Doctor Who: Relative Dimensions Review
Christmas in the TARDIS? What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, quite a lot...
Big Finish have a good track record with regards to Christmas specials. Throughout their various ranges and series, the company has carved out a little niche at producing Christmas specials that fit the time of year without being too sentimental and over-indulgent. From the Doctor Who Monthly Adventures to Dark Shadows, there's a wide range to choose from. But one range that has, more than any other, enjoyed a number of these Christmas episodes is the Eighth Doctor Adventures. "Relative Dimensions" is one of these, and is perhaps the most obvious Christmas special Big Finish have ever put out. A Christmas party in the TARDIS might not seem to be the most traditional idea for a Doctor Who story, but that's where "Relative Dimensions"' strengths lie. It's a very unconventional Doctor Who story, and it is, for me, one of the best Christmas Doctor Who stories in the show's history.
After the traumatic events of the previous audio, "The Resurrection of Mars", the Doctor and Lucie are hoping for a quiet Christmas in the TARDIS. But the Doctor has decided to invite both his granddaughter Susan and great-grandson Alex aboard for a party - and soon, the Christmas gathering will turn into a nightmare, as something stalks the corridors of the ship... As I mentioned above, this isn't a traditional Doctor Who story. For one thing, it pretty much wholly takes place within the confines of the TARDIS. And, for another, there isn't an awful amount of 'threat' or 'peril' for our characters to encounter. However, that doesn't mean that this story is in any way boring or dull - quite the opposite. In TV, it is quite common for shows to do a bottle episode: confine our characters to a restricted environment and force them to confront any secrets or character drama that has built up over the course of the series. "Relative Dimensions" takes its cues from this trope: despite having the vast interior dimensions of the TARDIS to take in, this is a story about the character arcs for the Doctor, Lucie, Susan and Alex. Writer Marc Platt picks apart the relationships between the characters, and attempts to re-stich them together in different ways, with their secrets out in the open. This episode is all about the characters: the plot with the Quinnis fish is a nice touch, but that is all it is. The main purpose of this story is to deal with all the unresolved events of the series so far, as well as pushing the characters towards the final two-parter to come. And, in that regard, Platt does it very well: the character drama is never overdone or over-the-top, and it comes naturally from the situations these characters are put in. We get to see each character put into different combinations, and how they work together at the end is built on everything that has come before. "Relative Dimensions" is doing a lot in a relatively short time frame, and it's economy is definitely to be admired. And, don't worry if you're a fan who thinks this going to be as disappointing as "The Invasion of Time" in it's depiction of the TARDIS. This is exactly what that story aimed for, but missed completely - and there are a number of Easter eggs for long-term fans that will put a smile on your face, and may even cause you to shed a tear...
As I mentioned above, this is a story all about the characters. As such, the performances of the actors are key to this story's success, and all four of them turn in superb performances. Paul McGann is fantastic: this is a completely alien situation for his Doctor, and, while the Doctor really struggles to work around everyone else, he makes the slightly panicked version of the Time Lord work. He's ably supported by Sheridan Smith as Lucie, who, despite being back alongside the Doctor, doesn't just slot back into the old routine. The events of previous episodes this season, especially "Death in Blackpool" and "The Resurrection of Mars", have had an impact on her relationship with the Doctor, and, perhaps, goes someway to explaining why she makes the decision she does at the end of the story. Lucie acts, somewhat, as the peace-maker between the warring Doctor and Susan, a role which may not be immediately natural to her, but is one that works in the context of the story. To round out the cast, we have Who legend Carole Ann Ford reprising her role as the Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman, and Paul McGann's son Jake McGann as the Doctor's great-grandson Alex Campbell - both of whom return to roles, and the relationship, they played in the earlier subscriber's special "An Earthly Child". The younger McGann, particularly, has grown in confidence since that debut, and brings more dimensions to the character of Alex than we'd seen previously. Sure, he's still a little bit of an awkward teenager, but it's a bit more subtle than previously, and feels more a conscious choice from both writer and actor. As for Susan, well, quite honestly, Marc Platt is probably the best writer for the character in the history of the programme. He gets how to write for Susan; not making her too needy or whinny, but having her stand up for herself in the face of her somewhat overbearing grandfather and be assertive. Carole Ann Ford clearly loves Platt's writing, and she really runs with the material she's been offered. All of this is bound together by Barnaby Edwards' on-point direction, which takes these long dialogue scenes, and keeps them from getting dull or repetitive. Finally, Jamie Robertson's work on post-production is phenomenal: his music, particularly, is hauntingly brilliant, helped by the use of a real choir to bring the carol sections to life. It isn't twee or sentimental, but hauntingly beautiful, and adds a final extra layer to this wonderful story that showcases the best elements of Big Finish production with style.
Overall, then, "Relative Dimensions" is a fine story to mark the festive season, as well as a key part of the Eighth Doctor's ongoing adventures. While being essentially plotless, the fine character drama and peril of the situation makes for a potent combination, and the performances of the cast work well to sell the more personal stakes of this story. As a breather between the heavy stakes and consequences of "Deimos" and "The Resurrection of Mars", and the action-packed finale, "Relative Dimensions" fits the bill perfectly. However, it's greater accolade may be as the most Christmas-y Doctor Who special ever, even more so than some of Big Finish's other efforts. While the premise may be extremely unconventional, it is brought to life with aplomb, and functions as a heartfelt tribute to the programme and to the festive season in one go. This one is heartily recommended - in fact, it's a Christmas cracker!
You can purchase "Relative Dimensions" as a digital download and collectors edition CD from the Big Finish website (see below). Just type "Relative" 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.