THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Nowhere Place

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2006

Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables

Synopsis: 2197. The fighter-carrier Valiant has just crossed Pluto's orbital path. Its captain is expecting trouble from alien raiders. She is not expecting the Doctor and Evelyn. 1952. The Turret Class locomotive Ivy Lee is hurtling through the night. On board, there should only be two passengers: both of them carrying documents from the War Office. But now, there are also two unexpected visitors on the train. One is the guard with ill-fitting trousers, the other is an excessively dotty old lady. The Doctor and Evelyn have arrived and 'Time's End' is approaching.


Reviews

Jealous victims... by Joe Ford 10/5/07

Thank goodness.

Colin Baker has been given something of a bum deal with Big Finish of late. After building him up as their star attraction, realising much of the potential his character so obviously left hanging when he was unexpectedly sacked from the show, they have left his character in something of a "nowhere place" (witty guy, huh?). Given the shuffling of four Doctors, it is always a couple of months before Colin gets a look in and if his stories are underwhelming (and let's face it Pier Pressure, Cryptobiosis and Medicinal Purposes were all pretty dull) you have a huge gap between this and the last time Colin has a chance to shine.

The Nowhere Place is the best Colin Baker story since Arrangements for War. It's not absolutely perfect, but as a piece of storytelling and for giving Colin Baker and Maggie Stables a chance to prove they are still the best Big Finish have to offer, it deserves much plaudits.

There is more than a touch of Sapphire and Steel about this story but that only works to its advantage, the mysterious (and hugely ominous) door that is sucking people through into the nowhere place proving to be far more terrifying than any alien threat. Not only that but the mixture of science-fiction and the past (highlighted by juxtaposition of the settings, on a spaceship one moment and on a steam train the next) is perfectly intoxicating. The Doctor and Evelyn land like elements out of time ready to sort out the problem. If Big Finish was not already dealing with Sapphire and Steel I would think P J Hammond would be calling his lawyers.

The most important thing though are the ideas and, as usual with Doctor Who, it is imagination that sees the story triumph rather than glossy production values (although The Nowhere Place does exhibit these too!). When I heard that Nicholas Briggs was taking over from Gary Russell at Big Finish I punched the air with delight. This is not meant as Russell-bashing, because he did a fabulous job setting up the audio range and produced a fair number of absolute classics but there is something about Briggsy's work which screams of effort, as though sweat and blood has gone into making it. He has a marvellous ear for writing dialogue, understands how to milk drama from his fertile ideas and (as if that wasn't enough) is a superb director, musician and actor to boot. No, a change of creative direction is what Big Finish has been desperate for for several years and if The Nowhere Place is an example of what they will produce then sign me up. Tellingly, Briggs writes, directs, scored and acts in this production and its quality speaks for itself.

There are so many things to admire about the script, the dramatic tension between the Doctor and Captain Oswin, the possession of Evelyn (which could have been as dire as it was in Pier Pressure but is pulled with remarkable drama here), the hilarious scenes on the steam train where the Doctor pretends to be the ticket man, the massive red herring as the Doctor is tricked into going back in time, the Doctor's fear... but most importantly the revelation that the human race was not the first race to evolve on the Earth. It is a shock twist like this that can decide a story's fate but this pulled off with real elegance, suddenly making sense of the all the bizarre happenings earlier on. The last episode is pretty amazing all told, especially the Doctor's reaction to all the species he has never met that were wiped out and facing his nightmares head on.

There are many people who have adored the sixth Doctor's gentler transition to audio but, as ever with these things, there are those who feel as though he has lost his bite. The Nowhere Place presents us with the sixth Doctor at his absolute finest, when you wouldn't even think of him as a Doctor but the Doctor. Here we see his warm relationship with Evelyn, easily matching that of the fourth Doctor's with Sarah and the seventh Doctor's with Ace. They are clearly made for each other and the chemistry between Colin and Maggie is effortless and marvellously entertaining. So when the pair of them start acting edgy and terrified it is very frightening and both actors take on a nervous, uncomfortable tone that really gets under your skin. Seeing the brash, verbose sixth Doctor genuinely terrified is really unnerving and his desperation to find answers results in some dramatic scenes with Oswin. It is in the final episode where we see what the Doctor (and Colin) are made of where the Doctor lands the TARDIS in front of the door and confronts his fear with all the bravery and determination as the third Doctor did before he died. The emotions that he displays during these scenes is extraordinary; anger at the genocide of so many species, guilt at never discovering their passing, sympathy for the race which has been condemned to Time's End, contempt for their jealousy at other species who were given the chance to reach the stars and keep going, regret at the severity of his actions to stop them. The quiet scene between the Doctor and Evelyn after he has destroyed the Nowhere Place is fantastic, Evelyn wanting to know what the hell the whole adventure was about and after the Doctor asks her what it felt like she decides she would rather not know. Colin attacks this script with real gusto, unafraid to strip down layers of his character to give the audience an uncomfortable ride and Maggie Stables is always great value, her frightened performance one of Evelyn's top appearances to date. I was unsure about listening to more Evelyn stories after her departure but now I am convinced that there is much for this duo still to show us.

The other performances are variable but the best of them are smashing, especially Martha Cope, who after first hearing her in episode one I though I would really hate but from nowhere her character's strength of conviction really pleased me. The scene where the Doctor manages to convince her he is on her side with just words is phenomenal. I wasn't that thrilled with John Killoran as Palmer who is playing something of a bored character so his bored-sounding performance is probably quite good, but it still didn't convince me that much.

Basically, what you have here are three episode of spooky weirdness (but riveting spooky weirdness) and then a final episode that brings the house down. Loaded with great concepts, a chance for the regulars to shine and a production as polished as anything Nicholas Briggs directs, The Nowhere Place is easily the best this year. Let's have some more of this quality please.


A Review by Brian May 26/3/13

The Nowhere Place has filler written all over it. I can't be certain, of course, and apologies to Nicholas Briggs if I'm wrong, but there's the overall feel this was put together quickly, perhaps to plug a gap in the Big Finish schedule. It's very derivative, featuring the usual assortment of Doctor Who staples: the spaceship setting, the disbelieving authority figure who eventually comes round, the manipulation of human race memory and a confrontation with an ancient entity. Of course, calling the story filler is by no means an intention to denigrate it, for there are certainly enjoyable moments.

My favourite aspect is the allure of two juxtaposed settings: a spaceship near Pluto in 2197 and a steam train in 1950s England. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, just to see how the two disparate elements will be brought together. (I'm also a sucker for any story with a substantial train setting!) What doesn't help, though, is that the first two episodes are, respectively, slow and padded. The first takes quite a while to get going, while during the second (especially listened to in retrospect) it's as if the writer wants terribly to get to the train, but realises he can't do so until the next episode, i.e. the logical point for such a transition. Thus he has to stall proceedings with the obligatory escape and recapture.

The acting is all good, with Colin Baker and Maggie Stables excellent as always. Of the non-regulars, those portraying the Valiant crew do well with rather thankless, cliched roles; basically, your usual spaceship assortment. The dialogue they utter is bog standard, as is most of the script, with a definite exception: Ridgely's lines. Of course, he's portrayed by Nicholas Briggs himself, who just happens to be the writer and director. The insults Ridgely hurls at his taciturn minder are quite amusing, and Briggs gives a gregarious performance to match. He's more restrained in the final episode as the voice and embodiment of the above-mentioned entity, but he's still given himself the best material. This said, however, just listen to Baker at the beginning of part three, when he defends Evelyn against Oswin. What he says isn't that spectacular, but the way he says it is. He's incredibly passionate, with a gusto that may as well be one of his marvellous Big Finish soliloquies we've been treated to in recent times.

As I said in the opening paragraph, The Nowhere Place feels like a filler, but at least everyone makes the effort. It's not without its high points and throws in a few scares along the way: the nondescript sound of a bell ringing quickly becomes a thing of dread, while the anachronism of the ancient door in the futuristic setting is indeed an arresting "image". The final showdown is also quite good. It's an unspectacular story, but one that's hard to dislike. 7/10