Big Finish Productions
UNIT: The Longest Night
|Written by||Joseph Lidster|
|Starring Nicholas Deal and Siri O'Neal|
|Synopsis: A bomb has exploded in Central London.|
Brave and compelling... by Joe Ford 9/5/05
Shock horror! Big Finish manages to pull a rabbit out of its hat and produce a thoroughly decent release! I was starting to think they didn't have it in them anymore. And what's more it's really, really good, the sort of really, really good they used to produce on a regular basis. I was more gripped by this release than anything since Jubilee and the fact that it occurs in a spinoff series and not a very well regarded one at that makes it all the more powerful.
However I do feel Joseph Lidster needs to be told to calm down a little bit, he shows absolutely no restraint in his writing at all. At some points I was gobsmacked at how brave his script was for tackling so many delicate issues and in other points I was laughing at just how many non PC moments he tried to cram in. It is a script to truly upset fans who believe that Doctor Who should eject real world issues and concentrate on the realms of fantasy as this script has it all. Suicide bombings, racial slurs, religious intolerance, political assassinations, swearing, fascist dictators with mad schemes of power... I was making a mental checklist as I went along and found myself chuckling at just how far Lidster attempts to shock the listener.
However I cannot fault his use of the UNIT series, taking it into a direction Doctor Who could never go and living up to the promise (and more) of urban-based horrors. After the tedious Snake Head I was afraid the series was heading the Sarah Jane Smith way into quiet tales of monsters by the seaside but this gets back in thick of London and stirs up a storm that will have major ramifications for the series. This is like one of those Buffy and Angel "event" episodes where somebody important dies or the world comes close to destruction and every character is pushed to the limit. And it has more drama in it than any audio I've heard for years. In one 75 minutes production the UNIT series feels important, it suddenly has something to say and it solidifies its characters into a fascinating force all in one go. Bravo. I certainly wouldn't say no to a second series.
Although I have to admit the central storyline is borrowed wholesale from a particularly good episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine (although I'm fairly certain they stole it from somewhere else as well). The idea of a mad politician wanting to force the Prime Minister to invoke martial law by creating a violent fuss is ripe of drama so I don't mind too much. There was also a steal from a horrific episode of Cracker where Christopher Eccleston's Bilborough is slaughtered by a mad Liverpool supporter and is lying bleeding, not having a clue where he is and trying to give his fellow officers as much information about his whereabouts and the killer as he can before he snuffs it. This is again a fantastically dramatic idea and used to shocking effect in The Longest Night. Oh and every series under the sun has done the brainwashing idea, so that is old hat too. Thinking about it this isn't the most original of scripts... but there is nothing wrong with thieving an idea as long as you utilise it well and the frightening brainwashing sequence well and truly spooked me, so thumbs up again.
What Lidster does portray well is London on the brink of collapse thanks to the actions of one man. Parallels with Osama Bin Laden are obvious but the shocking effect a few bombs and suicides has on Britain here is not outside the realms of believability. When Kirby says that the British people will lash out when they are scared I agree with him wholeheartedly and the thought of racial tensions escalating after a few hundred people are killed in bombs is truly frightening. It wouldn't take much to get one half of the country to attack the other half, we live in a society which allows us much freedom of thought no matter how prejudiced that might be and those feelings could be enhanced with very little prodding... The story portrays UNIT trying to cope with the ugly mood of the people very well, to put it frankly they can't calm them down and things go from bad to worse and the feelings of desperation as the country starts lashing out are evocatively brought across. That is a story worth telling, people don't know how irrational they can be until they are put into those sorts of situations and The Longest Night provides a scary taster and much food for thought.
The regulars are back on form too and what form! Chaudhry and Dalton are given terrific focus here, both professionally and socially. The banter that seemed so false in the last story suddenly came alive, mostly down to stronger dialogue and a better setting. And when their friends start dying and they are brainwashed to kill, the fireworks really start going off and the chemistry between them rockets. I adored the scene where Emily cannot focus because of her grief for her friend and Dalton grabs her by the shoulders and reminds her there is work to be done. And Emily's fabulous stress out when things get out of control ("THIS ENDS NOW!") is top-notch drama. What makes the story so fun is knowing once the cat is out of the bag about the brainwashing that ONE of them will be subjected and the other will have to talk them around. The scene should be predictable and dull but instead it's touching and gripping. And as for the jawdropping developments in the last few seconds... just how the hell is he going to get out of this one?
What makes this so fantastic and raises the production above some of the overdone material is the top-flight direction from Ed Salt. Jesus Christ, where has he been hiding himself all these years? He has directed a number of Bernice release but they have more than often been quiet, subtle affairs and even when the script demanded fireworks he has toned down the story to ensure a quiet dignity about it. The Longest Night has some of the best direction we have ever seen in Big Finish, given the script throws so much at him Salt delivers a powerful, punchy and most of all thoroughly believable production. David Darlington is also at the top of his game here, finally given the chance to let rip and throw every musical trick at a production. The story was never confusing and often gripping... I cannot forget Hoffman's death scene over the phone or Dalton's singing of London's Burning as he attempts to kill the Prime Minister. The constant news reports add another layer of realism to this already gritty production and the scenes of the reporters suddenly coming under fire are highly memorable indeed!
And what fantastic performances! After several months of bland, dreary acting this story hits you like a brick in the face thanks to all the cast (there is no one here who comes out best, they are all superb) turning in wonderful, loud, remarkable performances. It is true that heightened drama brings the best out in performers and each of cast acquits themselves perfectly by first going for some degree of discipline and then igniting spectacularly. I would certainly love to see stronger acting of this sort from the regulars in the next release although I cannot imagine how they would top this.
It just goes to show that occasionally if you throw everything but the kitchen sink at a production it can turn out amazingly well. There is little that is subtle and quiet about The Longest Night and if you want that go watch a Peter Davison story. This is loud and proud, a sixth Doctor story on acid that not only provides the UNIT series with its biggest triumph yet (and one of the best spinoff adventures) but give you quite a bit to think about as well.
I listened to it twice in two days. It was that good.