Ask any Big Finish fan to name their favourite Doctor Who release and most will mention the Robert Shearman story This Chimes of Midnight. Released in 2002, directed with great panache by Barnaby Edwards and now available on download for a mere £2.99, this is a fantastic Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard story. Is it the very best? I’m not sure, but it is very good. Is it a classic? Perhaps.
It’s nearly Christmas Eve 2016, I’ve just relistened to Chimes (twice); let’s consider how good it is…
Let’s remind ourselves of the product page synopsis:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring…
But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight.
Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out.
The TARDIS arrives in a dark room and as they get involved with the mystery of the death of scullery maid Edith Thompson (Louise Rolfe) more deaths follow, time stops making sense and death becomes a mere inconvenience. Chauffeur Frederick (Robert Curbishley) and lady’s maid Mary (Juliet Warner) reveal their affair and meanwhile the cook Mrs Baddeley (Sue Wallace) is concentrating on her plum pudding. It wouldn’t be Christmas without her plum pudding, would it poppet? At least Shaughnessy (Lennox Greaves) can be relied upon to be truly sorry if he has to shoot you. He has to do what Edward Groves says, after all.
Now we get into spoiler territory; as this is a very old story, I will venture more details than I might otherwise.
There’s a time loop, a spirit inhabiting the house, a paradox, more deaths, more plum pudding and some of the best dialogue you will ever hear in a Big Finish release. There’s a sense of horror and dry, dry comedy permeating everything. It all ends with the Doctor risking all, but not before Charley faces up to the core controversy at the heart of her identity: why can she remember dying on the R101 if the Doctor saved her?
The dialogue is brilliant: discussing the deaths as suicides, the blame Edith for being too stupid to realise she couldn’t kill herself by drowning in a bowl of water standing up, so it must be suicide. Frederick’s so-called suicide is more hilarious still. As the plot progresses we deconstruct the details of Edith’s rather sad life, and her relationship to Charley. It’s both political and sad; to Charlie Edith was just a member of staff she was a bit friendly towards, for Edith it meant a lot, lot more. It may end well for Edith but not before we see her view of her own life in stark contrast to Charley’s.
I get this is a brilliant, clever release, and one of the best, I baulk slightly at the status it receives amongst the fans, and this is, I suspect, as I never listened at the time, but heard all these releases in a rush when I got into Big Finish. I don’t buy into the core paradox at the centre of Charley’s existence, as the Doctor has saved many people over the years. I don’t really like the sentient house, even if the Edward Grove conceit is a nice one.
Barnaby’s direction is strong, Paul McGann and India Fisher are in good form and the cast really bring the Edwardian setting to life, and this before we’d ever had Downton Abbey.
So, is The Chimes of MIdnight a classic? I’m still not sure; why not let me know what you think?