THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO "THE ETERNAL
SUMMER" AND PRIOR
TO "THE DEMONS OF
RED LODGE AND OTHER
BIG FINISH CD#129
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
Stockbridge used to
be such a lovely
place. The loveliest
village in all
England, according to
the guide books. But
hardly anyone visits
Stockbridge now: a
few tourists, a couple
of Trust guides, the
But something is
ravening zombies – a
plague such as the
Earth has never seen,
history from a time
greatest enemy was a
race known as the
The Doctor and Nyssa
visit Stockbridge for
the final time, to
confront the terrible
secret buried at its
heart. The storm
Plague of the Daleks
The final chapter of “the Stockbridge Trilogy” is, as one would expect, by far the darkest story of the three. Mark Morris’ (Forty-Five) play tells of the demise of Stockbridge
in the far future; of the sun-scorched Earth’s last perfectly-preserved English village falling to ravening, plague-ridden zombies and their monstrous, metal-cased masters.
I love the conceit that, despite being the Stockbridge of the future, the Stockbridge of this story is still recognisably the quintessential English village that it was when we last saw it in our time. Preserved as a heritage site, the future Stockbridge is an attraction that draws life forms ranging from humans with an interest in genealogy to purple, tentacled and really quite pompous alien professors.
I also like the notion that the village is, essentially, one big Doctor trap. The Daleks have been playing a long game, hidden in cryostasis beneath the village, waiting for the Doctor
to arrive at his favourite haunt so that they can unleash their mutant plague and finally rid themselves of the meddling Time Lord… by making him on one of them!
However, this story’s working title, “Village of the Damned”, would have been a far more effective moniker in my view, dramatically speaking. Whilst Plague of the Daleks certainly does what it says on the tin, and no doubt will drum up a few more sales for Big Finish pre-release, it gives away not only the presence of the Doctor’s oldest foes but also the crux of their fiendish plan. And unlike many Dalek stories, this is one where their unmasking at the end of the second episode would come as a complete and genuine surprise were it not spoiled beforehand.
“Sensory data indicates that after initial resistance the
Doctor’s physiology is succumbing to cellular subjugation...
Soon the Doctor will be a Dalek and the Daleks will reign supreme!”
This small gripe aside, Morris handles the Daleks tremendously well in his script, and - of course - Nicholas Briggs does his usual superlative job of realising them, aided and abetted by Steve Foxon’s typically effectual sound design. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve come across as distinctive a bunch of Daleks since Briggs’ brought Sec, Caan, Jast and Thay to life on television. Whether they’re begging for their own extermination because they’re blind and thus useless, invading the TARDIS, or being drawn into atypically long-winded debates with their victims-to-be (Professor Jabery’s foolhardy defiance is teeth-clenchingly painful), the Daleks of this play are as imposing as ever.
Sarah Sutton also enjoys another in what is fast becoming a long line of strong outings for her character. Here Nyssa is paired with Liza Tarbuck’s (The Infinite Quest) tour guide, Lysette Barclay, and charged with driving the narrative forward. At times, particularly when the Doctor falls under the Daleks’ influence in the second half of the story, Nyssa is firmly
in the ‘Doctor’ role and – much to my surprise – up to the job. And Peter Davison is equally well-catered for: here he is given the opportunity to spar with Keith Barron (Enlightenment) once again, not to mention play a Doctor slowly succumbing to Dalek control as the very cells of his body turn against him.
My favourite characters of the play though were a couple of the red shirts – amiable old genealogist Vincent Linfoot (Barry McCarthy) and his dragon of a wife, Alexis (Richenda Carey, who sounds uncannily like Maureen Lipman of The Idiot’s Lantern fame). For me,
it was ‘little’ characters like these that made the first two portentous episodes work as well as they did. Morris’ plague rain may well be a horrific idea in principle, but without losing
a character that we care about to it, it wouldn’t have worked half as well. In fact, Vincent’s ghastly transformation is one of the play’s most harrowing moments.
“It’s gone. Swept away. All those lives. All that history.”
The play’s final episode is devastating and dazzling in equal measure. I didn’t expect to see Stockbridge destroyed, and I certainly didn’t expect to be as moved by it as I was. Plague of the Daleks is littered with references (both subtle and sledgehammer) to the village’s past – Mrs Withers, the Sinclairs, Sir Justin, even the phrase “The Tides of Time” -, making its ultim-ate end all the more affecting, as well as affording the whole trilogy a lovely sense of history and permanence. The Doctor’s bookend recitals of Oliver Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village - the former delivered with gusto, the latter dripping with remorse - only heightens the poignant feel.
Nevertheless, as good as Plague of the Daleks is – and, make no mistake, it is very good indeed – I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did Castle of Fear or The Eternal Summer, both of which were exceptional releases. Somehow it just feels a little less magic; something that was perhaps inevitable given that its tone is so dour.
Overall though, this final ‘season’ of the 2009 has probably been my favourite, which really is saying a lot given the quality of the first three. Indeed, this year’s ‘seasonal’ release schedule – which I am very pleased to see is being maintained for at least the first half of 2010 – has allowed Big Finish to tell broader, deeper and ultimately much more compelling stories, and
I really have to applaud that. Each story arc this year has felt ambitious and modern, yet still indisputably Doctor Who. And that’s why I keep listening to Big Finish.
Now – where can you buy copies of The Tides of Time?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
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