Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Chimes of Midnight

Here we have the second story from Robert Shearman whose Big Finish debut, "The Holy Terror" was a magnificent classic. Could Shearman possibly match or even better his debut? The answer is a resounding yes. In most fans' lists of favorite Big Finish stories, "The Chimes of Midnight" tops or lingers near the top of almost all of them. It's a magnificent story which really gets the Charley arc going into high gear in this second season of 8th Doctor audios.

The Doctor and Charley arrive in a stately manor on Christmas Eve in the early 20th century. The story takes place in the servant quarters, where whenever the chimes strike the hour, one of the servants is murdered. Except after midnight, everything seems to go back to 10 o'clock, and the murders start over again, but they aren't played out in the same way. The Doctor and Charley are absorbed into this repeating drama as sleuths trying to solve the murders. Things are definitely not right here, and the whole thing may revolve around Charley! There's much, much more to the plot than this, but I really want to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn't yet heard this amazing story.

Much like "The Holy Terror" before it, this is a very dark, creepy story with some touches of black humor. There aren't really the crazy laugh out loud moments in this story, but you may chuckle a few times. It can't be stressed enough how incredible the production of this story is. Barnaby Edwards makes his Big Finish directorial debut, after appearing in several previous Big Finish stories, and does a tremendous job with this complex script. He and Andy Warwick who handled sound design create such a brilliant, spooky atmosphere, along with emphasizing all of the odd time anomalies with impressive sound effects. From the always present ticking of the grandfather clock to the eerie (and always identical) scream whenever a murder takes place, the listener just gets sucked completely into this story's world and the time flies by as you listen to it.

The cast is in top form as well. Lennox Greaves (who was in "The Shadow of the Scourge") is terrific as the stuffy butler Shaughnessy, and suitably menacing as Edward Grove. Sue Wallace is perfect as the high and mighty cook Mrs. Baddely. And, Louise Rolfe is haunting as the poor scullery maid Edith. Again Edwards does a perfect job of managing the cast as they play the characters who keep reacting to these murders in decidedly odd ways.

Shearman explores many themes of the serving class vs the upper class. Repeatedly the characters describe themselves as "nothing". The upstairs is described as a forbidden place and then it becomes quite literally forbidden when the Doctor tries to venture upstairs. The way these characters transition from charmingly odd, to completely menacing is amazing. It's a very complicated balancing act this story accomplishes, juggling the scares with the odd humor, but it's done here to perfection.

This story is amazing. Now having heard it a few times, I can say without reservation that it's one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever told. It stands alone as an incredible adventure (though knowing a bit about Charley's introduction definitely helps), but it also fits into the season long arc perfectly. Shearman, who wrote the story under incredible stress, was sure that Gary Russel would reject the script. Perish the thought! It stands out as the best story in a very strong season of Doctor Who.


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