Tony Fyler in ‘Having To Like Rufus Hound’ Shocker.
The Early Adventures from Big Finish takes a leap forward this time, from the Ben, Polly and Jamie team to the Jamie and Victoria team alongside the Second Doctor.
There’s one thing that nearly stopped me listening to this story, and that’s time.
Time inasmuch as Big Finish listeners are usually spoiled absolutely rotten – Frazer Hines has the capacity still to sound like his twentysomething self, as well as doing an uncanny Patrick Troughton impression that allows us to have many more Second Doctor stories than are our right. And while Anneke Wills doesn’t sound like she did in the Sixties, she can pull off a reasonable Polly. Wendy Padbury too can get back into the vocal range of Zoe Heriot to help sell the Sixties stories. Plus with the recasting of Ben, we’ve had a viable Sixties Tardis crew at most points in the Second Doctor’s timeline, sounding good and ready to face 21st century adventures and dilemmas.
Deborah Watling? Nnnnotsomuch. Deborah Watling, in all fairness to her, and as anyone who bought the recent Downtime DVD (which itself is a twenty year old film) will know, sounds like a woman of her age. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that of course, unless you’ve been spoiled rotten in recent years by actors who can vocally arrest the passage of time, and play around like it was still fifty years ago.
Nevertheless, I’m telling you this for a very good reason – Watling sounding like Watling, rather than like Victoria Waterfield, almost made me give up on The Black Hole.
And that would have made me an idiot for more than simply ageist reasons, because the further you go into The Black Hole, the more it reveals its riches. First of all – deliciously and self-revolvingly for me, as in response to the previous release in the Early Adventures range, The Forsaken, I asked for slightly less for Frazer Hines to do (he was burdened with Jamie, the Doctor and narration in that story, and just once in a while, it showed) – there’s an extra voice in the cast for this story, on narration duties, and it’s David Warner. If there are such mad things as ‘regular readers’ of my reviews, they will know that Warner’s First Law states that any production in which David Warner is involved is immediately improved by a factor of not less than fifty. Here, his role is simple – although it gets more complicated as the story goes on – but he delivers absolutely, giving us a stable, anchoring narration that, as a complete bonus, comes in David Warner’s voice. Secondly, there’s the script – oh the joys of the script. Long term Classics fans will remember The Two Doctors, where Troughton’s Second Doctor and Hines’ Jamie turned up in the Sixth Doctor’s life, having left Victoria studying graphology. He turns up with a nifty device called a Stattenheim remote control which the Sixth Doctor confesses he’s always wanted. This is the story that both leads into that one, and picks up after the end of it. This story is the bread in a Two Doctors sandwich!
Not sold yet, you mad, hard-to-please fools, you? OK, how about the surprise early involvement of a species that Jamie shouldn’t know about yet, but that we always love when they go about moving black holes about?
How about the return of a very specific villain, long overdue for a return to on-screen Who, but who comes as a surprise even to Big Finish fans who have heard this particular villain before in recent years?
How about Rufus Hound?
No, really, I know what you’re thinking but honestly, in this audio story, I think Rufus Hound may have done that most unlikely of things – he may actually have found a reason for Rufus Hound to be alive. Rufus Hound has found a character he was born to play, and he plays it exceptionally well. I’d be among the first to say his recent performance in on-screen Who was pretty much a waste of skin, though interestingly, it feels like that was nothing to do with Hound himself, but more to do with the writing. But if this character were to transfer across to the on-screen version, there are a number of people that could play it. Hound here gives us his audio audition tape, and it’s blow-the-doors-off good, combining bumptiousness, arrogance, swagger, intelligence and brutality to prove one thing above all – if you’re going to have Rufus Hound in Doctor Who, make him a villain. Clearly, it works.
For those still not entirely sold, there’s a moment in The Black Hole that gazumps on-screen Who by a matter of weeks or months, and finally shuts a particularly irritating sub-set of fans right the hell up, just as TV Who has now done. That’s probably as near as damnit to a spoiler, but whereas on screen it was just a fact of life, here, there’s a delicious twist in the tale and a certain time-twisting joy to the whole thing.
The feel is pure period Troughton in Simon Guerrier’s script – all giant computer banks spouting ticker tape, and relatively faceless computing clerks on a giant habitat in space. But the dilemmas, the people, the villain, and the nature of both the threat and the solution is very modern, very 21st century. The pacing is allowed to breathe by director Lisa Bowerman, but never allowed to pause long enough that you twiddle even the thought of a thumb. And there’s always the next thing to do, and the next thing, and the next.
Ultimately, if you get through the first episode of The Black Hole, overcoming any latent prejudices that shout at you that ‘That’s not Victoria!’ you’ll be hooked all the way through to the end and consider yourself a very lucky Who-fan indeed to have gathered up all these extra-special treats in a single Big Finish story. Get it today, don’t be an ageist ass, as I very nearly was, and indulge in one of the best so far in the Early Adventures range. One of the best? Yes, it’s up there with An Ordinary Life. It’s allllmost up there with Andrew Smith’s Domain of the Voord, to be honest, especially in its brilliant new take on a villain with whom we think we’re familiar. And to be fair, that’s about as high as praise gets from me. AND this one has added David Warner. Does that tip it over the edge and eclipse Domain of the Voord? Not quite – but it might well put it within a nose of equalling it.
Seriously, go now, my pretties. Download The Black Hole and relish all the treats it has in store.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk