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Review of Seasons of Fear (#30)
Big Finish Release Date: March 2002
Doctor/Companion: Eight, Charlotte "Charley" Pollard
Stars: Paul McGann, India Fisher
Preceding Story: The Chimes of Midnight (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: Embrace the Darkness (Eight, Charley)

I'm not familiar with many of Paul Cornell's stories, but Father's Day and Human Nature / The Family of Blood are both interesting and nicely self-consistent narratives. Knowing that Cornell wrote this story with his wife Caroline Symcox therefore gave me an optimistic outlook.

But despite the fact that it began with a direct continuation of the longer plotline centering on Charley's experiences—the impetus behind the choice of audios I'm currently consuming and reviewing—I was immediately put off by a stylistic decision by the writers. Rather than the usual "film with sound" format I'm accustomed to for an audio drama, we get a voiceover. The Doctor is narrating the events in retrospect, telling us about the first time he met a character who becomes integral to the plot of the entire play.

Although the reason for this approach becomes clear some two hours later, at the end of the story, I personally found it distracting. I'd be rolling along with the narrative as the Doctor and Charley grappled with whatever setback currently faced them, and the Doctor's voice would roll in with exposition. It pulled me out of the story every time.

Aside from that irritant, the story itself unfolds in typical, roundabout fashion. Something happens at the very beginning to send them haring off through time, getting embroiled in a good old-fashioned time paradox. I'll admit to having been led (purposely?) astray at the end of Part 1, when I thought we were getting a hint at the identity of the mysterious "masters" our antagonist served. However, what I thought I heard turned out not to have been what I heard at all, and that particular mystery didn't get resolved until the end of Part 3.

I always love Paul McGann's characterization of the Doctor in these audios, and the writers have provided him with a couple of memorable lines to deliver with his own particular relish. Two, in particular, stand out in my mind.

First, when we get the requisite "Doctor who?" question from our baddie, the Doctor replies, "My enemies never ask me that. Isn't that terrible? That they know me better than my friends..."

Later, after he has gone off on a lengthy explanation and Charley calls him back to the matter at hand, he apologizes to her. "Sorry; I'm soliloquizing. Filthy habit."

There are also some lovely snippets to note in retrospect, as they got picked up (or not) in later continuity. For one, the Doctor quotes a Gallifreyan rhyme about someone named Zagreus. I've already heard of the audio drama by that name (#50 in the Main Range, though not one that my friend Paul has recommended as Top 20 of the first 50), but a quick search on the character indicates that the next story on my list (#33 Neverland) introduces Zagreus to the Whoniverse.

The other bit I noticed was how the Doctor admitted having had an (unintentional) romantic entanglement with yet more British royalty. Given that this was released in 2002, I'm tipping my hat to Cornell & Symcox for the idea; I certainly feel it was executed better than the business with Elizabeth I and Ten.

Only one other minor detail warrants a mention (as I'm doing my best to keep these reviews spoiler free), and that is a little error in historical facts. The Doctor and Charley refer in passing to Benjamin Franklin, and call him an American President. As someone who shares his surname (though apparently not his genes; but that's a post for a completely different blog), I've made a point of familiarizing myself with the basics of B. Franklin's career. Contrary to popular belief (no doubt exacerbated by his appearance on the American $100 bill), Franklin was never President of the US (though he was eventually President of Pennsylvania—a position equivalent to a state governor today). He was also Postmaster General of the US, and later ambassador to France. Since I expect the Doctor knows even American history, despite his predilection for the UK, the mistake stuck out, but I'm sure most listeners wouldn't even notice.

By the end of the story, all the one-time plot threads had been tied up, and longer-term ones extended. Things either made sense or made me curious for more, as intended. There was enough timey-wimey goodness to keep my interest, though I think I prefer Chimes of Midnight. Regardless, I have no qualms recommending it to other listeners; it's quality entertainment.

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Comments

Although I believe it was an actual mistake at the time, they later retcon that to be part of the temporal shenanigans that Charley caused, another sign that time is out of joint (o cursed spite!) and the Doctor has to put it right.

By John Seavey (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Cool! I haven't listened to any more since this one (pesky new season on tellie ;) ), so haven't run across that retcon yet. I look forward to it!

By mrfranklin
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