RETRO REVIEW: “A Death in the Family”

Whenever I look at lists of top Big Finish stories, this one is always at the top, so I was a little concerned when I started listening to it. Would it live up to the hype? Could this really be the best Big Finish story ever? The short answer? Yes, on both counts.

Read on to find out my thoughts, but turn away if you’ve not yet listened. This is a story you definitely don’t want spoiled…


This story follows directly from the end of Project: Destiny, seeing the Doctor and Ace investigate a Time Lord sarcophagus in the Forge archives. From there, we are thrust into a confrontation with an old enemy, a reunion with an old friend and a tale so full of twists and turns that it easily could have fallen apart. Thankfully, Steven Hall doesn’t let that happen.

Seriously, the way Hall weaves together the many plot strands is masterful. He brings into play things you never thought had any relevance, turning throwaway lines into huge plot points and tying everything up at the end in such a way that not a single second of the story feels wasted.

This adventure sees the return of Nobody No-One, last seen in The Word Lord. Now played by Ian Reddington, he’s just as great a villain as he was the first time around, a truly unique character in the Doctor Who universe with so much potential I’m surprised he hasn’t appeared since. Though he only appears in parts one and four, Nobody No-One’s presence is felt throughout because, at the end of the first episode, he does what no other villain has ever (truly) done. He kills the Doctor. Really.

The middle two episodes focus on the fallout from this cliffhanger. Part two sees Hex (Philip Olivier) travel to the planet Pelachan, where he encounters Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables), companion of the Sixth Doctor. Though this is the first time the two characters have met, their stories are so intertwined that they go perfectly together. Both actors play their parts so well, cementing themselves as some of the top Doctor Who companions of all time.

The third part focuses on Ace (Sophie Aldred) and her relationship with John Dorney‘s Henry Noone. If I had to choose, this would probably be my favourite bit of the story as both Ace and Henry are so well written and so well acted that you’d be forgiven for thinking their relationship was an established fact, rather than just part of this one story.

A Death in the Family closes with the final showdown between the Doctor’s companions and Nobody No-One, and it’s certainly a showdown to remember! The way the story wraps up is utterly ingenious, seeded throughout the preceding three episodes, but never signposted too blatantly as to spoil the twist.

Oh, and this is where we say goodbye to Evelyn Smythe, Big Finish‘s first original companion played by the late, great Maggie Stables. It’s an utterly heartbreaking moment that comes out of the blue, ending the story on a solemn but sweet note.

The music in this story, provided by Richard Fox and Lauren Yason, is top tier as well, underscoring the emotion brilliantly. This is a production where everything, from the sound design to the acting, is truly excellent.


Final Thoughts

Thrilling, innovative, heartbreaking and directed wonderfully by Ken Bentley. Believe me when I say A Death in the Family is the apotheosis of Big Finish’s output. Absolutely sublime.

11/10

A Death in the Family can be purchased on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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