A Big Finish A ‘Week’ – Helicon Prime
Yes, I’m going to start doing these again – and I hope to get them back to something like weekly posting as well.
As some of you will have noticed, I’ve not posted as much in recent weeks – that’s because I’ve been doing a lot more stuff offline, and so haven’t had quite the online time I normally have. One of those things was on Sunday, when I attended my first ever Doctor Who convention (I’m not much of a one either for social events or organised fandom) – a one-day affair at the Fab Cafe in Manchester. Now, if you’d followed this on Twitter, you would have thought this was the Black Hole of Calcutta, but slightly less pleasant. In fact it was just a typically cramped small venue with a broken hand-drier in the gents’ toilet.
A lot of the fan complaints just seemed to me to be totally missing the point – if you’d told me when I was ten years old “You know, one day you’ll get to meet two Doctors and four companions on the same day!” my reaction would not have been “well, I’d like to do that, but not if I have to wipe my hands dry on my trousers after washing them”.
But worse fan entitlement was the complaints that the same anecdotes were being told by the guests as they always tell. Now the clue there is ‘always’. If you know, in advance, that, say, Colin Baker is going to make the same jokes he’s made before, then if you’re tired of them, just don’t go. Don’t go, laugh sycophantically, then complain about it behind the man’s back. These people (and the line-up was exceptional – Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred, Mark Strickson and Frazer Hines, plus the Big Finish people, including Lisa Bowerman) are talking about jobs they had for three years or so, and they’ve been talking about them for twenty to forty years. How many different anecdotes could anyone have about a job they did for a few years twenty years ago?
Some of what they said was familliar to me from interviews and so on, but enough was fresh that I was entertained, and I shall keep it fresh by the simple expedient of not going along to see the same people tell the same stories every few weeks.
The reason I bring it up is that the bonus tracks to this audio, Helicon Prime, include an interview with Frazer Hines where he tells exactly the same stories about working with Patrick Troughton as he told on Sunday, and I would hate anyone to undergo the terrible torment and suffering of having to hear someone tell the same anecdote twice, and have to pay for it.
Helicon Prime by Jake Elliott is one of a low-budget series of single-CD adventures that Big Finish do called the Companion Chronicles. As the first three Doctors are, unfortunately, all dead, and as Tom Baker wants nothing to do with Big Finish, the only way to tell new stories featuring the first four Doctors is to do what they do in these stories – take a supporting character, usually a companion, and have them tell the story in first person.
The results are closer to talking books than to the radio drama that the main Big Finish line resembles, though they do include sound effects and there’s usually a second actor to fill in one supporting role.
In this case the story is being read by Frazer Hines, in character as Jamie McCrimmon, the Second Doctor’s companion, and features Suzanne Procter. Hines actually does an excellent job of imitating Troughton, when reading the Doctor’s lines – in context it’s Jamie telling the story and imitating the Doctor, but it works.
The story itself is just a pleasant little nothing, a pastiche of the stories of the time – the Big Finish people at the convention the other day said that the brief for this one had been to ‘make it sound black and white’, and it does – the plotline (what is the sinister truth behind an unexplained death on a resort planet?) is exactly the sort of thing they would have done in the sixties (it’s actually more a Hartnell type story than a Troughton one, because the Troughton stories were almost all ‘monster’ stories, which this isn’t, but it doesn’t seem out of place for the second Doctor and Jamie). The descriptions manage to conjure up a sense of place very well – rather better, in fact, than many of the regular Big Finish audios, as Hines can just read out a description of the people or surroundings – and while Hines does have a couple of duff line reads, there are surprisingly few for what is essentially a solo performance.
The only problem with it is an unavoidable one. The character of Jamie McCrimmon is not meant to be especially articulate (and, depending on the writer, he’s sometimes characterised as actually stupid, though I think the character works better when he’s resourceful and quick on the uptake but ignorant). Here, he has to be the narrator of the entire story which, given that this is not some avant-garde experimental piece, means he has to have a much larger working vocabulary, and a much better turn of phrase, than the character ever had on TV. (Part of me would almost like to see what could have been done by having Jamie tell the story while being characterised as he was on TV – I’m imagining the story told now in something like the way Alan Moore wrote the first chapter of Voice Of The Fire…)
So if I listen to this as Frazer Hines reading a Doctor Who story, it’s entertaining, but if I try to think of it as Jamie McCrimmon telling the story I keep getting pulled out of it.
The story itself is nothing special, but it’s nicely characterised – the relationship between the Second Doctor and Jamie is captured perfectly – and if you’re a lover of the all-too-few Troughton-era stories we still have and want more, this isn’t a bad substitute, But at half the length of a normal Big Finish story it can’t be anything like as ambitious as the regular series, so go into this expecting an enjoyable, fluffy piece of entertainment, rather than a great work of art, and you won’t be disappointed.
Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who’s heard it all before…
Edited to add
Just a little extra here. Once again, I’m getting people coming to my blog searching for ‘Nicola Bryant’ along with various sexual keywords. I usually find that quite amusing, if nothing else because there could be nothing less sexy than my blog, except possibly my body. However, someone at the con asked Ms Bryant if she’d consider posing for a ‘lad mag’ (for those who aren’t British, these are soft-core pornographic titles aimed at people too scared to buy anything harder). This kind of thing, to my mind, crosses the line into sexual harassment, and while Ms Bryant was polite, if clearly embarassed, I won’t be. That person is presumably quite likely to be one of the people who arrives at my blog through those search terms, and I’d just like to say to you “Fuck off and die, you festering wart on the scrotum of humanity. Publicly humiliating someone just because she happens to be a good-looking woman is not the behaviour of a civilised human being, and by doing so you have waived your right to be treated as one.”