Chimes, Time and Gallifreyan Rhymes (Charley Pollard 2)

The numbers show the story’s place in the Main Doctor Who range of Big Finish audio plays. Most plays in this range are approx. 2 hours long, with a full cast and four episodes.

This is the first time I have listened to these ones as a coherent ‘season’ as I went in quite the wrong order last time – not that this especially matters, as they are mostly standalone stories. But there is a growing sense of impending doom that creeps up on you through the stories, with occasional fleeting (but ominous) mentions of Gallifrey, the Time Lords, nursery rhymes about a mysterious character called Zagreus, and most of all Charley’s indeterminate status as a living person. Over the course of several stories, she is beginning to realise that the Doctor might have done something terribly wrong when he saved her life.

“SEASON TWO” (2002)

28. Invaders From Mars
Written By: Mark Gatiss
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Interesting Guest Star Alert: Simon Pegg (Don Chaney), Jessica Stevenson (Glory Bee), Mark Benton (Ellis)

I hated this one when I first heard it, which was very distressing to me. I think part of the problem was that I had heightened expectations because the premise was amazing (aliens actually invade the same night as Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds), plus it featured two of my favourite performers in the history of television, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes).

So I was rather gutted to not enjoy the story at all, and that the American accents everyone put on as part of the story meant I couldn’t even tell it was Pegg and Hynes! (I hate to be one of those people who whinges about bad American accents in Doctor Who and indeed many of them are I think not that bad? But I would have liked to be able to recognised the voices) The whole thing seemed to be a messy mob-themed romp with guns and gumshoes, and the Orson Welles broadcast seemed almost incidental.

BUT on this relisten, without those expectations, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I particularly liked Hynes’ character Glory Bee who embodies every female character type of film noir all at once, and while the War of the Worlds broadcast is merely ticking along in the background for most of the story, it becomes the hero in the final episode.

29. The Chimes of Midnight

Written By: Robert Shearman
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard)

A true Big Finish classic, this story by Robert Shearman was given to me by a creative writing student a few years back and is entirely responsible for me falling headlong into the world of Big Finish audio, a decade after I first heard Storm Warning.

It’s wonderful, a creeping and sinister piece of horror which builds on the traditions of murder mystery while at the same time being a clever satire on (and love letter to) classic TV show Upstairs Downstairs. And for the first time since Storm Warning, it is a story that revolves around and progresses the personal story of Charley Pollard.

The Chimes of Midnight is also a very clever play which uses the four episode format very cleverly in its placings of murders, repetitions, memory loss and reality shifts. Unfortunately this did mean that it took me a while to realise I was listening to the episodes out of order, but it is rather splendid that the story didn’t unduly suffer.
I do recommend not doing that, though.

If you have any fond memories of Mr Hudson, Mrs Bridges and poor old Emily the scullery maid, then this story will have extra resonance, but I think it would work rather well even without that, and it manages to achieve something that Ghostlight didn’t quite in the 80’s – a perfect tale of gothic Edwardian horror.

30. Seasons of Fear
Written By: Paul Cornell & Caroline Symcox
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard)

This is one of those stories that should be on the telly. It’s an ideal Doctor Who plot that fits beautifully with the timey-wimey format of the show.

After all their travelling together, the Doctor has finally deposited Charley in Singapore to meet the young man she was heading for when she first sneaked aboard the doomed airship R101. While he takes tea and waits for Charley to get all the flirting out of her system, he is approached by the sinister Sebastian Grayle, who informs the Doctor that he is not only his greatest enemy, but also that he (Sebastian) has recently killed the Doctor once and for all. He missed out on the chance to gloat at the time and so popped over to do so in the face of an earlier version of the Time Lord.

All of which comes as news to the Doctor, who has never met this chap before in his life.

What follows is a romp through time, as the Doctor and Charley drop in and out of the life of the mostly-immortal Grayle, from Ancient Roman temples and army camps to a fancy Victorian parlour, thwarting Grayle at every turn and, of course, in the process giving him more and more incentive to fulfil his destiny and bump off the Doctor once and for all.

Adventure, thrills, angst and comedy, and a nasty sting in the tail of the story at the end which ties it in to the epic season resolution to come. All good stuff.

Charley: I went to an orgy once. (very long pause) I didn’t stay.

31. Embrace the Darkness
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard)

After all the history juggling, this is a refreshingly dark piece of straight science fiction, in which the Doctor investigates a planet where the light disappeared many generations ago. The use of darkness and blindness as themes throughout make this a story that could never work as well in any medium other than audio, and the clever revelations about the aliens and the darkness worked terribly well for me all over again. I don’t want to spoil a moment of this one so I won’t reveal anything else, but SO CLEVER.

Gruesome body horror, genuine fear and tension, and a satisfying science fiction mystery.

32. The Time of the Daleks [Dalek Empire Part 4]
Written By: Justin Richards
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard)

This is probably the weakest story of the season and yet it’s still pretty solid, and the premise is so batshit weird that it’s worth listening to for the pure novelty factor: Shakespeare has been taken out of time, and the only ones who remember his work well enough to quote him are the Daleks, a ruthless female politician and the Doctor.

There is more to the story, but not a lot more, and it’s rather fun and enjoyable but doesn’t hold up quite as robustly as many of the more excellent stories of this batch.

33. Neverland
Written By: Alan Barnes
Starring: Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Lalla Ward (Romana)
Interesting Guest Star Alert: Don Warrington (Rassilon) – his gorgeous voice has been appearing in fragments through this series, but here he is properly at last!

The Time Lords, led by President Romana, have caught up with the Doctor and Charley. Her existence threatens the web of time, and the Doctor fears that they plan to undo his rescue of her, erasing her paradox from reality.
But actually, they have other plans for her… because a girl who shouldn’t exist according to Time can be remarkably useful.

Charley gets many scenes in which to shine, especially in the first episode which is purely she and the Doctor attempting to evade the Time Lords, and there is a mighty speech in which she sums up exactly what it is to be a companion in the TARDIS.

There are many other splendid moments, including the part where the Doctor tells her he loves her, and she responds in kind – but of course, being the DOCTOR he doesn’t necessarily mean it the same way she does. Whoops.

Romana is also wonderful, as always, and it’s lovely to see how well Lalla Ward and Paul McGann bounce off each other – which was of course at its best in the Big Finish reworking of Shada. She was a wonderful young, clever and frivolous Romana back in the day, but I like her far better as this older, harried and sharp-edged President Romana. The untrustworthy Vansell is a great antagonist for her, and their interactions nicely predict the kind of thing we would see in the ongoing Gallifrey series of plays.

The most interesting idea at the heart of this story is the revelation about the use of time erasure as an archaic punishment on Gallifrey, and what it would do to a population to regularly have people removed so thoroughly from time that no one remembered they had ever existed… and of course, what it would do to the people who enacted such punishments, but themselves had no memory of doing so!

Romana is convinced that no one has done such a thing in centuries, but of course the kicker is that she simply does not remember…

There’s sacrifice in this one, a great and terrible sacrifice. The Doctor is not only willing to give up his own life for Charley, but that of the TARDIS too, and boy wasn’t that going to return to bite him on the arse in a later story…

There’s also a cliffhanger, an ominous and awful cliffhanger, which leaves the Doctor overpowered by a sinister force, the embodiment of a Gallifreyan fairy tale. Worst of all, this was a tie-in to the 50th Big Finish play, which wouldn’t be released for more than a year!

Luckily, ten years later, we don’t have to wait to see what happens next.

Charley: Oh you. You know who you remind me of? You’re Peter Pan. The little boy who never grew up. Who lived in Never Never Land and fought with pirates and pixies. Nanny used to read me Peter Pan. I wanted to be Wendy. And now I am. Wendy Darling having adventures in Fairyland with the boy who never grew old. But you see, Wendy grew up in the end. That’s what’s so sad. And poor Peter. Poor little Peter, left all on his own—

The Doctor: He didn’t forget, Charley. He’d, he’d never forget. And he never left Wendy to face the crocodiles alone.

Charley: You are so sweet. So kind. So caring. Too good to be true, like a dream. And all this is just dreaming. These adventures we’ve had, these scrapes and japes in Neverland, with monsters and ray guns and magic… They’ve been wonderful! Better than my wildest dreams. But you can’t hide in dreams. Everyone wakes up in the end. It’s time to stop dreaming, Doctor. Time to grow up.

Charley “Season One” reviewed here: Airships, A.I. and Alastair Gordon You Know Who