Doctor Who: Brave New Town Review
The Doctor and Lucie find themselves in a strange town that keeps believing it is the 1st of September 1991...
One of the most arresting elements of the Eighth Doctor Adventures was its ability to bring new life to old Doctor Who monsters. Across four seasons, the production team brought back the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Zygons, Morbius, the Krynoids, the Wirrn, the Metebelis Spiders, the Monk and the Ice Warriors to face the Doctor and Lucie. However, one of the most interesting - and, potentially, daring - old foes to come back were the Autons, in 2008's "Brave New World". Being mostly silent automatons of the Nestene Consciousness may not make them an obvious choice to bring back on audio, so it makes what writer Jonathan Clements does with them here even more interesting. And, as a result, this becomes one of the most novel Eighth Doctor Adventures, despite its use of a traditional element in its storytelling. It really pushes how far you can take the Autons, as well as telling a genuinely intriguing mystery story into the bargain. It all adds up to one of the stronger instalments of one of the most well-regarded series from Big Finish.
The story opens with the TARDIS landing in what appears to be the seaside town of Thorrington. However, something is very wrong - the sea appears to have dried up, the newsagent's daughter has gone missing, and the residents are convinced that the date is the 1st of September 1991... as it was yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that... As if the prospect of Bryan Adams always being number 1 wasn't a terrifying enough prospect, it turns out the residents are hiding a dark secret - even from themselves. I mean, if that synopsis doesn't hook you in, I don't know what will! In the CD extras, it's noted this story has a little of the feel of The Avengers, the ITC spy-fi series from the 1960s, and there's definitely some truth to that. A slightly off-kilter village, where the residents are not what they seem is the bread-and-butter of that series, and "Brave New Town" feels like it belongs in the same camp. However, it doesn't just feel like a trad bit of 60s nostalgia, wrapped up in a Doctor Who skin. Rather, it takes this base concept, and weaves an emotional narrative about growing up, discussions of identity and being left behind when the whole world changes into it. It's a story that examines all these concepts, while still maintaining a lightness of touch that makes this an easy listen. It also has a slight "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers" thing going on, so the whole thing ends up feeling like a nice bit of pulp sci-fi, but touching on slightly more adult material than you might expect. Jonathan Clements provides an effective blend between the two, and, as such, there's a lot going on. It never feels over-full with stuff, however, and it balances everything it is doing really well. The Autons are used superbly: I can't say what specific role they play in the story without spoiling it, but, when I say this might be the most novel thing anyone has ever done with them, I do not exaggerate. It ends up feeling completely divorced, in many ways, from their TV appearances, but not in the sense that they might as well be different monsters.
While the story deals with some big ideas, it's also a release that never forgets the characters at its heart. While there's nothing that really jumps out as outstanding, Jonathan Clements makes sure that the listeners are given a reason to care about these characters and what happens to them. Two good examples of this are Jason the Newsagent and his daughter, Sally. The story centers around their fractured relationship, and, even after we get to the key twist that blows the story wide open, Clements keeps these two at the heart of it. Added to that are slightly more sympathetic military characters than you normally get in a Doctor Who story, and you have a set of genuinely interesting characters. This is helped by a set of great actors coming together to record this: Playschool's Derek Griffiths and Line of Duty's Adrian Dunbar among them. It's amazing that neither of them have been in Doctor Who proper, because they are fantastic in this story, really bringing their characters to life with skill. Dunbar, particularly, has the task of bringing the main figure of authority, McCarthy, to life, and he does a fine job of keeping the balance between obstreperous jobsworth, and something more slightly morally complex. Lorna Want brings Sally, the tearaway teen, to life with such passion and will, that you don't realise that you're not listening to a real teen. The rest of the guest cast are a host of Big Finish stalwarts, and you're guaranteed quality from actors like that. Of course, Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith rule the roost really; they might spend a lot of the story apart, but even seperated, the banter flies fast and hard. They truly are one of the greatest Doctor/companion parings of all time, and we were blessed to get them together. The great work of the cast is all brought together by superb direction from Jason Haigh-Ellery, standout sound design from Gareth Jenkins and a sweeping cinematic score from Andy Hardwick, and they help make "Brave New Town" the huge success it is.
Overall, then, "Brave New Town" is a standout example of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller Adventures at their height. A superb script, that pushes an old foe of the Doctor's into uncharted territory, combined with some fantastic acting and top quality production work, and you have the recipe for a classic. In many ways, it's only because so many of its fellows are so good that this one perhaps goes under the radar a little bit, but make no mistake - this is pure gold. There's not really much more I can say than that. Just go give it a listen - you won't regret it, I promise you!
You can purchase "Brave New Town" as a digital download from the Big Finish website (see below). Just type "Brave" into the search bar at the top of the page.
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions/the BBC. Thank you very much for reading.
About the Creator
Joseph A. Morrison
25. Fan of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, The Prisoner and more old-fashioned TV. Reviewer, wannabe writer and general twit.
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