Briggs allows himself the chance to make this a charming, nostalgic and very fun treat for Big-Finish-listening fans on the occasion of Doctor Who's fiftieth year. And with that job as its goal, Light at the End is a solid success.