‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring…
But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight.
Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out.
And Time itself might well be the killer….
“I am nothing. I am nobody”
I was so disappointed with Rob Shearman’s previous story The Holy Terror that I wasn’t looking forward to this one when it was first released. I needn’t have worried.
Just like The Holy Terror, this has a damn good dramatic story to it but unlike that release, The Chimes of Midnight isn’t ruined by intrusive and unnecessary comedy; yes, there is a certain level of black humour but it doesn’t show itself very often and when it does it’s all perfectly appropriate. What we have here is an intimate, claustrophobic, sinister murder mystery stuck in a time loop.
The story itself is marvellous. Part One has definite similarities to the opening episode of The Space Museum, with the Doctor and Charley finding themselves in the same place as the other characters but slightly out of sync and it’s a tremendous way of getting the atmosphere going. The script is excellent; at no point is anything played for laughs and even when there is a humorous line it only serves to underline the fact that the situation isn’t what it seems. It’s creepy, intriguing, clever, moving and dripping with atmosphere – the music and sound design tick those boxes too and enhance the atmosphere immensely. I should also say that this is Barnaby Edwards’ first stab at directing a Big Finish play and he does a very good job. To be honest, this is one of those rare occasions where, quite literally, everyone and everything comes together perfectly.
The supporting cast are all excellent and there isn’t a bad moment from any of them – and because there’s so few of them, they all get the opportunity to really go for it. Lennox Greaves and Sue Wallace, are the older servants while Robert Curbishley and Juilet Warner are the younger ones and the relationships between and within the two pairs, older and younger, male and female, is very good. None of them are there just to make up the numbers; they all have proper characters and motivations and because they are all introduced to us in their natural environment, going about their normal daily routine before anything unusual starts to happen, they’re more believable, which draws you in even more once all the twists and turns start happening.
Louise Rolfe, however, is the standout. She’s magnificent. Even though they’re all servants, there’s still a pecking order and right from the start you feel sorry for Edith the scullery maid, because she’s at the bottom of the pile and the rest of the staff make sure she knows it. She’s played with the right level of sadness and tragedy but at the same time she’s likeable and quickly develops an emotional connection with the two leads, which is essential given how integral to the plot that connection is. You genuinely feel for her character, and her scenes with Charley in Part Four where everything is explained, are both moving and riveting.
Paul McGann has thoroughly settled in to his role as the Doctor and is absolutely perfect in this. Some Doctors just wouldn’t feel right in this type of story but the Eighth Doctor belongs here. McGann pitches his performance at exactly the right level and if he keeps on like this he could easily become one of my favourite Doctors.
However, The Chimes of Midnight is more about Charley than the Doctor and this is a good thing coming after Invaders from Mars where she was sidelined in favour of all the guest actors. I had problems with Charley in her first series because she came across as though she wasn’t new to time/space travelling and immediately took everything in her stride. It’s not a problem now though because we’re on the second run of releases and that’s exactly where she should be. India Fisher is given the chance to really sink her teeth into this one and she delivers one hundred percent. We got a brief glimpse in Invaders from Mars of how good these two could be as a Doctor and Companion team but this is the first time since Storm Warning that the character has really worked for me. What fuels this story is how Charley and Edith are connected and, as I said earlier, it’s genuinely moving when you find out the truth.
Throughout the first four Eighth Doctor releases, vague references were made to the fact that the Doctor’s rescuing of Charley from the R101 has caused problems to the timeline but this was taken no further – and then in Invaders from Mars it’s completely ignored (apart from one oblique reference to Orson Welles having never heard of Shakespeare). Here, we get something more substantial which, quite appropriately, makes mention of some of those earlier adventures but doesn’t explain it all and leaves you with the promise of more to come.
There are so many scenes or plot elements I could enthuse about but they would all involve giving away the twists and turns and I honestly believe that this one is worth listening to without knowing them in advance. So I shall finish off by saying that, even now, ten years later, The Chimes of Midnight is still one of Big Finish’s finest. Turn off all distractions, wait til it’s dark and give it your full attention.
Nothing short of a masterpiece. 5/5
The Doctor: Paul McGann | Charley: India Fisher
With: Robert Curbishley (Frederick); Lennox Greaves (Shaughnessy); Louise Rolfe (Edith); Sue Wallace (Mrs Baddeley); Juliet Warner (Mary)
Writer: Robert Shearman | Director: Barnaby Edwards | Music: Russell Stone | Release Date: February 2002 | Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: Invaders from Mars and Rose