Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE SETTLING Review

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Andrew East settles in for a Seventh Doctor Big Finish adventure...


The series of audios featuring this TARDIS team of the 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex have, proved very popular for Big Finish. It’s generally considered that the introduction of Hex revitalised a fairly tired pairing of the Seventh Doctor and Ace. On the whole, I’d agree but, I seem to have a niggling issue with Hex that I cannot shake. But I’ll come to that later.

Released in 2006, The Settling is set during the Civil War, but not in England, rather in Ireland. It details Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland and the historical events of his siege, and sacking of Drogheda and Wexford. In the middle of this arrive the Doctor, Ace and Hex. Hex knows about these events from his Irish grandmother (maternal or paternal we do not know, but seeing as Cassie seems to be a single mother in Project: Twilight, I’m guessing maternal). He decides he has to get involved and eventually falls in with Cromwell. Ace, meanwhile, tries not to fight the English forces and the Doctor delivers a baby.

I didn’t really enjoy this adventure very much. The amount of story being told seems stretched over four episodes. Simon Guerrier seems happier to spend time delving into Hex’s personal dilemmas and the old ‘changing history’ chestnut. There is nothing wrong with this per se but my issue with Hex probably prevented me enjoying these sections as much as a different listener.

There is also a bit of timey-wimey-ness where Hex ends up stranded when the Doctor and Ace hop ahead in the TARDIS and find they have hopped ahead in time as well. This allows for Hex to become far more engrained in Cromwell’s affections that would be believable in the space of time a usual Doctor Who story is set across.

I love the bits with the Doctor and Mary (who provides the Doctor with his first midwife experience) and these provide McCoy with some good material. Clare Cathcart is also very good as Mary. This plotline, though, does sideline the Doctor somewhat although not as much as Ace is. Sophie Aldred works well with what she is given, but as much of it is trying not to fight English soldiers (and then failing miserably) or running back and forth to fetch things for the Doctor or find Hex.

The rest of the guest cast is very good, especially Clive Mantle’s superb Oliver Cromwell (who bizarrely sounds like Colin Baker quite a few times).

But then we have Philip Olivier’s Hex and the problem I have with this audio. The story, which is incredibly harrowing (the soundscape of fighting and terrified screams of men, women and children is horrible), requires Hex to experience a full range of emotion. Philip Olivier doesn’t convince me of this emotion. I’ve commented to a friend, somewhat flippantly, that it’s his Liverpudlian accent. On reflection I think this, honestly, is part of the problem. Coupled with Olivier’s acting ability (which I don’t think is on a par with other audio companions like Maggie Stables, India Fisher or Caroline Morris), his performance really jars with me. He rarely sounds ‘right’ to me. I think it may be because he is too naturalistic in contrast to the slightly more theatrical performance that Doctor Who tends to encourage. It’s never something which prevents me from enjoying the overall story but it is something I always notice when listening to a Hex audio. I have to be honest and say that the fact Philip Olivier is a confessed non-sci-fi fan does colour my opinion as well, which is very shallow of me but hey, so sue me!

Talking of prejudices fuelled by colour (no, we’re not getting all serious here, don’t worry) the very, very brown cover of the CD case (which unusually for Big Finish was a cardboard wrap around) led me to imagining a lot of the story as very, very brown. I seem to have this problem with the colour of CD covers influencing how I picture the story in my mind as I’ve noticed it before, and if a story has a very brown cover I tend to find the story more dingy and dull than stories with brighter more vibrant colours. The Settling really does seem to be highlighting my shallow side!

Looking at this adventure historically we have, of course, Oliver Cromwell and his well-documented conquest of Ireland and the real towns of Drogheda and Wexford. Reference is, of course, made to King Charles I who had at the start of 1649 been beheaded by the Parliamentarians. Other historical figures in this story include Doctor Jonathan Goddard who goes on to found the Royal Society. The scenes between him and the Doctor where he has his eyes opened to ways of aiding a woman in labour are lovely. There is also Colonel David Synott, Governor of Wexford, Colonel Chidley Coote and reference is made to Colonel Castle, both leaders of regiments in Cromwell’s force.

The story also touches a little upon the tension between Catholics and Protestants. Cromwell’s assertions that his actions are advocated by God because of the lives he will ultimately save by massacring Drogheda and Wexford’s populations are chilling and the passion felt by the Irish over the execution of the Catholic King Charles are heartfelt. Doctor Who tends to shy away, understandably, from religious politics but Big Finish seems to be able to intelligently include it in their scripts with stories such as The Council of Nicaea and The Marian Conspiracy exploring different aspects of the tensions central to the history of Christianity. The Settling provides a sister-piece to these, even though the religious aspect is a underlying prompt to events rather than being as prominent as it is in those other stories.

The entire story is a historical re-enactment and whilst not as successful in my view as something like The Fires of Vulcan or The Council of Nicaea, I admire what The Settling sets out to do.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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