THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Minuet in Hell

Written by Alan W Lear with Gary Russell Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2001
Continuity After The Telemovie

Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Nicholas Courtney
Also featuring Robert Jezek, Morgan Deare, Helen Goldwyn, Maureen Oakeley, Nicholas Briggs

Synopsis: The twenty-first century has just begun, and the newly-formed state of Malebolgia is seceding from the rest of the United States of America. After his successful involvement with Scotland's devolution, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart has been invited over to Malebolgia to offer some expertise. However, there's someone held in a lunatic asylum who interests him, someone who believes he travels through space and time in the TARDIS. It is not, however, his old friend the Doctor...


Reviews

Heavenly Music To My Ears by Matthew Hobbs 9/5/01

Minuet In Hell is by far the better of Paul McGann's first full season in the role of the Doctor. Perhaps I have had time to warm to his performance, but I think it's more to do with being able to follow this story and not get lost or lose interest due to a waning of storyline. It's seems to have host of good aspects and nothing bad that I can really pick at - it's by no means amazing, The Marian Conspiracy is still my favourite Big Finish, but it is a contender for second place with The Fires of Vulcan.

My first reaction was that this story moves Doctor Who forward in the direction I would take if I were the producer - a dream that I'm sure most Whovians share. Whilst the tried and tested formula of landing on a planet leaving the TARDIS and embarking on an adventure will always be the most reliable back bone of any Doctor Who story, I do feel that the series does lend itself to approaching stories from another angle.

I love the employment of the Master to rescue the Doctor in The Five Doctors, a plot device that could have been used to much greater effect given a more adventurous producer and scriptwriter. I do resent JNT's heavy reliance and dependence on the past to prop up the present in Doctor Who. When anything ceases to be creative and adventurous then it runs the risk of becoming stagnant and eventually dieing - a fair argument to what may have partly contributed to the cancellation of our beloved series.

Here we start the adventure midway, when we are obviously missing an history of recent events so that we, the listener, are playing catch up and doing a little guess work as to what might have preceded to give way to the opening scenario we find ourselves in. This is an excellent tool to engage the listener from the start and to keep him absorbed for any clues that may be lingering around. I was gripped from the beginning.

The idea of using Christian symbolism of hell and demons usually gives me an edgy wariness in approaching a story, and I confess this was my feeling on reading the back sleeve of the CD, it wasn't long before such concerns were waylaid though and I was able to enter whole hearted into the story and not feel as if I had to keep my guard up - a wonderful place to be to be able to fully enjoy Doctor Who.

Another endearing quality that I found and which you will discover five minutes into the story is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to The Television Movie from the point after the Doctor's regeneration (the, 'Who am I?' plotline.) Whether this was intentional or not I can't say, but it works excellently for the hardened Who fan who is wary of new Who and a new Doctor (like me) to relax, open up and accept not only Paul McGann but the story being told too.

I so loathed the crass attempts at humour that JNT seemed to so desperately try and inject into his last years as the producer of DW. They seemed so false and were so cringe-worthy that I was embarrassed to introduce DW to other people. Here they seem to have got the balance quite right. The humour is injected by the head demon, who is genuinely sarcastic in a way that is amusing but doesn't detract from the production or seem abrasive to the listener but lightens the mood at just the right place and heightens the story to a more real level.

Of course the Brig. is in this one - and I must admit again some initial apprehension as to how he might fit in, but this was also mingled in with a curiosity to how the rapport with Paul McGann's Doctor would work - if indeed it would (after all the Brig. and Tom never got it on really in my book - Tom's too bloody full of himself). I leave that one for you to discover. But I would say that ever since Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart lost his moustache, side arm and Brigadier's uniform he never seemed as good. I love UNIT and would bring it back as an independent series with out a second thought and would most certainly re-establish it in the new series I would produce (not with Nicholas Courtney though - bygones must be called bygones). So where would the Brigadier fit in to Doctor Who if he has to appear out of uniform? Advisor to UNIT possibly? I haven't worked that one out - I did like him in Minuet In Hell though - nice to see him with a beard.

I want to comment on a point that might be construed as a spoiler here so jump over this next paragraph until you've listened to it if you want.

Charley. I love the new approach to the companion/assistant. The idea of a foreboding cloud covering her character concerning her rightful place in history - dead, yet here present place - alive in the TARDIS and the questions that holds about her future. I thought for one scary moment at the end of Sword of Orion that they were gonna cop out of such a strong plot device, but I'm pleased to say they keep it intact in a very solid way at the end of this adventure. You again see the mental wrangling that the Doctor has about loyalty to friends against loyalty to the laws of time (the latter having been betrayed by him a number of times). You leave the adventure freshly questioning the future. Great!

The only downside I would comment on is that it is set in America. That in itself doesn't find any objections in myself, but I do objected to the over characterised American accents. Bugging is the only word I can use. Americans are great people I love their open freedom of inhibition and I would relish an opportunity to explore their country - there's a comment made to the end which holds an opposite sentiment, which though not anti-American certainly isn't pro - I disapprove.

So leaving the new Doctor on what I consider a strong story raises my expectations to new heights for the future of Big Finish Doctor Who. The knowledge that a second season of Paul McGann's Who has been recorded whets my appetite in eager anticipation of what the future may hold for the Doctor and Charley. Let's hope Big Finish have the courage to be adventurous and creative with their productions, yet loyal and true to the ethos, history and premise of what has to be the best television series ever dreamed of ... Doctor Who!


Hell's Not Just For Children Anymore by Peter Niemeyer 23/5/01

I try very hard not to be whole-heartedly negative in my reviews. I think a reviewer who has nothing positive to say quickly becomes tiresome. And I hopefully have put in enough positive words in my reviews to have earned the occasional "hated it" review, because I'm certainly going to write one here.

I paid for the bloody CD, so I listened to the whole thing. That was literally the only thing that got me through parts 2 and 3. I could not believe how excruciating this story was. I thought that nothing could be worse than Winter for the Adept. I was wrong.

First off, I'm an American, and I simply could not believe that this story took place in any part of America in this reality. The worst offense was the vocabulary. Senator Pickering used phrases like "you varmit" and "tarnation". Perhaps if the TARDIS had landed inside a Merry Melodies cartoon with Yosemite Sam, or if this was a cross-over with the Dukes of Hazzard, then I could have found it believeable. But nobody in the States talks like that. Becky Lee's "Grandpappy", though not as cartoonishly ludicrous, also rang false.

The second worse offense was the accents in general. In a television story, I could forgive an actor's bad accent if the movement and facial expressions have enough to make up for it. But in audio, all you have is the voice. None of the so-called Americans sounded like Americans. Given that there is a fair-sized fan base (and therefore fair-sized customer base) over here, I'd strongly encourage Big Finish to either hire genuine American English speakers or not attempt an American-based story in the future.

The third worse offense was the dialog, especially that given to the supporting people. Consider these gems from Part One:
Pickering - "Allow me to explain the basic principles of the PSI-859."
Pargeter - "You do that, ma'am. I'm darn sure I'll follow it all."
Pickering - "Why thank you senator. I'm truly sure you will."
Becky Lee - "Ginger peachy. You Charlie. Me Becky Lee Kowalchik. Me from Los Angeles."

I'm sorry, but this isn't the way that real people talk.

The other thing that bugged me was the "let's do it all" attitude of the villain. Why would an aspiring politician who already had demonic assistance to aid his political ambitions feel the need to run an illegal gentlemen's club and get involved with the PSI-859 and an insane asylum? The motivation is explained, but it reminded me too much of Resurrection of the Daleks, where the Daleks were planning to subversively take over the planet Earth, win the war against the Movellans, and invade Gallifrey at the same time.

There are only a few kudos I can give. Paul McGann turns in a stellar performance. India Fisher doesn't fare as well, but that's more the result of the ludicrous situations Charlie was in. I do like the idea of the Doctor's mental breakdown. It was a very promising premise that was foiled by horrible execution. It was also nice to see the Brig again, but I wish he could have spent more time with the Doctor, even if he didn't know who the Doctor was. Ironically, the thing I enjoyed the most was the companion name dropping, which firmly established Charlie as a post-Sam companion.

This really was in my mind the worst Big Finish audio production to date. BF has done some great stuff so far, which made this production seem all the more amaturish. I know that every season has its clunkers, and I suppose it's unfair for me to expect BF to be any different. But for as mind-numbingly bad as The Twin Dilemma was, at least I didn't pay $25 to watch it.

2 out of 10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/5/01

Minuet In Hell brings Paul McGann`s first audio season to a satisfying conclusion, tying up some loose ends (Ramsey) and leaving others waiting to be resolved (Charley).It also returns The Doctor to America, fittingly given that this is where the Eighth`s adventures began. The story sees The Doctor in an asylum, without his memory, seemingly trapped in his own hell; (this seems unlikely as hell for The Doctor would probably be worse than this.) Elsewhere Charley is also suffering from amnesia and is pressganged into working at the local Hell Fire Club, whilst The Brigadier oversees the creation of the fifty first state and a demon is also running amok. Just another normal day then...

Minuet In Hell is however great fun. Paul McGann shows his acting prowess here, although his involvement is minimal at the outset. India Fisher continues to impress and Nicholas Courtney is excellent as the Brigadier. The supporting players should get a mention here Robert Jezek is menacing as Dashwood, Nicholas Briggs is great as Gideon Crane (in possibly his best outing thus far) and Helen Goldwyn playing a virtual Buffy clone in Becky Lee is a welcome addition. Best of all however is the demon Malchosias whose sarcastic humour is not unlike James Marsters` Spike from Buffy, which is ironic given that he was considered for a part in this. Overall Minuet In Hell is highly enjoyable with great acting and a great script thrown in for good measure.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 30/5/01

Paul McGann’s last Audio Adventure (until Jan 2002) is the most Thriller like story Big Finish have produced so far. At 130 minutes it also is one of the longest (I think only Holy Terror comes close). But do the Episodes drag? Not at all – there is enough story here for a story twice that length.

The Doctor has lost his memory. This was very easy for me to envisage, as just a short while ago the same thing happened in the Books (The Burning). This is quite different from that memory loss though – as it seems have to produced a greater losing of the mind. The Doctor is a troubled soul for a great deal of this audio. Charley too has suffered a memory loss – and the overall effect this creates (both the Doctor and Charley not having a clue who or what they are) is fascinating.

The setting of the story also provides much. The new state of Malebolgia comes across as a warped, slightly futuristic vision of Southern USA. With its over the top, extreme Senator and Evangelist, this is definitely an America of Fiction – at least I hope it is! There is also a fair helping of Buffy the Vampire Slayer thrown in for good measure in the form of Becky Lee – Charleys mate throughout. The demons that appear are also Buffy territory – some wonderful lines uttered here by the main Demon. So much then to digest. So much to take on board for the listener.

Yet it all comes together very well. It is unlike any Doctor Who story that I can think of. In an attempt to bring in some semblance of Who though – we have the Brigadier. It is always wonderful to see the old chap. I especially enjoyed his E-Mail updates, and the reactions of the Minister back in England! The Brigadier wanders through the story, looking after Charley sometimes – but he doesn’t have a great deal of action. His is a reflective roll throughout – to update the listener of the many new developments the story introduces.

Paul McGann is brilliant as the topsy-turvy Doctor. His emotional range is vast, and this ultimately becomes his best performance as the Doctor to date. Charley is her usual ebullient self – and she really features strongly. I have been very impressed with the way she has established herself as a great Companion. Credit to India Fisher and the Writers.

For me though the most fascinating aspect of the story was Gideon Crane. The Doctor’s cellmate was a total revelation. Now I know Nicholas Briggs has played the Doctor on fan Audios in the past – but this was a performance of real note. For much of the story he really thinks he is the Doctor, and acts accordingly – terrifically portrayed.

A lot to take in on this Audio. Definitely one of the best, and full of wonders for all. 9/10


BOOM by Robert Thomas 11/6/01

First off I want to deal with the negative aspect of this story, certain yank accents. The accents of Dashwood, Becky Lee and Waldo will really p**s off the Americans - being Welsh I have to put up with Ray in Delta and the Bannermen, believe me I feel your pain. That being said they sound like typical redneck accents to me.

This season goes out with a bang and I have to say this is the one that got the most out of me. Part one started off in a way that I thought it would fizzle out, go no where and was hard to get into. But from then on I was really hooked. The Doctor and Gideon Crane shared a fantastic sub-plot that develops right through the story. Charley is not her usual self as she is not her loud outgoing self and is brought down a bit to fit the story and its atmosphere. Her situations are fantastic as I have a very visual mind - she goes through a lot of S and M gear. Listen out for a certain scene that continues a little ongoing thing for her.

The Brigadier is used well and has one of the best post UNIT reasons for being there. His scenes with The Doctor are brilliant and surprisingly he takes The Doctor role for a lot of the early action. One certain thing that this story does is give us some old fashioned over the top villains. Dashwood is played wonderfully over the top and Marchosias gets a lot of good lines. The supporting characters are ok, I liked Waldo but can see why some people may find him irritating. Becky Lee however is my favorite original character and gets some good lines.

However this story is very adult - I must mention the female Doctors opinion to the "working girls". It made a right miserable cow seem sympathetic at the end.

I'd say this is my favorite of the season - a very good season. Its not far off Big Finish's best work, which for me is still The Holy Terror. My only regret about this story is that I didn't ask Peter Niemeyer to do a joint review of this - he hated it, and would have been a better review to do one we hated and liked than one we both liked.


A Review by John Seavey 13/1/04

Words fail me. I mean, I could decide to go into great detail on what's wrong with Minuet in Hell... I could discuss the American accents, the state of Malebolgia (why is it even set in a made-up state? The whole thing could happen in Alabama and only need three lines of dialogue changed), Becky Lee the Demon Hunter, the "which of us is really the Doctor?" conundrum that isn't (which one has TWO HEARTS?), and everything... and oh, there is so much everything... that makes this as bad as it is. But really, this is just too much. This is the Doctor Who equivalent of the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' -- something so astonishingly bad, so spectacularly creatively misguided, so incompetently executed, that it transcends decisions on its quality and becomes a creative phenomenon all its own. It stands like the stone heads of Easter Island, a monument to something we cannot understand, let alone judge.


A Cold Assessment Of Hell by Matthew Kresal 3/5/10

One of the interesting things to have happened as I've been listening to the first McGann season of Big Finish stories is how my opinions of two of those have changed. The first was The Stones Of Venice which I rather disliked upon my first listening but now found to be an excellent story. The second one was Minuet In Hell which, outside of some dodgy accents, I enjoyed the first time around but found to be a rather dull story upon this recent listening. The story perhaps is best summed up in the phrase "good concepts poorly executed".

One of the things on the plus side is the performances from its leads Paul McGann and India Fisher. McGann as the Doctor in particular shines, despite the fact he is given not a lot to do throughout much of the story except mumble about hell and ask "who am I?", which at least in the case of the second item comes across unintentionally as a rehash of part of his performance in the TV Movie. Where McGann shines is in his attempts to make the amnesic plot work and in the fourth part where he is finally given something to do. The same is very much true of Fisher as the Charley who spends the first half of the story virtually amnesiac before finally being allowed to do something plotwise in the second half. In fact, much of the story's middle section is carried by Charley which once again gives Fisher a chance to show her talents off when the writing is able to let her. While the writing might not be stellar, the leads do try and be and make the story listenable as a result.

The supporting cast is a real mixed bag if ever there was one. First up the good news: Nicholas Courtney and Nicholas Briggs. Courtney of course returns as the Brigadier, former UK commander of UNIT and friend of the Doctor, who comes to a new American state on a mission for UNIT. Courtney is in fine form as the Brigadier and is highly convincing as an older, wiser but just as active version of the character, plus he has some fine chemistry with both McGann and Fisher during his scenes with them. In fact, the Brigadier's scenes with the eighth Doctor is the biggest reason to listen to it. Then there is Nicholas Briggs as fellow asylum "patient" Gideon Crane. Briggs does a commendable job in the role especially during one of the plot twists where the identity of the Doctor is supposed to be in question. Outside of that, Briggs also shares some nice chemistry in his many scenes with McGann as well which always helps too. Together, these two are the best players of the supporting cast.

Now for the bad news: the rest of the supporting cast. None of the supporting cast members, especially Morgan Deare as Senator Waldo Pickering, manages to be convincing in their roles. Much of this is down to some really badly done accents including, once again, Deare who plays the former U.S. Senator as though he is Foghorn Leghorn from the Loony Toons cartoons of old. It is also down to the writing as well, which doesn't help the unconvincing accents in trying to really sell the story. While much of the supporting cast have given wonderful performances elsewhere in the Big Finish range (Robert Jezek in The Holy Terror for instance), this is far from their best work and a real disappointment.

The real problem with the story lies in its script. Minuet In Hell started its life back in the 1980's as a story from the fan group Audio Visuals, many of whose members went on to work for Big Finish and was set in 18th century London involving the Hellfire Club and the notorious Bedlam asylum. Having heard the first half of that version and having re-listened to this version, one question stems to mind: why was the remake set in America? It doesn't work as a story set in America not just because of the aforementioned accents but in terms of the plot as well. It seems clear that the story was written without a good understanding of the American political system or society, especially the whole idea that a section of a state can just secede and become a new state quickly. It's not just that problem as there are some holes in the plot (what are the Psionovores up to anyway?) plus plot twists that fall completely flat as well (see the cliffhanger for part two for example) despite showing a considerable amount of promise. Last but not least is the dialogue which is quite good at times but (in the form of Waldo Pickering and Becky Lee especially) can be downright cringe-worthy to put it politely. That said, the concept of an amnesic Doctor in an insane asylum is a neat idea that unfortunately is badly used here and because of the choice of Doctor seems to even be a rehash of an old idea. The result: "good concepts poorly executed".

So where does Minuet In Hell rank? While it features good performances from its two leads, two members of its supporting cast and a good concept or two, it is held down considerably by its many problems. To be specific, in the unconvincing performances of much of the supporting cast and a script that, despite that good concept or two, manages to fall flat on its face more times then not. Overall then, Minuet In Hell ranks as the weakest of the stories of the first McGann Big Finish season and as a rather underwhelming finish to an otherwise fine set of stories.


Adventures of an Edwardian Adventuress Part Two by Jacob Licklider 1/2/18

This is the third and final Audio Visuals play to be adapted to the Big Finish Monthly Range and the only play for Big Finish to be written by writer Alan W Lear who fell ill and passed away in 2008. The history behind this is that Alan W. Lear rewrote his original scripts and purposefully moved the setting to America to add social commentary on televangelists of the 90s and early 2000s and to boot add in an homage to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now you would think that this would clutter the story, but it really only starts to clutter in Part Four. This is due to the fact that Alan W. Lear wasn't able to finish his scripts after Part Three for the deadline, so Gary Russell had to take over writing for Part Four and rewrote the scripts. This is very evident for Part Four, as the pacing just becomes really choppy and the episode starts to drag. This wouldn't be a problem except that the audio is already at a long running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, which, with the odd pacing, accounts for about ten minutes of nothing really happening. The change in writing style is enormous, so I found myself asking where Russell could go as everything had pretty much wrapped up.

That plot is honestly one of the highlights of the story. Taking a page out of the Virgin New Adventures, we find ourselves in the newly formed 51st state of the United States of America, Malebolgia, home of the newly inaugurated Dashwood Institute, a mental asylum. In the institute, there are two very strange patients, both found on the same night and both mad as hatters. One is the enigma Zebadiah Doe who claims to be in his own personal hell and journalist Gideon Crane who both claim to be the Time Lord known as the Doctor. That is only one arm of the plot, as the Dashwood Institute is a front for Reverend Brigham Eliza Dashwood III and Dr. Dale Pargeter to run the Hellfire Club, a den of iniquity where they have summoned the demon Marchosias to get Dashwood to become the state's governor and eventually to the White House. They also have built a machine to make brain surgery, which is being investigated by Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart on a mission for the United Nations.

So yeah, the plot is pretty full, and that isn't even including Charley's subplot, which I will get to later. For now, let's move on to the Doctor and Gideon Crane, played by Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs respectively. Now the Eighth Doctor getting amnesia is nothing new, as throughout the BBC Books' run and during the TV Movie he has amnesia. Here, even though it is obvious from the start that the mysterious Zebadiah Doe is the Doctor, you still have intrigue as to how everything is going to play out, as Doe's insanity ramps up, leading to the revelation that he is going to have to be lobotomized. Paul McGann, while still giving a good performance, has the show stolen from him for the first three parts of the story by Nicholas Briggs. Gideon Crane is such an interesting character as, even though he is a human, he still feels like he could be the Doctor and if this is how he played the part in the Audio Visuals, it immediately increased their quality. His argument as to why he is the Doctor is nearly perfect, as what he does is something the Doctor would do to blend into the situation. McGann, however, shines in Part Four when he gets his memory back and gets to work off the Brigadier. Courtney and McGann have some great chemistry here, which is even better than the chemistry between Courtney and Colin Baker in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.

Moving on to India Fisher's Charley Pollard, she has one of the more adult subplots. She is captured by the club and forced into being a prostitute and meets up with Buffy-Summers-homage Becky Lee, who is a demon hunter from the Order of Saint Peter. They both are the leads for most of the story as we follow them, which is for the best as Charley doesn't understand modern technology and Becky Lee doesn't believe in time travel. They eventually team up with her grandfather, who has the worst American accent of the performers. It's stereotypically Southern, but I love him as a character. He is played by Morgan Deare, who also plays the demon in this story, Marchosias. That performance is much better suited, as he gets to be sarcastic and a trickster, which is great. The two human villains of this story are Dashwood and Pargeter, who are both great together, and Pargeter's eventual fate is chilling.

To summarize, Minuet in Hell is an underrated gem, as it sees an oddly atmospheric and very adult story reflecting the Virgin New Adventures, full of demons, sex and some pretty interesting characters. The pacing in Part Four and some bad American accents are really what bring it down, but much like The Stones of Venice it isn't for everyone. 80/100