THIS STORY TAKES
"THE CONDEMNED" AND
"BROTHERHOOD OF THE
BIG FINISH CD#111
RELEASED IN AUGUST
Curses and tombs,
revenge from beyond
the grave - and Dick
trail of a lost book,
the Doctor and
Charley arrive at the
estate of Sir Ralph
and Lady Sybil. But
all is far from
idyllic. There’s a
murderer on the
loose, and the nearby
woods are the haunt
of the notorious
Something else has
Something that could
destroy the very
fabric of reality. The
Doctor and Charley
have just forty-eight
hours to solve the
mystery before the
succumbs to The
The Doomwood Curse
One weekend I was over in the Lake District, ascending Scawfell Pike via the corridor route, and the next Colin Baker was over in that neck of the woods, signing copies of “The Doomwood Curse” at the train station just by my mother in law’s. But whilst my poor timing resulted in a lamentably missed opportunity, this play is anything but.
Having the Doctor cross paths with the notorious Highwayman Dick Turpin is certainly a terrific idea, and had Jacqueline Rayner penned an out-and-out historical along such lines I have no doubt that this play would have still been a very popular one. But with Paul Cornell’s Grel data pirates thrown into the mix, “The Doomwood Curse” is really something quite special.
“Stop! Stop! Bad, bad fact. Fact: there is no cat. Fact: there is no rat. Fact: there is no malt. Fact: this house was not built by Jack. Fact: all these facts are bad facts!”
- potentially an excerpt from any Doctor Who forum
Although the squid-faced Grels' actual appearances in this play are limited to a brace of bookends, the whole plot stems from their actions. Fanatical about sorting “good facts” from “bad facts”, the Grel infiltrate the Alexandrian library where they happen upon a copy of William Harrison Ainsworth’s nineteenth century novel, Rockwood, as well as several other contemporaneous works. Unable to discriminate between fact and fiction, and unwilling to disregard facts that appear apocryphal (as a Doctor Who fan, I sympathise), the Grel decide to change any “bad facts” into “good facts” by turning fiction into reality… literally.
And so the eighteenth century world of curses and tombs in which the Doctor and Charley find themselves is the making of the Grel. This allows Rayner to really indulge herself, populating this play with larger than life, almost cartoonish characters that keep slipping back into their ‘normal’ personas whenever they are exposed to certain smells. The play’s stellar cast, which includes Nicky Henson (“Loups-Garoux”); Hayley Atwell (“Blood of the Daleks”); and Jonathan Firth (Colin Firth’s very talented brother), really seem to enjoy
playing these fascinating two-fold characters, although it is India Fisher who really steals the show when Charley becomes ‘Gypsy Charlotte’, Dick Turpin’s partner in crime.
“They’re doing their best to fit the fragments together coherently!
Look at Charlotte… they turned her into a plot device!”
The play’s unconventional storyline really keeps the listener guessing - throughout the first two episodes, for example, something is very clearly out of kilter, however it does not come together until the Doctor makes his cliff-hanging proclamation. The last two episodes did not work quite as well for me as the mystery of the plot was lost, but I still thoroughly enjoyed them all the same.
I think it also has be noted just how impressive Martin Johnson’s score for this play is. The edgy and creeping but also rather fanciful rhythms that underline the whole play really encapsulate its spirit.
Turning the Doctor and Charley, I think it goes without saying that Colin Baker and India Fisher are something of a Big Finish dream team. Although once again here after the first episode their scenes together are few and far between, when they are together they really shine. I realise that many are disappointed that the Doctor and Charley do not share more scenes together than they do, but having the companion wander off and get into trouble is part and parcel of Doctor Who. Still, I think it is a testament to just how popular this duo are becoming that people want to see more of them together.
My only slight niggle with “The Doomwood Curse” – and this applies almost equally to “The Condemned”, and most probably more so to the next few sixth Doctor / Charley plays – is that I really have a hard time believing that the Doctor has not sussed Charley out yet. He is
a genius, yet despite the massive clangers regularly dropped by Charley, the penny still
does not appear to have dropped (whether it actually has dropped or not we will have to wait and see). Still, given that the alternative would be to pay off the whole arc straight away,
I will reserve judgement on this relatively minor point for now.
All told, I found “The Doomwood Curse” to be rigorously enjoyable. It is gripping; utterly melodramatic; and very, very witty… I still keep chuckling about the Alexandrian library’s rather draconian rules - “…people who crease spines may find themselves suffering a similar fate.” Harsh but fair, I reckon.
Good fact: It is two hits out of two for Big Finish’s second-newest TARDIS crew.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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