Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Edward Young|
|Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier|
|Synopsis: A remote Scottish mansion. Five bickering academics are haunted by ghosts from their past. Reluctantly they offer shelter to the Doctor and his companions Ace and Hex. Hex, already troubled by a vivid nightmare, is further disturbed by the nighttime appearance of a whistling, hooded apparition. Ace tries to befriend the young housemaid, Sue. Sue knows secrets. She knows why the academics have assembled here, and she knows why they are all so afraid. But Sue's lips are sealed, preferring to communicate through her disturbing toy, Happy the Rabbit. And then the killing begins.|
Sleep Tight... by Mekel Rogers 30/4/06
The haunted house angle has been done before. So has the isolated think tank of scientists gone wrong. Night Thoughts, however, combines the two in a story that is wonderfully chilling and entertaining. The time twist in the middle is a nice touch as well.
The TARDIS trio comes off wonderfully here. Hex is a fantastic addition to the Sylvester/Sophie duo as he gives the Doctor someone to teach and Ace someone to flirt with. The playful teasing between Ace and Hex throughout the story is really cute and adds some much needed light moments to an otherwise serious story.
Sylvester McCoy does a great job playing against the scientists in the think tank, delivering such great lines as: "The greatest asset in fishing is caution, especially if you're a fish" and "The human race seems to have perfected everything, except itself."
The story while good, is not perfect, as episode four contains rather wordy explanations about why things happened the way they did, some of which are a bit far-fetched. Additionally, while most of the terror is conveyed in a suspenseful way (to the story's benefit), there are one or two rather graphic scenes that to me were a bit much, but then I'm rather easily disturbed by such things. The only scene that I thought was over the line was the final one which was needlessly graphic and can actually be deleted without losing the end of the story (as the previous scene sees the departure of the Doctor and company).
The final scene not withstanding, I enjoyed this adventure very much. Night Thoughts is a great way to get spooked, and this TARDIS trio is rapidly becoming my favorite mix of characters.
Bottom Line: I'm going to have trouble sleeping after this one!
Scary shit! by Joe Ford 6/5/06
Truly, truly excellent and the sort of excellent we haven't seen in a long while. The fact that it happens to be a seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex story merely makes the taste of success even sweeter. It probably requires a second listen once you have all the important information to see how cleverly it is all put together, but even on a first listen it is clear how well-written, well-directed and well-performed this is. What's more it's also the scariest thing Big Finish have offered up since The Chimes of Midnight and (for the sheer amount of scenes that made me shiver) it probably even tops that.
It pleases me so much that the Doctor, Ace and Hex get to be involved in a story that isn't impenetrable (Dreamtime), that doesn't split them up throughout (Live 34) and actually starts to exploit the relationships between them. It is easily Philip Olivier's best story since The Harvest and the only one which allows us to see how likable and useful Hex can be. Whilst his medical knowledge is a bonus (given people are dropping like flies in this story!), it is his compassion (especially in a very sweet scene with Sue where he talks about the mother he never knew and gives her her first hug) and his muscle (punching out Major Dickens) that marks him out as particularly useful. It is also helps that he is no longer being treated as the new boy and that he has stopped saying, "Oh my God!" ad nauseum. Olivier is not the sort of actor you would expect to find in Doctor Who (given he comes across as pretty hip and gorgeous) and at first it would seem that his very up-to-date character was completely out of place in Doctor Who, particularly these troubled times of Big Finish, but I am fully prepared to admit how wrong I was and can see now how his inclusion is not only pretty brave but gives the McCoy stories (easily the weakest of the bunch usually) something of a twinkle. What's more, he is perfectly surprising in spots, especially now he is called upon to do more than soap acting it is amazing to see how far his ability extends.
Ace is still the weak spot and Sophie Aldred continues to overdo it in places but in stories like Night Thoughts where she is underwritten and given more to do than explode emotionally and blow things up, she can be quite a treat. Certainly she gets knocked about a bit here, more than she is used to, and it is quite fun to see Hex rib her for it, considering how she acts like a seasoned time travel veteran, ready for anything. The biggest trouble with Ace which no matter how good the story is Big Finish will never be able to rectify is that Ace is clearly (more so than Nyssa and Turlough and Peri who they also use) a character bourne out of the eighties and add to that this is her one millionth appearance in a Doctor Who story (slight exaggeration but not much!). She comes across as outdated.
Sylvester McCoy, on the other hand, just cannot act. Or rather he can act in brief moments where he's not really trying to act (I'm not kidding you! Its when the seventh Doctor sounds bored or disinterested and tired that work the best, because there he is acting as I always imagined he should... above everyone else, aware of everybody's part and just going through the motions of his pre-arranged plans), but when he is putting effort into the role he comes across as tongue twistingly incomprehensible and worse, unbelievable. I don't mean to be cruel, but he just does not make the dialogue sound convincing; no matter what interesting things they are doing with his character it is the performance that counts. There are more than a few hints of his darker Doctor here, especially when he has to go back in time ask for a child to be killed, that push the boundaries in a very pleasing way. The fact that the villain is going around using a recording of his voice before he attacks people is creepy in itself but the way the Doctor seems to know what is happening without having a clue who any of the players are before they arrive terrifies me; he always seems to be holding back on explanations, letting his friends work it out for themselves. A complex character, if not entirely satisfying.
However, despite their flaws together they make a highly engaging team. Hex brings out the teacher in the Doctor and the more mature Ace and there is clearly a great deal of affection between them which makes scenes like Hex's concern for Ace when she is wandering through a garden full of animal traps genuinely tense.
The direction is brilliant, Gary Russell might have his off days but the last few releases he has dealt with have been excellent, as though he has remembered how special Doctor Who is and how quality it should always be. I point out the direction especially because many scenes in Night Thoughts are designed to scare and it doesn't matter how well-written they are, unless the director gets the atmosphere right it is for nothing. The attacks in Night Thoughts are terrifying and the timing is always perfect. Take the scene where the Deacon discovers something has been going on behind her back... her panic rises, her screams get louder and then falls silent and we hear... ghastly breathing heading towards her. It's terrifyingly good and one of many frightening treats (the end of episode one is fab, Hex alone in a deathly silent night time kitchen and ripe for somebody with a tape recording of the Doctor's voice to attack him).
The scary moments are all very well but the story is never short of drama either or clever ideas to back it up. The backstory of Idee's death is heartbreaking and the catalyst for some nasty experiments in time travel. How this involves all of the guest characters is brilliantly written as we get to see the effects of their crimes before the cause is slowly revealed via each death. This leads to a stunning final episode where we realise the insane ambitions of one character have serious ramifications for the remaining characters, especially the Doctor, who has to choose between life and death for one character. Throughout all this we have Sue, the very disturbed little girl who, along with her toy rabbit Happy, have their own story to tell. Surprisingly Sue turns out to be less involved in the plot than I would have thought but who cares, any scene with Happy the Rabbit is great. What a frightening creation and what a voice! Wait until you hear the last scene... I guarantee you will be squirming with delight!
The acting is strong across the board and the only real complaint I have is out of all of the suspects it really isn't difficult to figure who the baddie will turn out to be. But there are some lovely moments dotted about; the Bursar's frightened acknowledgement that she has been held prisoner for ten years (Joanna McCullum), the Deacon's discovery of her own suicide note (Ann Beach) and Sue's quiet admission that she has never had a hug (Lizzie Hopley). Another strong ensemble cast in the Other Lives' vein where a particular combination of actors genuinely enhance the strength of a good script. As ever the production work is good, although I feel I should compliment Gareth Jenkins at ERS for the highly atmospheric music, working all the better because it is very subtle in places and the director has chosen the perfect spots (when characters are being approached by the monster) for there to be no music at all.
There's not really much more I can say about Night Thoughts except head out a buy it now. It's the first Big Finish story I can wholeheartedly recommend in about two years, where both style and substance are equally good and the overall experience might just change the way you look at Doctor Who in general, especially its ability to scare you silly. Although may I make one further recommendation first, switch all the lights off, wait until you are alone and then listen to this story. You won't regret it, I promise you...
"Terrible Things, Night Thoughts" by Hugh Sturgess 5/3/12
It is an amazing fact that Edward Young managed to write the script to Night Thoughts fifteen years before it was finally performed, pass it by Andrew Cartmel and then into the hands of Gary Russell, and then have it read by about ten actors - and it wasn't until they were performing it that someone said "hang on, where's the ending?" Having checked and discovered that the script did indeed end without warning shortly before the end of part two, director Gary Russell told the cast to make up any old random ending, so long as it wasn't very good (in line with Big Finish editorial policy). This is the remarkable true story of how Night Thoughts was born.
Not to put too fine a point on it, what the hell is this? A slasher-style story which forgets about its slasher, a character piece in which irritating non-characters say annoying things and then die at the hands of a threat with the personality of a pet rock, a thriller with a plot that stops making sense at about the end of episode two and begins to be produced ad lib from then on... all are accurate descriptions of this story. Andrew Cartmel, the man who oversaw Remembrance of the Daleks, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Ghost Light, Survival and so on, "would recommend this script to anyone". Presumably, he meant "recommend to any script-editor as having lots of potential". He probably couldn't imagine a producer who didn't think that the script would only be adequate after being completely rewritten. He had never conceived of Gary Russell.
Honestly, in no way is this a finished script. If Night Thoughts had been made for television, it would not be of broadcast standard. Young fails to demonstrate the slightest discipline in his story. Characters change their motivations between scenes. Their memories change too, and not in a deliberate, Blair Witch 2 way either. Plot threads are picked up and dropped without explanation. The only way the non-story as it exists can work is through 100% idiot plotting. Most astonishingly of all, it manages to make the greatest mistake a horror story can and makes its villain less threatening than an old lady in a tea shop. It teases us with a monstrous zombie revived by pure hatred, but the actual villain is so underwhelming that it's a surprise when his defeat is presented as the climax. It has ambitions beyond the usual mindless tits-and-gore of the slasher genre, but that doesn't get it any extra points because it's a Doctor Who story and I expect a bit more than mindless tits-and-gore to begin with.
I've searched around, but I've failed to find a review of this story anywhere near as negative as mine will be. So many people gave this shit twelve out of ten that you'd think it contained proof of the existence of the soul. Is my brain not working? Are the hidden depths of this story some kind of blind spot for me? Was there a mix-up at the factory, and I received a CD of the cast mucking around for 150 minutes? This is hideous. It makes me too appalled to speak. The fact that so many other people gave it good-to-middling reviews testifies to the infinite capacity for variation in human taste.
I don't know who to blame for this abysmal mess of a story. Whoever it was: you suck. We might blame Edward Young, who wrote this in 1989 and should - surely - have reread when he got it out of the attic and thought he might make a buck off Big Finish. Did he notice how it didn't make sense? Hmm, perhaps it would be churlish to insult a man who can't even write two consecutive scenes that fit together, let alone an entire audioplay. What about Gary Russell? The gratuitous and irrelevant reference to Kathleen Dudman clings to your ear-canals like bukkake footage to the eyes, which sounds like a lot of Russell's work. After so many years at the head of Big Finish, did he think for a moment about the plot of Night Thoughts? By the look of it, no. Don't believe me? Well, here are a few... well, we can hardly call them "plot" holes, can we?
Spoilers, by the way, if anyone cares...
No thought has been put into this story. Edward Young seems unable to stop re-writing the story and giving it a new plot mid-scene. The resolution to the episode three cliffhanger is possibly the biggest cheat in Doctor Who history. (A big call.) Why does the Major tell the Doctor that Eadie is in the coffin when she isn't? He admits he's lying within subjective seconds, so what did this achieve? How could he have known that Eadie's corpse would lurch back into a monstrous parody of life in the present, when that a) doesn't make sense, b) isn't what modern science suggests and c) isn't what he's just said he believes will happen? The Major's obviously mad (the Doctor says so at the end, in a massive authorial hand-wave), but it's pure laziness to pin the blame for the Major's constantly changed plans on his lunacy. Why did he do all this? The Doctor explains: "he was an extremely evil and callous individual." Bad things are done by wicked people, well that explains everything.
Not to mention that he makes a spectacularly flimsy villain. Zombie-Eadie has been menacing various characters throughout the story, and has (sort of) killed Hartley and the Deacon. The Major forgets all about the murders and the story promotes him to the position of antagonist without warning. He suddenly becomes one of those cackling megalomaniacs with the laugh-that-begins-with-N, bullying and threatening his way into getting what he wants, but how? There's no hint that he has a weapon, and can't exactly overpower Ace and the Doctor and strap bear-traps to their legs singlehandedly, particularly with the wandering Hex to deal with too. So why do the Doctor and Ace, of all people, put up with him, a man whose ambition is to be let back into the army? That's his Evil Plan. Is Young honestly asking us to believe that the seventh Doctor, who fights with gods and demons every other day, is going to be even remotely inconvenienced by this loser? Imagine what the tenth Doctor would do. He'd laugh, piss on him and run away. I think even Torchwood might have been able to handle him without too much difficulty, and they'd have problems helping old ladies across the road.
The script also makes the story-killing mistake of making its "slasher" impotent. Zombie-Eadie is never threatening. She "kills" Hartley by giving him a heart-attack (or by pushing him down the stairs, depending on which side of the absolutely shithouse editing we currently are), forces the Deacon to kill herself, bungles her poisoning of Ace and the Bursar (who promptly forgets about the near-fatal attack) and, in the "terrifying" episode one cliffhanger, locks Hex in the kitchen, plays a recording of the Doctor's voice, whistles a bit and then lets him out again. She doesn't do anything else until the very, very end, when she pushes a stuffed bear over on an old lady and then kills the Major after everyone else has left. Right. Not exactly Michael Myers, is she? I liked Eadie at the beginning, whistling her way around the place with a dodgy tape-recording of the Doctor's voice (a bit like The Empty Child, really), and her one and only piece of dialogue is nicely macabre (and marks possibly the first time in Doctor Who that the evil genius behind things is a stuffed toy), but, in context, it's just another inexplicable, unplanned and totally unconnected moment of randomness in a story where basically only the actors have remained the same throughout.
As you can probably tell, I hated this story and I haven't even got onto the actors. Episode one, on rare occasions, becomes an effective mood piece, but the rest is marred by pretentious dialogue and terrible acting. Sylvester McCoy is dire, truly awful. I don't know whether this is usual for his Big Finish stories but it's worse than any of his performances on screen by a power of ten. As in, he goes from positive to negative on the scale of goodness. Dear God. What the hell is he doing when he decides to scare everyone with nonsense? "The tears of a child, the greatest water-power known to man... remember that!" and some grisly story about a bear (see what I did there?). Admittedly, this is the script's fault. Aha! I can blame Edward Young again. Hartley charitably tells Ace that the Doctor "seems intelligent... and wise", when he's been spouting utter cackpole ever since he arrived. He redeems himself later when he goes back in time to convince a group of scientists to murder a healthy young girl. In the main, though, McCoy was almost certainly on drugs for this story and I can't say I blame him.
Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier are better, but Aldred at least has to cope with 24-carat enforced stupidity all the way through, most notably when Hex tells her that someone in a hoodie has used the Bursar's stairlift: she accepts that the stairlift has been used, but dismisses the obvious whistling as the wind and goes back to bed. Later, Sue says some seriously creepy things that see her shoot up in the story's list of suspects and yet Ace doesn't think to tell the Doctor.
The guest cast are worse. There are only two actors worth a damn in this story. One of them is Hartley and he's dead before the first cliffhanger. The Major is so blustery and angry that he's just a caricature from the start and when we're expected to take him seriously it beggars belief. The Deacon starts out irritating ("Hurricanes Adam to Zachariah are brewing up for a Biblical storm!"... hmm, could she be religious?) and graduates to "too annoying to live" before the end of episode one. Needless to say, I was glad when she was horribly murdered. She suffers from the handicap of having a comedy Scottish accent, but her risible delivery of "my gals in the rambling society would be proud o' me!" was uncalled for.
Only O'Neill seems like a real person, to begin with at least, despite the idiot plotting. He's perfectly fine when he's an ordinary man in ordinary circumstances, but beyond that he loses it. He also has to deal with the line "I am your father". It would take a much better actor than Andrew Forbes to pull that horror off, and later he attempts to deadpan a line about exhuming the ten-year-old corpse of his eldest daughter. This man's family has been destroyed, for God's sake. He just sounds mildly flustered. The Bursar is better, but still suffers from the portentous dialogue. We're supposedly to believe these people killed someone and have been consumed with guilt ever since? Give me a break.
What destroys this story is an atrocious combination of two factors: a bad script and crap acting. A good production can cover a multitude of sins, and a good script ruined by its execution can summon admiration and pity. Here, everything Edward Young doesn't ruin, the actors do. The acting is terrible and the script barely qualifies as a narrative. In many ways, the script is the dark, horror-flick version of A Christmas Carol: random shit happens for the duration with the barest excuse for a plot, and eventually the story ends. What makes this different to the Steven Moffat Christmas episode is that the latter is a high-class production filled with very good acting and sumptuous production values.
The people who made this story are either morons or believe that the audience are. I took no pleasure in listening to this abysmal creation, but I managed to extract a certain degree of bloodthirsty satisfaction in skewering it to the limits of my vocabulary. Maybe after several re-drafts and recasting, this might have become a gruesome little horror story with time-travel in the mix, as there's a ton of potential. For God's sake, if you have a gruesome zombie killer, USE her rather than jettison her from the plot before the halfway mark. If there's a field filled with bear-traps, USE the damn things. Imagine Ace, fleeing from Zombie-Eadie through the dark forest, stumbling into the trap and becoming caught in it. Bleeding, in immense pain and unable to move, she hears the gruesome breathing of Eadie coming closer and closer... That would have been awesome. I like the concept of Doctor Who Knows What You Did Last Summer, but this is neither a good horror story nor a good mystery. As it stands, Night Thoughts is a story without a noticeable trace of material that makes it worth your money.
A Review by Brian May 27/4/14
Night Thoughts is yet another Big Finish tale set in that most cliched of locations, the isolated house. It's a mix of suspense, horror and murder mystery that veers off in a strange direction in the final episode, not unlike its predecessors, The Chimes of Midnight and Master. It was written in the late 1980s and intended for the original televised series but, due to its cancellation in 1989, this was not to be. Listening with this in mind, you can detect the Season 26 parallels, in particular a stylistic and thematic similarity to Ghost Light, but also a reflection of the overall dark mood that typified Andrew Cartmel's later years.
It mixes that period's atmosphere with the more explicit fare we've come to expect from 1990s non-TV Doctor Who, the New Adventures in particular. The final scene is certainly one you'd expected to have read in 1993 or 1994, with the added bonus of sound effects to augment the grisliness. There are a lot of disturbing ideas here, although the story tends to tie itself in knots in part four, creating a bit too much confusion for its own good. Worse still, the writing actually draws attention to the problems. Characters and their motivations are out of kilter in the latter half, and there are some purely ridiculous moments that exist for plot expediency rather than logic, the glaring example being the Doctor locking Ace and the Bursar in the cellar.
Also present is the one problem Big Finish really should have ironed out by now: clunky explanatory dialogue. We have Hex talking to himself in the kitchen at the end of part one; likewise Ace in the attic in part two. But it's Andrew Forbes as O'Neill who gets the rawest of deals with lines like: "Could someone tell me why we're all here, dragged out of our beds at five in the morning?" and "He said it would be down here in the cellar"
All this needed was some tweaking. For example, maybe: "He said it would be in the cellar. We come down here to look, and what do you know, he's right!" (Not fantastic I know, but better than what we got!) Granted, it was originally scripted for television, but even if the writer hadn't the ear for transposing such lines to audio, the producer and/or director definitely should have. But this is not to say that the story is devoid of any sparkling lines. On the contrary, there are quite a few of them; the story of the dancing bear and "blood under the bridge" are exquisitely creepy and prescient, while O'Neill's "clockwork soldier" gag is pretty neat. (The Thora Hird quip is a bit too UK-centric though.)
The play is well performed by all the cast. Despite having the aforementioned awkward lines, Andrew Forbes is excellent, while one of my favourite Who guest actors, Bernard Kay, makes a memorable return after more than thirty years. The regular line-up of seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex is very strong too, in only their third outing.
All in all, Night Thoughts is enjoyable as long as it remains in the spirit of its genre; when it's about an apparently haunted house in a wintry setting, bumps in the night, murders and the like. It falls apart in the final episode, not necessarily losing the genre trappings but diluting them in layers of convolution and spoiling the fun. Anyhow, it's good to see an aborted television story given a second chance, even if the adaptation to audio has significant flaws. 6.5/10