THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
PLANET" AND "NIGHT'S
BIG FINISH CD#133
RELEASED IN APRIL
Arriving in a hail of
musket fire, the SIXTH
finds himself in the
highlands, where the
BRUTAL Black Donald
and his rebels are
fighting the Redcoats.
But the highlandERS
longer fight for the
Jacobite cause and
the English officers
answer only to the
What has happened
TO SCOTLAND? AND
why are its moors
littered with oil-
Reunited with his
Jamie McCrimmon, the
Doctor must venture
into the City of Spires
to find the answers.
But standing in his
way is the deadly
City of Spires
Old Sixy has something of a knack for acquiring companions from the Doctor’s past and future selves. Nicola Bryant’s Peri, of course, was inherited from his predecessor, and India Fisher’s Charlotte came straight from the side of Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor. Even Bonnie Langford’s Mel was borrowed from the sixth Doctor’s own future in The Trial
of a Time Lord. Yet never do these adoptions feel wrong… even when they’re supposed to. And Sixy’s pairing with noble Highlander and former cohort of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, feels like the most natural merger yet.
As is evident to anyone that’s even seen their meeting in The Two Doctors, Colin Baker and Frazer Hines share an enlivening rapport, and I’m happy to report that the same is not only reproduced here, but furthered considerably. Simon Bovey’s City of Spires is virtually made to measure, capturing and conveying the sense of stalwart comradeship that in many ways defined Jamie’s relationship with the Doctor, only with a different incarnation of the Doctor, and with a very different Jamie.
Most who purchase this production will be familiar with the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding Jamie’s leaving of the Doctor. Irrespective of whether you deem it happened at the end of The War Games or some time later, the end result is the same: the Time Lords stole Jamie away from the Doctor’s side, erased his memories of all his TARDIS travels, and then dumped him back at Culloden. This was so cruel and effective a departure that Russell T Davies would steal it almost forty years later for Donna Noble and Journey’s End, albeit with a nip and a tuck and much more emotional maturity. Like Donna, Jamie would have travelled with the Doctor forever. And like Donna, fate would ensure that he wouldn’t even be able to remember wanting to.
City of Spires introduces us to Jamie several decades after his travels with the Doctor have ended, in what are reportedly the Highlands of the 1780s. The Doctor is astonished to find that the ever-lustrous young man whom he travelled with for so long hasn’t married or settled down – quite the opposite in fact. Jamie now leads his clan under the nom de guerre Black Donald, a handle stolen from the Devil himself. This Jamie is cold and he’s hard, and what’s more he doesn’t remember the Doctor at all. Even his memories of his first adventure with the Doctor, Ben and Polly (which the Time Lords deigned to let him keep) are conspicuously absent, leaving the perturbed Time Lord in the unenviable position of having to start from scratch with his old friend.
As Bovey’s tale progresses, however, the inherent kinship between the Doctor and Jamie is borne out once more. Rather beautifully, this isn’t gifted by way of a return of memory, but is earned the hard way. Our two heroes spend the preponderance of the four episodes side
by side, every mutual trial and tribulation that they endure bringing them one step closer to restoring their forgotten friendship. Baker and Hines are absolutely dazzling together - the former’s performance is rich with gentle melancholy, and the latter’s is rough and spiky, yet still ineluctably Jamie.
Above: Simon Holub’s glorious CD booklet centrefold
Furthermore, the adventure that the pair share is a fast and exciting one, not to mention intriguing. City of Spires isn’t a half-historical runaround in the Highlands, but a bold and sweeping tale of “temporal pocket folds”, extraterrestrial monsters posing as mythological ones, and ordinary folk whose world has been torn apart… and then sellotaped together, hotchpotch-style. 19th century Edinburgh and Glasgow sit empty, the titular City of Spires
planted in between them. And the adjacent 18th century Highlands resemble the oilfields
of Dallas, as the city’s sinister Overlord drills for his “black water”…
Bovey’s story offers up some
memorable characters on both
side of the fence. Baddie-wise,
City of Spires features a selection
of what the Scots call ‘Red Caps’
– squat, leathery monstrosities in
boiler suits wearing contemporary
hard hats to protect their decidedly
dull-witted brains – as well as the
Overlord himself - a rasping leach
inside a human host, apparently
out to make a few quid for his
corporation. In my view the Red
Caps are far more extraordinary than their relatively commonplace master, particularly in the
context of the story which sees them stick out like proverbial sore thumbs. That said, though
the Overlord isn’t spellbinding in himself, the shadow that he casts over the first half of the narrative creates a lot of effective apprehension, and even once he’s departed he leaves a flurry of lingering questions for the subsequent three stories to address.
In terms of sympathetic characters, the most outstanding by far is Alice Cyprion, who is wonderfully played by Georgia Moffett. More famous now for playing Jenny in The Doctor’s Daughter than she is for starring alongside her father in the early Big Finish production
Red Dawn, here Moffett gives a performance that potentially eclipses both her previous
Who outings. Imprisoned by the Overlord in an attempt to secure her engineer husband’s obedience, City of Spires takes Alice on a journey from hopeful escapee to broken soul
and back again. Her scenes with her callous **** of a husband, Victor, are almost painful
to listen to, but her scenes with the still gallant Jamie are their optimistic opposite in every sense.
For all its grit though, City of Spires has a satisfying sparkle to it befitting of the occasion. The banter between the Doctor and Jamie, whilst wistful, has a real sense of mischief to
it, the odd playful line about oil pumps being a testament to Victor’s love for Alice evoking memories of “look at the size of that thing!” and other notorious Jamie staples. Such comic sensibilities even extend to the release’s CD Extras, as Baker and Hines cheerfully mock each other’s weight and height, confirming (as if there was ever any doubt) that the cast of this play had almost as much fun recording it as we’ll have listening to it. Incidentally, the
CD extras also see Baker take the opportunity to impart an amusing anecdote about how his daughter Lucie and Moffett were in the same class at school – a class where having a father who’s an accountant was more exceptional than having one who’s played the Doctor on telly!
On the whole, it’s hard to pick fault with City of Spires. If you’ve bought this play in isolation then you might have cause to feel a little hard done by as it doesn’t have any sort of ending, but I don’t think that anyone could buy this release without wanting to hear the rest of the arc, whether that was their original intention or not. As the first instalment of a momentous audio quadrilogy, City of Spires is about a close to perfection as you can get, and I for one can’t wait to find out what happens next…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story’s production code places it shortly after the sixth Doctor’s travels with Charlotte Pollard (whom
he remembers as “Mila”) and Mila (wearing Charley’s form!) but prior to his travels with Mel. The concluding release in this arc, Legend of the Cybermen, would explain exactly who this Jamie McCrimmon is and why
he can’t remember the events of The Highlanders.
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