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Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight Review

One of Big Finish's most acclaimed Eighth Doctor plays sees the Doctor and Charley trapped in a macabre Christmas mystery.

By Joseph A. MorrisonPublished about a year ago 5 min read
The CD cover for "The Chimes of Midnight", designed by Clayton Hickman.

Whenever you get Big Finish fans to discuss their favourite audio plays, you'll hear a few names that constantly crop up: "Spare Parts", "Jubilee", "Davros" and "A Death in the Family", to name but a few. But the one play that seems universally loved by everyone is Robert Sherman's "The Chimes of Midnight": an audio that has, repeatedly, been voted the greatest Doctor Who audio of all-time. And it isn't hard to see why. Described as Sapphire & Steel meets Upstairs Downstairs when pitched, it is a story with a sure-fire premise, one that was always bound to be a success. But I don't think anyone could have expected just how good "Chimes of Midnight" was going to be, because this story is honestly legendary. Combining a perfect script, with phenomenal performances and superlative post-production work, this is one of Big Finish's finest releases in its over-20 year history, and remains the very highest of benchmarks for everything that has followed it since.

Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, in a promotional image from the 1996 Movie.

The basic plot sees the Eighth Doctor and Charley arrive in, what appears to be at first glance, an Edwardian townhouse. However, there's something wrong here: the whole house is cast in unearthly silence, they can hear distant voices in the darkness, and time appears to be frozen. But, when they are let into the house fully, they find something terrible has been unleashed... something that needs to feed on the violent deaths of the servants to survive. It's such a wonderful premise, and it instantly grabs the attention of the listener with its murder-mystery set up. But, right from the start, you are aware that there is something more going on, and this pays off in a complex second half that twists time and space round and round as the truth is revealed. Seriously, this is meticulously plotted, and each cliffhanger pushes the story in a new direction. What also helps this story is just how scary it is: while a lot of Doctor Who stories are only really frightening if you're a kid, "The Chimes of Midnight" is one that will haunt you as an adult. Some sequences are genuinely difficult to listen to, and one of the deaths is so grotesque that it always makes me gag, no matter how many times I hear it. It isn't unnecessarily morbid, however, but it all serves the wider story at play. There's metatextual elements about the nature of the Doctor and who he is in relation to his companions, and philosophical discussions about the nature of life, and who is more deserving of it. The villain is a perfect example of this: something given life by the actions of the Doctor and Charley, but only really desiring its own existence at the expense of all else. "Chimes of Midnight" contains so many different elements, and all of them weave together to make a Doctor Who story so richly textured that you could spend a lifetime digging deep into the various meanings of various scenes, and still only scratch the surface.

The Doctor Who Magazine preview art for "The Chimes of Midnight", designed by Martin Geraghty.

Of course, what makes this story what it really is is the superb characters and acting, which bring this story to life. With a small cast like this, it's really important that there's lots of chemistry between them, and this cast fit together like a comfortable glove. All of the characters are stereotypes, there's no doubt about that, but they all fit a particular purpose in the story, and their stereotypical nature is due to their interchangeability in the situation. However, you're never conscious of this, thank to the performances of the cast - especially Lennox Greaves and Louise Rolf as Shaughnessy and Edith respectively. Both of them get the chance to go beyond the caricatures of the other characters, and present different facets to their performances. Rolf, particularly, brings a great quality to the put-upon scullery maid Edith, and brings the role up from what it could have been. That's not to disparage the work of the other actors, however, who bring their roles to life wonderfully. As for the regulars, well Paul McGann and India Fisher are at the top of their game here, both individually and as a unit. Both the Doctor and Charley are pushed to the limit here, and both actors rise to the occasion brilliantly. Fisher, in particular, brings a huge energy to Charley, especially as it starts to become clear that the events here are incredibly personal to her and the ongoing story arc surrounding her character. Barnaby Edwards' direction is incredibly strong, and brings the best performances out of his actors, while Andy Hardwick's sound design and Russell Stone's music brings this slightly warped Edwardian household to life. Stone's music, particularly, is especially creepy, without being too over-the-top or pronounced. All in all, this is one of the most-assured productions from the early days of Big Finish, and it is hard to tell that this release is now 20 years old, so great is the work of the actors, director and post-production team.

In 2016, "The Chimes of Midnight" was re-released as a limited edition vinyl, with new cover art designed by Tom Webster.

Overall, then, "The Chimes of Midnight" is a undisputed classic. A peerless script, combined with some first-rate performances and some brilliantly moody sound design and music make this one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever put out by Big Finish Productions. This is consistently listed by fans and those who work at Big Finish as one of the company's very best, and, while one might find a perverse pleasure in arguing the opposite, it simply is one of Big Finish's finest two-hours. Quite simply, one of the best of the best, and, if you haven't yet listened to "The Chimes of Midnight", then you a missing out on one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time.

You can purchase "The Chimes of Midnight" as a digital download here:

All pictures copyright to the BBC/Big Finish Productions/Doctor Who Magazine. Thank you for reading.

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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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