THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMAS
"CASTLE OF FEAR"
AND "PLAGUE OF
BIG FINISH CD#128
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
BLURB 1199: Returning
It's been a long, hot
summer in Stock-
bridge. Longer than
the villagers can
lease is never-ending
– and all thanks to
the Lord and Lady of
ador to the Universe.
Or 'flying saucer nut',
as the locals have it.
He'll need help
proving it: from the
Miss Nyssa, perhaps;
or the village
Doctor, the fellow
that's been living at
the Green Dragon Inn
these last 30 years.
that autumn never
comes to Stockbridge.
When autumn comes,
the world is
The Eternal Summer
The second part of Big Finish’s winter 2009 “Stockbridge Trilogy” is The Eternal Summer by Jonathan Morris, a captivating concept piece that does little else but astound. Markedly less heightened and cartoonish than Alan Barnes’ Castle of Fear was, this play is still replete with the humorous flourishes that we have come to expect from Morris, but even so, The Eternal Summer is an altogether more sober affair than its forerunner; at times, it’s even quite moving.
“It’s like the same day, but with all the stuff that’s happened in the last sixty years... everything all sort of jumbled up.”
The foundation of Morris’ plot is largely derivative, but the tangents that this meandering tale shoots off on are both startling and provocative. The play picks up right where the last story left off – the Rutan ship is about to explode, and there is nothing that the Doctor can do to stop it. As such, he’s surprised to wake up in 21st century Stockbridge; somewhere that it seems he’s spent the last thirty years, as well as the next hundred thousand centuries…
The first half of the play then goes on to set up the “four dimensional goldfish bowl” that the inhabitants of Stockbridge find themselves trapped within. Sealed within a temporal snow globe, each and every member of the village is forced to live and relive the horrors and highlights of their tiny lives again and again, every death still hurting every bit as much as the last.
“It’s the price we pay. For Stockbridge. To live forever in heaven.”
As I haven’t yet read any of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips set in Stockbridge, I’m not sure how many of the characters that populate the village in this story have been carried forward from those adventures, and how many are Morris’s own creations. Either way though, Morris has done a sterling job of providing us with well-rounded and engaging characters to invest in – a must, really, given that this play is built upon the very essence of these people as we dip into their respective pasts, presents and futures all at once. Perhaps the highest compliment that I could pay to this script is that each of the characters has the sort of history and depth that one would normally associate with a character in a long-running soap-opera.
“Groundhog Day. I love that movie. I must’ve seen it a hundred times, which is kind of ironic.”
However, one character inevitably stands out above all the others – Stockbridge’s begotten “flying saucer nut”, Maxwell Edison, who is brought to life here by Mark Williams of The Fast Show and Harry Potter fame. I don’t know if Maxwell was this endearing in the comic strip, but here he is a positive delight. His boundless enthusiasm and rustic charm are both conveyed splendidly by Williams, and at times we even get to see a fleeting glimpse of the melancholy that lies right at the heart of the man, particularly in his scenes with the two incongruent versions of Pam Ferris’s Lizzie Corrigan. It really is a spellbinding portrayal. And those that, unlike me, have read the DWM comic strips will also be elated to find that this play contains what appears to be a brief flashback to the events of Stars Fell on Stockbridge, which I think marks the first occasion that Big Finish have ever dramatised a Doctor Who story from another medium, albeit only in part.
As for the regulars, both Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are tremendous here, particularly when required to play “the Lord and Lady of the Manor” responsible for Stockbridge’s plight. Both actors have clearly relished the opportunity to play tainted versions of their characters, unfettered by the usual restrictions; Sutton in particular excels in her harrowing portrayal of the twisted, vampiric future Nyssa.
What’s more, Barnaby Edwards has done a terrific job with his direction. He recreates the idyllic parish that I remembered from Circular Time without a flaw, whilst at the same time managing to instil a real sense of consternation and disquiet. Even the way in which he has sentences and events bleed into each other is superbly executed; everything feels fluent, when it could so easily have felt bewildering had it been handled with less finesse.
Ultimately, my only criticism of this play is that at times it seems to lack velocity, particularly in the ponderous first episode. That said, pacing a story where what was; what is; and what will be are all concurrent can’t be the simplest of tasks, even for someone of Morris’s unique temporal talent.
Overall then, The Eternal Summer is a real treasure; very different to - but every bit inspiring as - its predecessor. Arriving in Stockbridge in Castle of Fear with little prior knowledge of the place I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate this ‘season’, but with two out of three of its stories down, I really don’t want to have to leave it. In fact, I think I want to live there.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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