Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.
And today, Tibère and Scribbles talk about tbe latest Big Finish monthly range, where the Fifth Doctor gets to meet UNIT. Attention – and beware spoilers after the “read more” tag!
TIBERE: I honestly really, really liked this one. It’s certainly maybe a bit awkward in its ambition – both being minimalistic and emotional on one side, and the set-up for a new Main Range arc with a bunch of original characters on the other. But I really like what it’s doing, and what that might mean for the Big Finish ethos in the long run – it takes the tropes and building blocks of a Pertwee story and ends up taking them in a very different direction, focusing on emotion and character above all things. That, in itself, is remarkable – beyond all the debates about the actual quality of these characters, I think it’s about the most character-focused the Monthly Range has been in ages: the plot, when you get down to it, could be summed up in a couple of lines, and everything that happens in it really is down to character conflicts and the way they interact between each other. It’s a very modern approach to storytelling – I could genuinely see a shortened up, revised version of this airing in one of the Moffat series. This kind of engagement with the personal connected with the political is just something I find incredibly compelling to see unfold – it’s not executed perfectly, just like what the Monthlies have been doing with the character of Constance wasn’t perfect, but I applaud the effort and it’s a direction I wholeheartedly applaud.
SCRIBBLES: “The Helliax Rift” is a very low-key story. I can see how it could charm; it eases the listener into some fairly standard UNIT investigations, before taking a veer in the back half toward a perfectly well executed science fiction character drama. I don’t think it sets a foot wrong in any particular way. But I think there’s more that could be done with it, and I wound up feeling somewhat frustrated in that regard. I still feel like I barely know any of the new UNIT characters, even the prominently used Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, and I felt like I would have preferred to see less of them and more of the characters the second half turns its focus to, who have a story that functions in broader images, but never quite comes close to making me feel much emotionally. It reminds me of the early main range, I guess. It’s cozy, competent, a bit slow, and never quite rocking your world, but it’s not bad by any means. It’s charming. But when a story takes the emotional route, I prefer to see it commit to really making the audience feel, and this doesn’t really have that. It’s just a bit too broad and impersonal for my liking, despite the intimate nature of the story.