THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIOS "LIVING
LEGEND" AND "EMBRACE
PAUL CORNELL &
BIG FINISH CD#30
RELEASED IN MARCH
ON NEW YEAR'S EVE,
1930, THE DOCTOR
TAKES CHARLEY TO
HER APPOINTMENT IN
SINGAPORE. BUT HIS
UNEASE AT WHAT HE'S
DONE TO TIME SOON
TURNS INTO FEAR.
RUTHLESS, HAS COME
TO THE CITY TO MEET
THE TIME LORD. TO
THE DOCTOR, HE'S A
BUT TO GRAYLE, THE
DOCTOR IS AN OLD
AN ENEMY THAT, MANY
YEARS AGO, HE FINALLY
SUCCEEDED IN KILLING.
AND THIS IS HIS ONLY
CHANCE TO GLOAT...
Seasons of Fear
I enjoyed this audio adventure far more than I expected that I would. Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of Paul Cornell’s many Doctor Who novels, when I popped this one in the CD player I never imagined that I would be ranking it amongst my favourite Big Finish productions.
Seasons of Fear works for me on three fronts really. First off, the whole play feels fresh and innovative – quite ironic really, given that Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox were turning to the show’s original 1960s format for inspiration when they wrote it. Each episode sees the Doctor and Charley chase the iniquitous Sebastian Grayle through Britain’s history, teaching us a little about times past and keeping us thoroughly entertained in the process. Indeed, this is a tale told very much in the spirit of the first Doctor, albeit suffused with modern storytelling sensibilities.
Secondly, Grayle is one
of the most exceptional
adversaries that the Doctor
has faced. When we first
meet him, he is a sneering
old man who breaks the
first law of time, taunting
the Doctor about how he
has already killed him (in the Doctor’s personal future); how he has become immortal; and how his mysterious “masters” now rule the Earth. As the Doctor and Charley embark on a journey back through to time with the intention of stopping Grayle doing whatever he has done and setting history back on its proper course (“time classic” as the Doctor amusingly refers to it) they encounter Grayle - or Graylai as he was then known - in 400, when he was just a misguided and lovelorn young man. Thwarting his plans to bring his “masters” to Earth then, the Doctor and Charley then foil his plans once again 750 years later, where Grayle is now a Bishop in the court of Edward the Confessor. Even by the standards of the Doctor’s people, 750 years is a long time and over the centuries Grayle has become bitter, twisted and comprehensively evil. Stephen Perring puts in an astonishingly convincing performance as we see Grayle fall from grace over such a protracted and painful period. Another 750 years on, the Doctor encounters Grayle once more, but this time he isn’t able to prevent
his “masters” arriving…
Furthermore, the ongoing storyline concerning the damage to the web of time caused by the Doctor saving Charley from death aboard the R101 (referred to in Minuet in Hell, and more recently in the stunning Chimes of Midnight) is progressed tantalisingly - we learn that it is this damage that has allowed Grayle’s opportunistic “masters” to conquer space and time and make the Earth their feeding ground.
For their part, these “masters” serve only as generic ‘final episode’ monsters, but even so Cornell and Symcox use them far more effectively than they ever were on television. Indeed, the sheer level of intrigue that the first three episodes of their script engender would have been enough to sell almost any alien race. Despite what were, with hindsight, some pretty patent clues, I was completely blown away by their reveal at the end of the third episode.
“That’s how ridiculous money is. By moving it from one place to another,
you can save a world; buy back your honour;
but it can only solve the problems that it created in the first place.”
And the story’s climax is a real thing of beauty. The Doctor appears to Graylai just before he met him the first time in 400 (the laws of time are conveniently ‘suspended’ for this course of this story, see) and gives him some money. It seems that motivation for Graylai’s decent into malevolence was that he wanted some cash so that he could afford to marry his lover, Julia, whose father wouldn’t allow her to marry a poor man! The young Graylai then finds himself face to face with his twisted, future self, who has also travelled back to 400 and is holding two women at gunpoint. Appalled at what he will eventually become, Graylai kills his future self, undoing all that he had done and restoring the “time classic” timeline.
“The tides of time will wash us all clean…”
Throughout the production, as he did in
the TV Movie, McGann narrates the story
in character. This is, of course, a fantastic
vehicle for exposition in this medium, and
I’m very surprised that it hasn’t been used
before now, particularly considering Paul
McGann’s palpable talent for it. However,
it isn’t until right at the death that we begin
to realise that the Doctor isn’t narrating for
the benefit of the listener – he is relating events to some nameless third party. It almost feels like a confession, as the third party points out that some blame does lie with the Doctor…
This is then followed by a last-minute twist, which sees a haunting apparition appear in the form of Charley and feed on the chronons of two characters from the 19th century who had become embroiled in the adventure. What this creature is, how it came into existence, and what its intentions are, we don’t know. Yet…
Altogether then, Seasons of Fear is an absolute joy. As things stand it is my favourite Big Finish audio drama to date, though I do get the strong feeling that the best is yet to come. The momentum is gathering...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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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