Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Gary Hopkins|
|Continuity||After The Telemovie|
|Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas|
|Synopsis: While the Doctor and Charley are drawn into the murky world of nineteenth-century politics, C'rizz struggles to maintain his dignity against growing odds. What begins as an attempt to prevent murder quickly becomes a desperate race to avert revolution. Separated from the TARDIS, the travellers are left to wonder if they'll get their own lives back or be forever entangled with the lives of others.|
Fantabulous! by Joe Ford 1/3/06
The Doctor gets a family, C'rizz gets to be a monster, Charley gets mistaken as a prostitute and the Duke of Wellington finds out about the future. As I said, what an unusual adventure. And nothing, nothing could be more out of place than a genuinely brilliant eighth Doctor adventure in the current schedules! I thought this was a striking, well-written, beautifully performed and textured tale, full of great characters and (for once) exploiting the extended length of the audio.
Gary Hopkins' debut story was something of a disappointment and I don't even think it was the writer's fault. He had written a damn fine bleak thriller set on a devastated world, an eighth Doctor in the divergent universe (it actually hurts to type those words) which genuinely managed to hold the interest and provide some shock moments. When Charley asks C'rizz if he will kill her because of her disability I was gobsmacked but nothing topped the gloriously sick moment when the grinning, merciless Excelsior smothered the Edwardian Adventuress with a pillow. The Doctor was taken to the brink of insanity, his TARDIS stolen away, his companions killed, trapped on a dying world with a psychotic... it was clear that Hopkins knew exactly how to get inside the Doctor's head and write some great drama. Unfortunately a horrid reset button in the climax and an agonisingly bland performance by Paul McGann blunted what could have been his greatest adventure.
It was clear Hopkins deserved a second chance and I'm sure glad he was granted one. Other Lives is the best release this year bar none and might be the all round most accomplished Big Finish production since Neverland.
Whoever had the idea to take the three dullest regulars since the fifth Doctor, Adric and Tegan were inhabiting the TARDIS and create totally new lives for them was a genius. Don't mistake my words, the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz are still the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz but they are mistaken/fooled/talked into roles that are the opposite of what they used to. It allows us to see them in a totally different light and for me, for one story, lets each one of them shine as they reclaim their old lives back.
Let's start with the Doctor who gets what will (surely) be the story's most talked-about development. He is quiet in the first half of the tale, allowing his companions to hog the limelight, getting locked up and questioned and doing general Doctorly things. But when Georgina Marlow rescues him from a prison cell under the impression that he is her long lost husband, things get much more interesting for him. With his companions and TARDIS missing (hmm, Hopkins loves cutting him off from what he holds dear doesn't he?), he is forced to settle with Georgina and set up home. It allows us to see the eighth Doctor in a whole new light: he is gentle and insistent that he is not Georgina's husband but he clearly enjoys her company and seeks refuge with her. Together they soak up family life, have rows, eat meals, take the air together... it sounds vomit-inducing but written and performed this well, the Doctor's brief relationship with this woman is genuinely warm and fascinating to watch unfold. When it comes to the Doctor having to pretend to be her husband in order to trick her husband's uncle into allowing her and the kids to stay in the house you could be forgiven for thinking we have leapt into a Catherine Cookson novel but it is different for norm, not just for the eighth Doctor but Doctor Who in general and it really works.
It is here you get to see what a fantastic performer and what a fabulous character actor Paul McGann is, the Doctor slipping into the cosy domestic life with Georgina with real ease. At the climax the Doctor is delighted to have recovered his TARDIS and his friends but he lets his guard down with Georgina and admits that some part of him is tempted to stay with her. The romantic eighth Doctor comes closer to that love affair he long deserves. Some people might have a heart attack should he shack up with somebody but his openly flirtatious nature and general romanticism marks him as the one Doctor who I would not bat an eyelid at if he decided to consummate a relationship with somebody, be it male or female.
God bless India Fisher who I have bee particularly nasty about in recent years, not because she is an inadequate performer (go and listen to The Chimes of Midnight, Neverland and The Next Life if you want proof of that) but because her character has reached its peak and rumbled on and on and on and on without anything new to add. Whilst she might not revolutionise the companion role in Other Lives she is certainly in her tip-toppiest form and magnificent fun to be around. She delights in every single scene, almost bursting with excitement at getting to explore the Crystal Palace, striking up a charming relationship with the Duke of Wellington, leading on lecherous old gents and (after some persuasion) loving the chance to dress and pretend she is royalty. It's scripting, it must be! In Scaredy Cat she barely registered, here she is a beacon of enjoyment, headstrong and hilarious, independent and intoxicating. When she was mistaken for a prostitute I nearly wet myself, such was her horrified reaction. Her gentle moment with the Duke when he realises she is from the future mirrors a similar fantastic moment in the New Series' The Doctor Dances/The Unquiet Dead when she informs the Duke of the future and that he is remembered fondly as hero. Whilst I am still of the opinion that Charley needs closure soon, if the remainder of her appearances are as joyful as this I will be very happy. If there are any TV execs out there reading this (yeah, right!) India Fisher needs to be let loose in the world of television! She is a genuine talent!
The weakest of the bunch (as usual) but still far better than the norm is C'rizz with Hopkins managing to include him in his historical adventure with some panache, locking up the irritating chap and having him paraded around in a freak show! Other Lives manages to incorporate his "I am a silky voiced murderer but my friends don't know it" arc into the plot rather well: when he is released from Crackles' freak show I knew it would be only a matter of time before the lizard boy turned up to seek revenge on his erstwhile tormentor. I don't know if it is Conrad Westmaas' performance that has improved or if the writing is better, but I found his threats to kill Crackles far more menacing than in Terror Firma. And the story even gets to incorporate some comedy for C'rizz, as he has to dress up and pass his alien ass off as royalty. It's not high art, but for C'rizz it is at least interesting which is nothing short of a minor miracle.
There's plenty more to enjoy outside the regulars' new lease of life, including a guest cast to die for! Ron Moody plays the Duke with real gusto and charm, the sort of performance we haven't seen from Big Finish in years. Crackles is a suitably Dickensian character brought to life with that mixture of menace and humour that makes Dickens' characters so much fun. What of Francesca Hunt, India Fisher's sister stealing away her sister's man and playing the Doctor's wife? It's a marvellous piece of acting, as though she has stepped straight from a fab-o BBC historical drama, totally convincing and compelling. Whilst there are other forces at work here, the cast bring much of this story to life, attacking the script as though they loved every second of it.
It's by far the best thing Gary Russell has directed in yonks and yonks! Oi Gary, fantastic work! No matter where the story is staged, it is gloriously atmospheric and realistic, be it the Crystal Palace, the Piccadilly Freak Show, on the streets of London Town or the quiet intimacy of Georgina's house, I was sucked in (oo-er!) completely by the story's exhilarating atmosphere.
I can't believe I am saying this but it is an eighth Doctor story directed by Gary Russell and starring those hapless goons Charley and C'rizz and it is the most delightful release since The Wormery! It is a perfect example of Big Finish it their very best and deserves a place amongst the best of Doctor Who.
A very worthy Christmas release, not quite The One Doctor but miles a ahead of Bang-Bang-a-Boom!