Big Finish Productions
The Year of the Pig

Written by Matthew Sweet Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2006

Starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryan

Synopsis: Ostend, 1913. War is coming. A war in which millions will die. And the guest in suite 139 of the Hotel Palace Thermae knows it. Which is odd, considering he has trotters, a snout and a lovely curly tail.


A Review by Stephen Maslin 29/3/10

The institution of Doctor Who as a Christmas treat first saw the light of day at Christmas in 1965 with The Feast of Steven, shoehorned incongruously into the 12-parter The Daleks' Master Plan. Twenty odd minutes of knockabout comedy only three episodes after the rather distressing death of one companion and a mere five weeks before the gruesome death of another. For Big Finish listeners, this perhaps dubious festive tradition was revived at the end of 2001 with The One Doctor. In spite of its pairing the least popular Doctor with least popular companion and completely dispensing with reverence, it didn't totally suck. (Indeed, it heralded somewhat of a halcyon period, Big Finish really hitting their stride with the Eighth Doctor's Season 2002, followed by Marc Platt's incomparable Spare Parts.) For a few years, the Christmas story was a regular feature of the BF schedule: as out and out comedy, Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, or momentous conclusion, The Next Life, or, best of all, something that actually felt christmassy, 2005's Other Lives, tragically drowned out by David Tennant's TV debut. Perhaps the Doctor as a Christmas fixture on television urged a rethink at Big Finish, as (with the possible exception of The Raincloud Man) The Year of The Pig has been the last offering that could have been termed in any way a Christmas special.

Which is a shame, because YotP is really very good and almost unlike any Doctor Who story before or since: a literary treasure trove of historically erudite period detail, some genuinely left field ideas and a lot of very quotable wit. This is not just the outpourings of some fanboy who got lucky, this is truly professional stuff. (It should come as no surprise that YotP's author actually works in radio.) With no endless descriptions of alien physiognymy or spacecraft, no pseudo-scientific gobbledy-gook and no interminable battle scenes, dramatic consistency is achieved by quite different means.

While the wonderful opening dialogue sets the tone, the time and the place, the second roots everything firmly in Doctor Who territory with that perennial old chestnut, "me and my previous selves" but with the unique gallic flavour of Proust as the point of comparison. There is an emphasis on food which, given the title, is entirely appropriate. Yet what seem at first to be mere gratuitous, harbours some beautiful observations (sandwiches with the crusts 'guillotined') and references that tie into the drama. (The Doctor's trousers are 'like a humbug', battenburg cake matches the colour of his waistcoat and so on.)

As the story progresses, the tedious pomposities of mainstream sci-fi are repeatedly deflated. Here, of course 'The Doctor' is a stage name ("Never trust a man with a title... Doctor"). When asked if he has travelled, the Doctor attempts closure by testily asking, "Do you know a place called Varos?" Only to be trumped... "Of course! It's one of the Anderman islands."

Watched from an upstairs window, the Doctor saves a man from drowning, only to find that he makes a rather too swift recovery. The Doctor and Peri are nevertheless invited to dinne by him, along with the incomparable Miss Bultitude, all three of them realising that their host is a fraud. As the party breaks up, at Miss Bultitude's urging, they go to meet someone else, someone rather special, staying at the hotel but upon entering, are floored by an anachronisitic stun gun...

The cast enjoy themselves immensely with the sparkling dialogue (so good that there is mercifully no need to drown the whole in constant sub-standard music, an all-too common complaint with Who in the 21st Century). No one puts a foot wrong. The biggest joy surely comes from Maureen o'Brien's long overdue return to the fold. And she is brilliant, every line delivered with supreme gusto and, more often than not, extremely funny. With the music so understated, the dialogue witty and elusive, detail piled upon detail (for instance, such as answering "Ahoy" when answering the phone), the effect is almost hypnotic. Though the feeling of period is extremely strong, the writer gets Peri and the Doctor just right and there are enough back catalogue references ("the giant rat of the river fleet" and the like) to keep the obsessives happy. Who the villain will really turn out to be is skilfully avoided, red herrings aplenty.

YotP is such an uncharacteristic delight that it's a wonder it got made at all. In the midst of some quite ordinary sci-fi from Big Finish (and some real drivel, particularly Red and Nocturne), it is perhaps a companion piece to say, The Kingmaker or Memory Lane. It's just such a shame that the title couldn't have been changed, as the script makes a virtue of not revealing Toby's true identity until some way into the first disc.

Nevertheless, great story-telling, great dialogue, great cast. A real oddball, yes, but a real treat too.


(And look out for the cows!)

You Did Good, Pig by Jacob Licklider 26/11/21

The BBC has always been known to do period drama extremely well, especially when set in Victorian or Edwardian times. Year of the Pig, while never intended for television, plays to this fact, as it takes place in Ostend in 1913 on the eve of World War I and takes inspiration from the freak shows and carnival oddities of the period, more specifically the famous Toby the Sapient Pig. This was of course just a pig that had some Pavlovian experimentation done to make it react to stimulus, but the fame came from the fact that its owner wrote an 'autobiography' for the pig. Really the plot of the story is obvious: Toby the Sapient Pig is an actual Sapient Pig and is being chased down by the villainous Inspector Charladot into Ostend, while the Doctor and Peri are awestruck that there could be a Sapient Pig. The plot is nothing that special and is the main weakness of the story or lack thereof. There really isn't much plot going on, but Sweet makes up for this with the brilliant characters.

Toby the Sapient Pig, played by Paul Brooke, steals the show as he plays the part convincingly as an actual pig. He loves sweets and survives on the things that really aren't good for him. He also doesn't have the morality of a human being and threatens to eat Peri when he thinks she's a threat. The performance gives off this sort of dark comedy that really fits with the foreboding setting of the tense period before the outbreak of World War I. The reveals about what Toby actually is also makes a lot of sense, as really what else could he have been. The story also boasts the return of Maureen O'Brien as Miss Alice Bultitude, who is a complete fangirl. Vicki is probably the fourth best Hartnell companion, mainly due to O'Brien, and here it shows through, as she has this voice that has this sense of delight in the story. It's really a great performance that makes the setting come alive, as she is your typical aristocrat from the early 20th century. There is also Toby's nurse Albertine, played by Adjoa Andoh, who represents the working class in this story. She doesn't care that her client is a pig, as it gives her a chance to live her life decently. She also is a nurse and will help the sick even if it is a villain, as that is her first duty in life, to help those in need of it. The only shame is that Andoh wasn't credited on the cover of the story, as she is as integral as O'Brien and Keating.

Speaking of Michael Keating, he returns to Big Finish to play another villain, this time Inspector Charladot, who really doesn't come across as a villain. He's more of an antagonist, and Keating plays the part as a gentleman. He is introduced as drowning, so the Doctor saves him, and the Inspector is extremely grateful for the assistance. He has only kindness for Peri, Nurse Albertine and even Toby, but still wants to control his "experiment" until the very end where the real twist about Toby and the Inspector is revealed. I won't ruin it, but if you're clever, you may be able to guess it, as there are several hints scattered throughout the story. That said, Sweet keeps his supporting cast miniscule, which allows him to devote a lot to their characters. This works in a story like this where the characters are at the forefront. The Doctor and Peri are also rather interesting here, as the story takes place following the events of Timelash so we're still in the portion of their relationship where they are antagonistic, and this story works as the bridge to make them friends. They still fight, but now they also enjoy each other's company and are ready to travel on together. Baker and Bryant are both really good at doing these characters and are having an extremely good time working together again.

To summarize, Year of the Pig is really a diamond in the rough of a story as the thing on the outside really didn't have a lot going for it. It takes place at a turbulent time for the show and has an absurd Season 24-like premise, but manages to be something close to a classic. The characters and setting are both extremely well developed, even if the plot leaves quite a lot to be desired. 92/100