Nightshade is the latest in the series of rather ad hoc adaptations of Seventh Doctor novels. Originally written for Virgin New Adventures by Mark Gatiss and adapted by Kyle C Szikora it gives us a Doctor in moody humour and this gives Ace plenty of chance to get to explore on her own as people in Crook Marsham start dying one by one. We even get an appearance from Susan.
Is it any good? Well I haven’t read the novel so won’t compare with that, but I can say it entertains and takes an original direction with its characters. It has some flaws, but these don’t spoil a darned good story!
Let’s explore further…
First the synopsis:
Professor Nightshade – tea time terror for all the family, and the most loved show in Britain. But Professor Nightshade’s days are long over, and Edmund Trevithick is now just an unemployed actor in a retirement home, fondly remembering his past.
It’s the same through the entire village of Crook Marsham – people are falling prey to their memories. At first harmlessly, and then, the bodies begin to turn up.
The Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene – but, with the Doctor planning his retirement, it may be time for Professor Nightshade to solve one last case.
So we have a retired ex-celebrity actor, Edmund Trevithick, played by John Castle. He played Professor Nightshade, very much written in the mould of Quatermass who provides a major driver for the action of the story. He confronts his own nightmares and in the end is the one to resolve the challenge of the presence (again Quatermass-like) of an alien force stowed away below the village of Crook Marsham.
The Doctor is focussed on considerations of retirement, leaving Ace free to consider life beyond the TARDIS and to start a romance with Robin (Samuel Barnett, who was in Beast of Orlok and has been cast as the new Dirk Gently). Of-course there’s a front of house mystery with strange deaths, an observatory on the site where a castle once stood and run by Dr Hawthorne (Edward Harrison) and an appearance by Tom Price as a policeman (Sgt Barclay). Via the observatory we hear about a supernova concerning the star Bellatrix (not the character from Harry Potter!) and we also find the village ends up becoming a prison from which escape is impossible (in best base under siege tradition) and many people start die before the Doctor figures out what the real threat is understood.
The fit with other Big Finish releases is of necessity poor as the novels predate anything Big Finish has done, and plough their own continuity. We have no explained reason for the Doctor’s threat of retirement, but that matters little. We have at the heart of this a great concept in the character of Nightshade and this is well realised in both the performance and the snips of classic Nightshade episodes recreated. In other places the characters are less well explored and the observatory becomes a focus for action yet never quote drives the story. Ace on the other hand has a lot to do and her romance with Robin is well-considered and touching. Once the Doctor stops moping about retirement he is also on great form and between the main characters most of the air time is taken up, leaving no place for the secondary characters.
a curious cameo
[/pullquote]The brief appearance of Susan (or her proxy) gave room for a curious cameo from Carole Ann Ford. Nice but given Carole Ann was dragged into studio, maybe she could have done more (or maybe she has and it has yet to be announced).
The production is as rock-solid as ever, the story has lots of strong elements but for me doesn’t reach the heights it might. This is really by the by; the piece entertains and the adaptation is strong. Everyone involved does a good job and Scott Handcock brings the emotions to the fore. There is a large dose of technobabble and that provides another odd angle to explore the Quatermass / Doctor Who axis. Ian McArdell, in his Cultbox review, wishes Big Finish would make more Professor Nightshade and I agree with him.
It’s available now from the Big Finish website, or wait until May to get it from elsewhere.