Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without The Chimes of Midnight! But what does guest contributor Kieran Brennan think of it? Find out as he visits the mysterious Edward Grove in his latest Eighth Doctor Revisited review!
When the Doctor and Charley arrive in an Edwardian house on Christmas Eve, they pose as a pair of amateur sleuths as they begin to unravel a murder mystery that doesn’t play by the rules.
If you’re interested enough in Big Finish to be reading a review of The Chimes of Midnight, you’ve no doubt heard its name before. Even more likely, you’ve heard its reputation. If on the off chance you haven’t, I’ll quickly say that The Chimes of Midnight is widely considered not only to be one of the best Big Finish stories, but also one of the best Doctor Who stories full stop. For me, this Eighth Doctor Revisited series of reviews is me motivating myself to get through the first few Eighth Doctor audios all so can listen to this (and Zagreus, but that’s not for a little while) and just… wow!
When something is crazy popular and beloved I tend to have the attitude of “well, let’s see if this is REALLY any good”, not on purpose but just in the back of my mind. Sometimes I don’t like whatever the thing is and sometimes I come out being like “wow, it really was as good as people say”. The Chimes of Midnight is definitely the latter: without a doubt the best Big Finish story I’ve heard and I might even throw this up there with some of my favourite TV stories as well. It’s too early for me to do that just yet, but this is the first time I’ve finished a Big Finish entry being absolutely sure that I’ll relisten to it in the near future. It’s just that good.
Way back in Series 4, David Tennant met Agatha Christie and we got a light hearted “what if Doctor Who did an Agatha Christie muder mystery” and it’s really solid, fun and entertaining watch. The Chimes of Midnight is a similar tale but, instead of focusing on comedy, it takes the tropes and conventions of a murder mystery and totally rewrites them in a way that feels so incredibly unique to Doctor Who in a way that only the best adventures can pull off.
If you haven’t heard the name Robert Shearman, pay attention. Despite only having written four full length Monthly Adventures, he’s one of those “known” Doctor Who writers. You know the ones: the writers who have a reputation for quality episodes. For many fans Shearman in Big Finish is the equivalent of Steven Moffat during the RTD era. This is my first Shearman story and yeah, it lived up to those crazy high expectations.
If you haven’t realised by this point, I’m dancing around actually discussing the plot. This isn’t at all an accident, I think the best way to experience the story is as blind as possible, and even if I wanted to go a bit more in depth it’s really hard to do that as even within the first part so much happens and all is best experienced first hand. Where other Big Finish stories seem to be stretched thin, The Chimes of Midnight never outstayed its welcome, slowly revealing its cards to the listener in an incredibly satisfying and impactful way.
Because of that, I can only give this the simplest of compliments. Robert Shearman’s writing is superb, the characters are given a great amount of depth and he takes the Doctor in surprising new directions that in the hands of a weaker writer would feel out of place and jarring. Andy Hardwick’s sound design is spot on: one of the best I’ve heard in a Big Finish release and its complimented extremely well by Russell Stone’s wonderful score.
And the performances? The finest I’ve heard in Big Finish. Paul McGann and India Fisher are at the absolute top of their game here, with their relationship being taken advantage of at last. A big problem I’ve had with most of the previous Eighth Doctor stories is the lack of Doctor and Charley interaction, but this is full of it and its great! Plus, the rest of the cast is fantastic as well. For such an odd story with odd characters they sell them so well and you the listener totally buy into everything they say.
The Chimes of Midnight is one of the few things I would comfortably call a “masterpiece”. It’s not a term I throw around lightly as I feel its meaning has been lost over the past decade or two, but seeing as how almost two decades after its released The Chimes of Midnight is still regarded as one of the finest pieces of Doctor Who media, I don’t think it’s unwarranted. If you want an entry point for Big Finish, if you want to know how high the bar they set is, if you’re a Doctor Who fan, listen to The Chimes of Midnight.
The Chimes of Midnight is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com