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!
Pictures at an Exhibition by Jacob Licklider 20/2/21
Taking C'rizz into the Victorian era on Earth is an idea that presents the main problem: namely, C'rizz being an alien that resembles a humanoid chameleon means he cannot go to that period of Earth without being mistaken for a freak. Gary Hopkins of course doesn't forget this and makes it one of the three subplots that makes up Other Lives. The story is surrounded by the Doctor taking Charley to see the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace where two French Ambassadors steal the TARDIS, C'rizz is taken to a freak show, Charley meets the Duke of Wellington and the Doctor is mistaken for the long-lost husband of a poor woman. Each of these stories serves as a way to show just how the characters act when put into an odd situation, and each is extremely entertaining to listen to.
Starting with the Doctor's story, we have another situation of the Doctor meeting up with a random doppelganger of himself for no reason except because why not? He is confused for the missing husband of Georgina Marlow, played by Francesca Hunt. This portion of the story is definitely the weakest, not for McGann or Hunt's performances, but for the writing from Hopkins who beats around the bush to explain why Mrs. Marlow would confuse the Doctor for her husband until Part Four where the plot gets interesting and the motivations behind Mrs. Marlow are revealed. You see, she and her husband are very poor and are living in the home of his uncle, Rufus Dimplesqueeze, played by Maitland Chamber, who has it under contract that if George disappears for more than a year his wife and kids are left on the street with nothing. This alone makes you sympathize with Marlow's plight, and of course the Doctor is only happy to help with convincing Dimplesqueeze that George has returned and they can keep the home. Paul McGann really feels invested in his story, which just brings back the breathless romantic that we all know and love.
Moving on to Charley, who has an almost comedy of errors happen to her. First she gets separated from the TARDIS, but that's okay because she meets the Duke of Wellington, played by veteran actor Ron Moody, and gets into his good graces. She then gets kicked out of the Great Exhibition and mistaken for a prostitute by Rufus Dimplesqueeze and gets drunk and kicked to the curb. Everything begins to come up roses when she gets accepted into the Duke's home for the night and helps solve C'rizz' storyline, but they have to impersonate French diplomats, which for C'rizz is just a chance to get some witty wordplay and then it's all over. Now, I like India Fisher, and she has quite a lot of good stuff in this and is at the top of her game, but a lot of Charley's plot in this also has the feeling of extreme padding, except for the French diplomat stuff. It isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just sort of sticks out like a sore thumb in this story, which just diminishes the whole piece some.
The real meat of the plot is C'rizz's plot, which can be described as fun; well, as fun as a man being forced into a freak show and degraded for his outward appearance actually could be. He really sums up this portion of the story in a nutshell Part Four of his overview to the Eighth Doctor Adventures, which is a worthwhile watch for anyone wanting to get into Big Finish. This story is really good at giving us leaps and bounds for C'rizz as a character, as he is captured by Jacob Crackles who he eventually promises to save in a scene that is absolutely terrifying, as we know what it means for C'rizz to save someone actually is. This story outside of the disturbing freak-show subplot has a lot of comedy in it, with the absolute best being Charley's reaction to being called a prostitute and the Janet! Brad! Dr. Scott! Rocky! Piss Off! Moment at the end of the story.
To summarize, Other Lives does just what it says on the tin, giving you a good glance into the other lives of Victorian era. It relies on a lot of coincidence and quite a lot of it happens to feel like filler, but it is still a really good photograph into another time that I say must be enjoyed by people. 80/100