THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
MARS" AND "PRISONER
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#4.07 (ISBN 1-8443
5-481-8) RELEASED IN
Christmas is a time
for family, they say
– which is why the
Doctor has invited
Susan, and great-
grandson Alex for
Christmas dinner in
his time and space
machine. But who, or
what, is the spectre
at their yuletide
Venturing deep into
the dark heart of
the TARDIS, Susan
uncovers her past,
Alex is told his
future – and the
Doctor finds himself
caught in a deadly
With all of time and space to explore at the cost of flushing a toilet backwards, one doesn’t really expect to come across a ‘bottle show’ in this medium, but that is exactly what Relative Dimensions is – four characters trapped inside the TARDIS for Christmas with the walls (quite literally) closing in around them and a pan-dimensional piscine on the rampage.
This year’s festive special is once again presented as a one-hour episode, but that’s where the similarities to last year’s begin and end. Indeed, in every other important respect, Marc Platt’s story is the antithesis of Alan Barnes’ assiduously bleak Death in Blackpool. Typified by Jamie Robertson’s soaring yuletide soundtrack, Lucie’s lumpy gravy and the Time Lord’s recounting of the Nativity story from the perspective of a time-travelling Leonardo da Vinci, Relative Dimensions is as much a celebration as it is an exploration, yet on both fronts it excels.
Particularly in its first two thirds, Platt’s script has more in common with a traditional stage play than it does the dynamic audio dramas that Big Finish have become so renowned for. With the Doctor, Lucie, Susan and Alex all gathered for a supposedly reconciliatory festive nosh, tensions are inevitably running high, and Platt delights in milking every combination of characters for every ounce of drama that they’re worth, from the initially-antagonistic Lucie / Alex, to the Doctor and his granddaughter and how their positions have effectively switched since they traveled together. Back in the day, Susan was all screams and sympathy, but now she’s a mother fiercely protecting her son from a mad relative who’s intent on leading him astray. The Doctor, conversely, was an old mother hen in his first incarnation, his primary concern always his granddaughter’s welfare – now, however, he’s a reckless adventurer,
his martyrdom to caution having been excised from his life along with his former travelling companion’s bedrooms. In this respect, Relative Dimensions does much that An Earthly Child couldn’t afford to do in any great detail as it was such a sweeping adventure. Here
the emphasis is very much on character, as opposed to incident.
As a result Relative Dimensions is a little light on
action, but not so that you’d notice. The Quinnis fish
was never intended to be more than just dressing; a
Christmas catastrophe to tear everyone apart and
then bring them back together. Even so though, one
has to admire Platt’s sleekness, not only in how he
fluently ties this adventure to its sister story, Quinnis,
but also in how he uses the provocative idea of the
Doctor’s “companion shrines” as a launching pad
for both his science fiction plot and larger character
story. The very idea of the Doctor giving Susan her
old, perfectly-preserved room back is a charming
enough one in itself, but having this lead directly to
a threat that jeopardises her son’s life, highlighting
every concern that she has about having her grand-
father involved in his great-grandson’s life is totally inspired. It also gives rise to what I feel is a delicious pun in the blurb – “deadly dangerous present” indeed.
However, after the heaviness of Jonathan Morris’ two-part four-parter, nothing is presented too heavily here, and matters never get too saccharine either. The ensemble cast does a wonderful job with Platt’s fine script, with no one performer ever eclipsing any of the others.
I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Paul McGann and Carole Ann Ford though - their characters seem to fit together so very well – and I would certainly love to hear more from
the Jake McGann and Sheridan Smith combo, though I’m certain that’s on the cards, given the run’s penultimate episode’s unambiguous billing.
Relative Dimensions concludes with an ending that manages to be almost equally hopeful and maudlin, not to mention completely unexpected – though it’s hard to define “unexpected” in the context of a story that begins with two old mates shopping for the Christmas dinner in the subsequent January sales.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.