With Big Finish having hit their tenth volume, I was certain that this would be when they “got it right” and had some confidence in their own work. But after listening, I have to hold out hope for the future. Ok, let me rewind… I did the same as last week: I took the CD off the shelf without looking at it and slipped it into the player without stealing a sneak at the cover, looking only to make sure CD1 went in first and CD2 was second. So, yes, I saw the title and remembered vaguely that Winter for the Adept was a Davison story.
Then it started to bother me. Nyssa has been teleported somewhere and once again has no way of telling the audience what’s going on without resorting to talking to herself in the same way that says “how else will I communicate this to a listener?” And that’s just weak. But then a story begins that is a genuinely good mystery/ghost story. I soon forgot the whole scene where Nyssa was talking to herself especially when the Doctor turns up so heroically. Davison and Sutton have real chemistry too; they play off each other very well.
So what’s not to like? Charlotte Pollard actually. I mean, Peril, as she’s disappointingly named. Yes, soon-to-be companion Charlie, played by India Fisher, is playing an uppity girl (and yes, I mean girl, like spoiled child) with perfect inflection. I wanted nothing more than for someone to send her to her room. But the worst part was that it hit me: she doesn’t just sound like Charlie because it’s the same actress, but she actually sounds like Charlie as a character and I dreaded getting to that whole run of Paul McGann stories because I was going to hear Peril the whole time. This isn’t to put India Fisher down, though there’s no way to save this now, but I just could not stand the sound of her voice and Peril featured prominently in the story. If there’s something to be said, I guess it’s that India Fisher gets the whole spoiled rich brat down really well… (no? No saving that one, huh?)
Interestingly, there are only two deaths: a helicopter pilot of whom we are given no connection, so we don’t really care, and the crazy Scots woman who is pretty convinced that being warm is overrated. (I would have preferred them keep her alive if for no other reason than to hear a Scot speaking the whole story long…) Also interesting is that a science fiction series as multifaceted as Doctor Who is outright afraid of ever giving us a genuine ghost story and instead Spillagers (Spillages?) end up being responsible for the poltergeist manifestation. The thing is, these idiotically named beings (named solely so that the audience will think the Doctor is tracking some form of spill) add nothing to the story. The story was excellent on its own without needing to resort to yet another made up monster for a universe so teeming with life that we never can guess what’s coming next… What actually makes that worse is that the writers of these stories were obviously aware that the audience likes continuity or they would not have added references to Time Flight and Land of the Dead.
I know it seems like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth here. Floundering between “Don’t give us repeat monsters” and “Don’t give us something new” does seem an odd place to be. To be clear, I have no issue with recurring monsters, but let’s not advertise them on the cover and in the title. Give us a surprise. Or if you are giving us something new, help create a more cohesive universe by having things that connect to the greater universe of Doctor Who. The name Spillagers is just a ploy to distract the audience until the reveal which is simply that we were told the enemy name from the beginning but didn’t know it. Sort of like saying “give me the candy” to confuse the store owner who says “well what candy do you want” simply for the reveal to be “No, ‘the candy’ is the name of the candy I want. Do you carry it?” It’s a cheap-shot and it’s a lame one at that. (Just like my example!)
The cliffhangers are not nail-biters either. Of the three, one has the Doctor casually explain what might be going on and another has Nyssa cry out. Obviously the latter means nothing as we know both characters survive beyond this story! That said, I did enjoy this story despite its faults but that’s truly because Sutton and Davison are just wonderful together. We’re still in the “entertaining romp” era of Big Finish. Hopefully we see better stuff coming soon… ML