In the absence of a Christmas special this year, here is a review of The Chimes of Midnight…
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without my plum pudding.
T’was 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 maccabre 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…
And time itself might just be the killer…
This is Paul McGann’s sixth audio adventure for Big Finish and it is possibly one of the best Christmas stories we have had so far. This adventure is written by Robert Shearman, who would later go on to write Dalek for the first series of the revived series, and has a small but superb cast, with Louise Rolfe’s performance as Edith being a particular stand out.
Shearman’s story initially sets out as a pretty standard mystery regarding the mysterious death of the scullery maid in the servant’s quarters of Edward Grove, an Edwardian Manor House, but fantastically placed rug pulls keep the listener on edge as to what the truth behind the story is. Despite listening to this story several times, the moment the story changes still gets me every time. It does tie into the larger arc regarding the impact on the Web of Time by the presence of the Doctor’s companion, Charley, who was supposed to die on the R101 but was saved by the Doctor. Their arrival in 1906 causing a paradox which the villain of the piece uses to create a time loop around Edith, her parent’s cook, who subsequently killed herself on Christmas Eve. However, one of the true strengths of this story is that it can be enjoyed with little or no knowledge of this ongoing story. Another element of this story I really like is the fact that the Doctor and Charley are kept separate from the remainder of the cast for the majority of the first part, as it allows us to understand the relationships between the other characters in the cast. We see that the other servants all look down on Edith as being “just a scullery maid” and that there are tensions between Mrs Baddersley, Frederick and Mary, due to the latter’s affair. The story does start as a traditional murder mystery, but develops into something much more macabre.
Surely you must agree that this one must be suicide, Doctor?
You know, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest it’s another murder.
Shaughnessy and the Eighth Doctor
The villain of the piece is not revealed until the end of part 3, but his presence is felt throughout the story adding to the sinister vibe of the story. The macabre deaths, such as Mrs Baddeley being stuffed with her own plum pudding and Frederick, the chauffeur being run over with the car are superb bits of black comedy. The house revels in more sinister and ironic fates for its victims, making it all the more ridiculous when the servants suggest that they are suicides. The reveal of the villain being a sentient and parasitic house feasting off the time paradox sounds ridiculous but it is wonderfully Doctor Who. The villain plays games with the Doctor, changing them from being Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard and his niece to amateur sleuths after a throwaway comment and the joke in the cracker referring to Charley breaking the jam jar. The servants also repeat phrases, like “I am nobody, I am no-one” which put me in mind of Hot Fuzz (“the greater good”) and they also tease the Doctor by asking him if he has solved the case yet. The strength that Edward Grove manages to draw is so much that it is able to absorb the TARDIS, keeping the Doctor and Charley trapped.
Do you think you know who did it yet, Doctor?
I’m beginning to think it may not even matter…
Frederick and the Eighth Doctor
The guest cast are also really good, especially Louise Rolfe as Edith and Lennox Greaves as Shaughnessy, who also portrays Edward Grove in the final part, but everyone in this small cast puts in a great performance. Rolfe really stands out in her scenes talking to Charley, with both actresses performing superbly in the most important scenes in the episode – that explain Edith’s fondness for Charley and how poorly she was treated by other members of the Pollard household. Another standout performance in the story is Paul McGann as the Doctor, and it is remarkable that this is his sixth story since the TV Movie. He gives a very commanding performance in the central role and has great chemistry with India Fisher as Charley Pollard. The smaller cast size for this story establishes a fantastic sense of intimacy which helps the listener feel as though they really are in the servant’s quarters.
Verdict: The Chimes of Midnight is a fantastic story that stands on its own, and is probably the best Christmas story that Doctor Who will ever have. 10/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Louise Rolfe (Edith), Lennox Greaves (Mr. Shaughnessy), Sue Wallace (Mrs. Baddeley), Robert Curbishley (Frederick), Juliet Warner (Mary)
Writer: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Behind the Scenes
- Robert Shearman wrote Dalek for the Ninth Doctor, an adaptation of another Big Finish audio story, Jubilee.
I don’t like being given a role to play, Charley. I prefer to choose my own.
The Chimes of Midnight is available to buy from Big Finish (bigfinish.com) for £2.99 to download.