THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN ACE
AND HEX'S SEGMENT OF
THE BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMA "THE VEILED
LEOPARD" AND THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
"NO MAN'S LAND."
BIG FINISH CD#82
RELEASED IN MAY 2006
WITH FREE SAMPLER CD.
Having brought the
army belonging to the
England before this
place, to reduce it to
obedience, to the end
effusion of blood may
be prevented, I
thought fit to summon
you to deliver the
same into my hands
to their use.
If this be refused, you
will have no cause to
I expect your answer
and rest your
I got quite excited when I received The Settling. You’ve got to give Big Finish’s marketing department their due - receiving a two-CD play in a beautifully designed three-CD gatefold sleeve really does make you think you’ve got hold of something a bit special, not to mention trick your brain into thinking you’ve got more than you paid for.
For those interested in such things, The Settling is only the third Big Finish play to be released in such packaging, and it’s the first to feature any artwork on the spine. I don’t know whether this is going to be a regular thing or not from hereon in, but it looks fantastic all the same. Sadly, the bonus disc isn’t anything to get excited about, being comprised entirely of trailers, clips and even more trailers. I remember being pissed off when Big Finish started putting trailers at the beginning of plays, and now we get them at the beginning, at the end, and on a bonus disc! Believe it or not though, inside the packaging next to the bonus disc is a Doctor Who audio play. Another one of these historical things that we’re all so keen on these days. And do you know what? It’s actually rather good….
The Settling is to Hex what The Age of Steel is to Mickey Smith. It’s his time to stand up. His time to grow up. His time to make a mistake and experience what it’s like to be the Doctor’s companion when it all goes wrong. The Settling is Philip Olivier’s moment to shine.
It took me a while to really get into Simon Guerrier’s story, largely because for the first half it’s just The Aztecs being re-hashed again. But as matters progressed, it became clear that this isn’t just another variation on a theme – if anything, The Settling is the mirror opposite of The Aztecs. Fair enough, Hex wants to change history against the Doctor’s wishes, but this time, Hex does actually influence history. Sadly it’s not for the better though – when Hex meets Oliver Cromwell and realises that he isn’t an out and out monster, he seizes upon the opportunity to try and influence him for what he believes to be the better. In the end though, he just pushes Cromwell over the edge and actually sets in motion the events that he wanted to prevent.
Indeed, the way that this play has been written is very clever indeed. Last month gave us Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries, but this month’s historical offering is far from a mystery. When the TARDIS materialises in Ireland, Hex has a very definite idea of what is about to happen and a very definite picture of Cromwell in his head, and most listeners will be in the same boat – I know I certainly was. However, having extensively researched the man, Guerrier is able to portray Cromwell in a manner that I’ve never before seen. He isn’t unreasonable; just difficult to reason with. He isn’t conceited; he’s convinced. He isn’t evil, either - like so many Who antagonists, his intentions are good. Or at least, he believes them to be.
Clive Mantle is a mammoth presence as Cromwell; his larger than life personality dominates every single scene that he’s in, be it debating life and death with the Doctor; weeping to Ace; or even torturing poor Hex for blaspheming! When teaching history one of the best ways of getting across the idea of changing times to students is to illustrate differences between then and now, and Hex’s “oh my God!” would have made a great example of this - the phrase is used so frequently today that the Kaiser Chiefs even used it as a title for one of their songs. Back then, however, if you uttered it you could be hung! Cromwell might not have executed Hex for his blaspheming, but he’s certainly beaten within an inch of his life. In such scenes Mantle has a tremendous ferocity to him that at least matches any of the historical tyrants that Doctor Who has thrown at us in the past. I loved Mantle’s definitive Little John in the 1980s television series Robin of Sherwood - he played the part as a sort of gentle giant; a ferocious man of strong convictions who could be fighting off the entire Norman Army in one scene, and then crying like a baby in the next. In this play, Cromwell has the same sort of fanatical ambivalence about him, and - as Hex finds out to his chagrin - his moods can turn in an instant.
My only real complaint about The Settling is that Hex’s story is told to the detriment of Ace and especially the Doctor. The Doctor comes off worst by a mile; he’s little more than a medical Doctor throughout, his time divided between patching up wounded soldiers and looking after a pregnant woman. He does, however, get to deliver a baby in the middle of a battle that I think may constitute one of the series’ strangest cliffhangers to date! Ace, for her part, seems to have little to do other than be there to talk to Hex about what has happened (the story is told entirely through flashbacks) and to be the focal point of his desires. Whilst Ace and Hex have ranged from brother and sister squabbling to playful flirtation in previous stories, in The Settling things suddenly get much heavier. It becomes clear that Hex is in love with Ace, though it seems that Ace’s feelings are purely platonic. For a while, The Settling had me thinking that this could be Hex’s final trip in the TARDIS. It isn’t, but it’s going to be very interesting to see how this angle surrounding Hex’s unrequited feelings plays out.
All things considered, The Settling is another wonderful historical from Big Finish, and a watershed story for this TARDIS crew. Ace, Hex and Doctor number seven don’t seem to be the most popular Big Finish line-up amongst listeners, but I’ve always had a soft-spot for Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred (who are mutually responsible for hooking me on Who in the first place), and after a performance like this, their scouse friend isn’t far behind in my estimations. Better to come, I reckon. Better to come.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story implies that the TARDIS console room has been renovated to take on its TV Movie appearance;
a proposition supported by Alex Mallinson’s stunning centrefold in Forty-Five’s accompanying CD booklet.
Given that the audio dramas featuring Ace and Hex must take place prior to Lungbarrow, we must assume that the TARDIS console room was given more than one overhaul during the seventh Doctor’s life, and that between Hex’s departure and Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible it was restored to its traditional, white-roundelled “desktop theme”.
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