One month early Big Finish released The Light at the End, Nick Briggs’s multi-Doctor 50th anniversary story. Unlike Zagreus, which was a multi-character surreal extravaganza, this is a far more orthodox 2xCD story available in three different versions. With five Doctors, five companions, the Master and many others how well does this story work? Is this a classic worthy of the occasion or a good effort but nothing more?
The Big Finish product page synopsis is as follows:
November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors…
It’s the day that Bob Dovie’s life is ripped apart…
It’s also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart…
From suburban England through war-torn alien landscapes and into a deadly, artificial dimension, all these Doctors and their companions must struggle against the power of an unfathomable, alien technology.
From the very beginning, it is clear that the Master is somehow involved. By the end, for the Doctors, there may only be darkness.
Apart from the nod to the date there is no other direct link to An Unearthly Child; unlike other stories there is no East London, Totter’s Lane or any other obvious elements in this tale. Instead we have Bob Dovie (played by John Dorney), a family man from Hampshire who seems to be at the centre of events that slowly draw multiple versions of the Doctor to the date.
The Eighth Doctor is the first to the front of our narrative and we are treated to what could easily have been an early Charley story with some accurate banter between Paul McGann and India Fisher. Finding themselves somewhere they shouldn’t be as a result of observing a mysterious red light on the TARDIS console a theme starts to emerge – Charlie becomes separated (then vanishes) and the Eighth Doctor meets the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Some great material as Tom Baker and Louise Jameson join the story, The pace picks up as we have a pocket dimension trapping various Doctors and various companions get taken out of the story.
Over the course of the story we are treated to Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as a post Two Doctors Sixth Doctor and Peri; Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred giving us the Seventh Doctor and Ace (with Nitro-9 of course!) and somewhat nearer the centre of events Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton giving us the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. We also get a reprise of various echoes from earlier Doctors and a chance for Frazer Hines to also give us the Second Doctor. Too many characters appear to list, sadly, but they all contribute to the story.
Through the Sixth Doctor we learn of the Celestial Intervention Agency’s contribution to events: they have foolishly given the Master a super-weapon in exchange for his silence. This is a device that is allowing the Master to remove the Doctor from history (somewhat echoing the plot of The Name of the Doctor). Between the Doctors the role of Bob Dovie as catalyst for events is deduced and the Fifth Doctor works a way round the trap and events return to normal.
In the end nothing happened but the first eight Doctors all feel the echo of what nearly was.
The main characters all get time to be themselves and we also get some combinations of Doctors / companions without overdoing things. Various companions from the past also drop in and it is all much more natural than The Five Doctors. For me no single performance shines over the others though I did enjoy both Leela and the Eight Doctor as well as Ace having another Doctor to call Doctor rather than Professor. Two discs are about right as well, we enjoy what we get but the story isn’t over stretched.
There is little to find fault with and the direction keeps the story moving along. John Dorney’s ordinary man also acts as a nice counterpoint to events.
I really liked the originality of the ending which avoids having all the Doctors meet up; instead they one by one annoy Bob Dovie as they drop in on him on November 23rd.
As a product for the anniversary this is well targeted and ticks most boxes that I can think of. Along with the number of versions (see next) this is a milestone in Big Finish’s output.
Big Finish has catered for every budget with the standard release giving the 2xCD story and a more expensive Vinyl release also available. I went for the Limited (10,000) copy Collector’s edition as it gives:
- 2xCD story
- 1xCD behind the scenes documentary
- 1xCD this is Big Finish documentary
- 1xCD The Revenants (reviewed in The Spey Wife’s Tale)
- Free download of a 5.1 Dolby surround sound mix (and fabulous it is too)
Although this is a fairly orthodox tale by Doctor Who standards it avoids getting too clever, mixes in many elements from the show’s history and is a great listen. There was also something special in firing up the MP4 for the 5.1 mix and getting some credits on-screen listen all five living Doctors from the Big Finish range. Wonderful!
I can’t recommend this enough.