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 look at the latest Monthly Big Finish story, from the pen of relative newcomer Chris Chapman! Spoilers after the “read more” tag.
Also, while you’re here, you might be interested in checking out the Twelfth Doctor fan audio series supervised by regular site contributor Janine Rivers – the next episode, coming at the beginning of August, was written by Scribbles, if you need any more incentive!
TIBERE: It’s the kind of audio where the sentence “baseline level” is uttered a lot. It’s a solid story, it really is – I think Chris Chapman is one of the most interesting recent additions to their writing line-up, he has a really good handle on pacing, character, and theme and some very unique aesthetics; but, for now at least, he might be erring a bit too much on the trad side. I mean, it’s only natural for a writer that’s starting in the world of Who to rely on already-trodden paths; but, in front of the unquestionable talent he deploys here, and deployed, especially, in last year’s excellent “The Middle”, it’s hard not to feel a bit frustrated at how safe he’s playing it.
SCRIBBLES: I find this story exceptionally difficult to comment on. Big Finish has done a fantastic job this year of increasing the average quality of the monthly range, and this continues the trend. It’s a well-paced celebrity historical that doesn’t do anything wrong, but it’s also one I don’t find much to care about in regards to. There’s no companion on-hand to really fill up the story with humanity, and I don’t think the period characters ever threaten to take over in that regard. The most prominent character with an arc is of course Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who is well-realized, but like many celebrity historical figures in Doctor Who, there’s a limit to how far the drama can push him to do interesting and unexpected things. For people who enjoy this period of history, I’m sure this story is a treat. For me, it exists, did its job, but unfortunately won’t be long remembered. It’s an effective vehicle for competent plot married to equally competent historical details that provides little else.
TIBERE: In regards to Big Finish’s larger trajectory, I think it all makes sense. There were big, big problems with the Monthly Range, and I think they realized that – the decisions that have been taken, ie. distributing the responsibilities that were previously taken care of by the Alan Barnes/David Richardson duo, breaking up the trilogy format, etc. …, are for me all unequivocally positive, but they’ll take time to reap dividends. For now, it looks like the main objective of the Monthly Range is not to fuck up. Which is frustrating, in a way – but, at the same time, if you want to build an edifice, you have to do it on steady ground – I feel like the end of the year, bringing in characters like Narvin, Iris and Klein, will go in more adventurous directions, that hopefully will be auspicious. Or at least I hope – because while this is a good audio, it’s not the best its author, and Big Finish in general, is capable of.