In post-War Paris, musician Artie Berger has lost his mojo, but gained a predator – something that seeps through the cracks of dissonance to devour the unwary.
Luckily for Artie, the Doctor is here. Unluckily for everyone, he needs bait to trap a monster…
Fright Motif sees the Ninth Doctor in a period setting for the first time since The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, visiting post-war France. It’s a rather unexceptional tale that focuses more on character than plot, which does mean it struggles to build up any sense of threat.
In this story, as with Girl, Deconstructed, the story focuses on the themes of grief and loss. With the story set in the aftermath of the Second World War in Paris, a city which suffered greatly in the war, Tim Foley gives us characters to focus on, two of whom have grief of their own. The grief that the characters feel is also there in the city that surrounds them. I struggle to put my finger on what doesn’t quite click about Fright Motif. It is not by any means a bad story, but it certainly does not live up to its predecessor in my opinion, possibly because we seem to hare around Paris, going from the Hotel to Notre Dame to the jazz club with no real feeling of urgency or pace. Part of the problem may be the creature hunting Artie through Paris does not feature that heavily, which is a downside when the creature does not even speak, just growl. To its credit, it does manage to use the iconic status of Paris to create a good visual landscape, and it is easy to bring to mind the sight of Paris in the snow, especially when dealing with such cultural landmarks as Notre Dame.
Big Finish have done a great job continuing to make full-cast audio dramas through the numerous lockdowns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, and that should really be applauded. The vast majority of these have been very professionally produced and do not, for the most part, give away the fact that they have been recorded remotely. Fright Motif is sadly one of the exceptions, with some scenes definitely giving away the fact that the actors are not in the same space. There are some abrupt scene endings here, which make the end product not feel quite as smooth and polished as other stories that have been recorded remotely. Sound design might go some way to explaining why the creature hunting Artie does not quite work, as it never really feels like more of a roaring beast, which will struggle to stand out from the crowds. Big Finish have played around with creatures using sound as a weapon against our heroes, and I’m sure have done it more successfully.
This story has a small guest cast, with writer Tim Foley only giving us three actors to appear alongside the Doctor. I think that Foley’s strengths lie in his characterisation, as in a relatively short amount of time he really managed to make me care about Artie, Maurice and Zazie. Two of these characters are suffering with their own personal grief. These are Artie, who has lost his mother and has not had the opportunity to grieve due to his family being overseas and missing the funeral, whilst Maurice continues to grieve for his partner, Manu, to the extent that he keeps paying rent on his old apartment so that he has a sanctuary. The story focuses more on Artie, having him lose his musical mojo due to his grief, much to the concern of both Maurice and Zazie, albeit for different reasons. Zazie is possibly underserved, although the trio of guest stars do really well, even if Damian Lynch’s American accent may leave something to be desired.
How many people will get swept up in this horror? How many more are going to die?
No more. Let’s say this, here and now, no more. I’ve been trying to stop this monster when really I should be helping you.Artie Berger and the Ninth Doctor
Christopher Eccleston almost seems to be in a different story to other characters, and seems really energised and on top form. The Doctor is covering his pain with humour as he tries to deal with the chaos being wrought by the creature who has come out of the rift. This is the first story that Tim Foley wrote for the Ninth Doctor, having subsequently written two more and I think that he manages to capture this Doctor’s voice really well. This Doctor continues to struggle with the repercussions of his actions in the Time War, and how he can possibly ever return to being the Doctor of old, before the destruction of Gallifrey and the Daleks.
Verdict: Fright Motif is a character-driven story which has a rather by the numbers plot. The guest performances are largely solid, but the sound based adversary and some rough sound design let this story down. 6/10
Cast: The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Damian Lynch (Artie Berger), Adrian Schiller (Maurice Le Bon) & Gemma Whelan (Zazie Vincent).
Writer: Tim Foley
Director: Helen Goldwyn
- Damian Lynch has played the character of Rasmus in a number of Big Finish audio stories, including Dark Universe, Deeptime Frontier and Susan’s War. He also appeared in their adaptation of Damaged Goods, and appeared in other stories including Masters of Earth, The Star Men and Death Match.
- Adrian Schiller played Uncle in The Doctor’s Wife. He also appeared in the Big Finish audio story Time Works.
- Gemma Whelan has played the Nun in Dalek Universe and the Missy series of Big FInish releases, as well as appearing in Persuasion. She also played Emma Waverley in two Counter-Measures releases.
I once knew a woman who could speak in arpeggios.The Ninth Doctor
Previous Ninth Doctor review: Girl, Deconstructed
Fright Motif can be purchased as a part of the Respond to all Calls box set from the Big Finish website.