Chills at All Hours

Review of The Chimes of Midnight (#29)
Big Finish Release Date: February 2002
Doctor/Companion: Eight, Charlotte "Charley" Pollard
Stars: Paul McGann, India Fisher
Preceding Story: Invaders from Mars (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: Seasons of Fear (Eight, Charley)

There's something deceptively luxe about an audio drama. Because all the visuals happen in your own head, the production values are higher than anything one could ever hope to see on screen. It's like the intersection between reading a fabulous book and watching a fantastic film.

The more Big Finish (BF) audios I listen to, the more I love the format. In part, it's undoubtedly because I've taken recommendations and chosen some of the better adventures available, but I suspect that the quality doesn't vary as drastically in this medium as with television. Those with broader audio experience can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd be surprised to learn there was a BF equivalent of, say, Timelash that gets almost universally panned.

A review of a BF audio, then, comes down almost entirely to story. Certainly if there were a voice actor that grated on the nerves for some reason, that might be something to mention, but for the most part, all I can think to critique for my readers' edification is the plot. Spoilerphobe that I am, this fact leaves me in a bit of a predicament.

How much can I reveal to my readers? I certainly wouldn't want everything spelled out for me in a review, especially if I were reading it to decide whether or not to listen to a particular adventure myself. Yet how do I describe the depth of the mystery presented to the Doctor and Charley if I don't detail at least a few little plot points?

Let me attempt, then, to express my appreciation for the storytelling skill that went into The Chimes of Midnight without giving away anything that might ruin another's enjoyment as the tale unfolds for them. As the story begins, the Doctor and Charley find themselves in an Edwardian mansion on Christmas Eve. Something's distinctly wrong, though, and things get wrong-er the longer they stay. There's mystery and death and super creepy ambience, with the weirdness and the stakes ratcheting up in each new episode of the four-part storyline.

Subtle anomalies pick at the listener, weaving an ever more intricate and disturbing narrative. By the time we're into Part 4, we're given more hints about the nature of the longer story arc of Charley's travels with the Doctor (an arc I've been told exists, but the shape of which is unknown to me). All of the little clues that have been dropped over the course of the story slot nicely together into a satisfying conclusion, and the TARDIS crew's travels continue.

I'm not sure whether it is the temporal nature of the plot twists that intrigue me so, or if there is another, subtler quality that drew me in, but I found The Chimes of Midnight to be more interesting overall than Storm Warning. For one thing, it makes excellent use of one of the advantages the audio format has over the current televised episodes: running time. Because it's presented in four, 25- to 30-minute parts, there is plenty of time for a "slow burn" as each little revelation uncovers another facet of the overall puzzle.

In retrospect, as I've finally made note of the story's writer (one Robert Shearman, who also wrote my favorite post-Hiatus Dalek episode), I shouldn't have been surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I therefore wholeheartedly recommend this BF audio, whether you've followed the Doctor and Charley before this point or not. It's exquisitely chilling.



PaulGreaves's picture

It's an absolute highlight of the range. It was then and it still is now, all these years later.

In answer to your question, there are plenty of audio clunkers. TV isn't solely responsible for those, but like the TV versions, every clunker has its supporters. I personally think The Rapture and The Fearmonger are absolutely bloody dreadful, but I can find you people who like them :)

By PaulGreaves --


mrfranklin's picture

I suppose that's only to be expected. :) And, of course, just as one does when introducing new fans to the TV stories, you've chosen the best to recommend to me for this undertaking.

Thanks for this one, by the way. I knew I loved Rob Shearman's work on Dalek (and the few of his short stories I've read have been gloriously quirky), but this confirms the fact that that script wasn't a fluke.

By mrfranklin
PaulGreaves's picture

Rob Shearman's first drama, The Holy Terror. I think it balances comedy and horror really well. Fabulously chilling- and moving - final episode too. Great stuff.

By PaulGreaves --


mrfranklin's picture

Oh, excellent! I just bought that yesterday on sale for $1! :D It was also on your list, so I may go that direction next after I finish the current Eighth Doctor story-arc.

By mrfranklin
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