Leave me be! Don’t carry me off to Hell…I’m awfully trepidatious about Hell, you know.
It is early in the 21st Century, and Malebolgia is enjoying its status as the 51st state of the United States. The Brigadier has been invited over to provide advice after his role in securing the devolution of powers to Scotland. There’s definitely more going on here than meets the eye, with a man in the mental institution talking about a TARDIS.
Anyone who has read this blog, specifically my reviews of Jon Pertwee’s era, will know how much I love the Brigadier, and I desperately wanted this story to be good. Therefore it really pains me to say that the only meeting of the Brigadier and the Eighth Doctor is a substandard entry. None of the plot elements really grab me, and the story feels as though it does go on for so long and the American accents really don’t help either. There are lots of elements that seem to be thrown at the listener, but hardly any of them really stick and it really does feel like a slog to get to the finish line.
The best part of this story are the performances of Nicholas Briggs, Paul McGann and Nicholas Courtney, who at least keep you vaguely engaged with the story. Briggs brings a degree of sinisterness to Gideon Crane, a man who has got the memories of the Doctor in his head, a reference to the fact that Nick Briggs played the Doctor in the Audio Visuals. Nicholas Courtney superbly brings his Brigadier back to life, and the scenes with him expressing his exasperation with his superiors back in Britain. I particularly enjoy him wishing that the Secretary of State would find a demon in his jacuzzi! The Doctor being incapacitated for most of the story means that the Brigadier is essentially the male lead and Courtney is able to pull this off as well as you would expect. McGann is also great, dealing with the confusion of the amnesiac Doctor perfectly and his recovery of his memories is nicely played as a gradual transition and not everything falling into place at once. His interactions with Gideon Crane greatly help this.
The writing really lets this story down. Minuet in Hell had a very troubled production, with Alan Lear suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome whilst writing this story and Gary Russell rewriting the second half of the story. However, it is more symptomatic of problems with the early Eighth Doctor audios. It feels as though Big Finish are uncertain about the direction they want to take this series in, and this story seems to be veering more towards making the story darker and more adult. This is a story in which Charley essentially gets forced into being a prostitute and very briefly attends an orgy, combined with a Satanist cult. Maybe it’s my Christian background but the Satanism aspect of this story certainly makes really and deeply uncomfortable. There are also so many different plot strands here as well, like the PSI-859 and the Doctor’s amnesia, but none really grabbed me as wanting to know how the story will end. Honestly, I just wanted to get through it relatively unscathed. Additionally, and I’m aware that this may just be me being a massive Brigadier fan, but I hate the fact that the Doctor and the Brigadier spend so little time together with the Doctor’s memories restored. It is a bold move in the Eighth Doctor’s fifth story in total and fourth since McGann came back to Big Finish for the Doctor to lose his memory. Sadly, I think it is too early in his run for a story where the Doctor takes a complete backseat until the final part.
Sadly the majority of the other performances are largely poor, let down by poor accents. I feel that I do need to let India Fisher off the hook though, as she does the best she can with some incredibly stilted dialogue. The performances are chewing the scenery, to put it mildly and the stereotypical American accents are really painful to listen to, especially Waldo Pickering and Becky Lee. Becky Lee, a member of the Order of St Matthew, who is essentially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is so irritating that I think I might have to re-evaluate listening to nails being scraped down a blackboard, meanwhile Waldo Pickering sounds as though he might be trying to sell me southern fried chicken at any moment. Marchiosias is also not at all intimidating, partially due to being given really sarcastic dialogue constantly, really undermining the sense of menace I suspect he was supposed to generate.
Verdict: Really, Minuet in Hell is a story that I would recommend skipping unless you’re a completist or love the Brigadier (like me). Good performances from McGann, Courtney and Briggs can’t save this incredibly poor conclusion to the Eighth Doctor’s first series at Big Finish. 2/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Robert Jezek (Brigham Elisha Dashwood III), Morgan Deare (Senator Waldo Pickering), Helen Goldwyn (Becky Lee Kowalczyck/Catatonic Woman), Maureen Oakeley (Dr. Dale Pargeter), Nicholas Briggs (Gideon Crane), Hylton Collins (Orderly), Barnaby Edwards (Scott/Catatonic Man), Alistair Lock (Guard), Jacqueline Rayner (Catatonic Woman) & Nicholas Pegg (Catatonic Man)
Writer: Alan W. Lear & Gary Russell
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- The story marks the first meeting of the Brigadier and the Eighth Doctor.
- It is a remake of an Audio Visuals story of the same name.
- The last story to use David Arnold’s original arrangement in Storm Warning.
Quite a man your friend, the Brigadier. One of the best you said?
No, Charley. THE best.
Charley Pollard and the Eighth Doctor