I put on the next Big Finish audio with the same secrecy I’ve been using for each; I don’t look at the CD so I have no idea what’s coming. But this time, I was dumbfounded. When I’d first listened to The Chimes of Midnight, I remembered making a mental note that read something like this: “wow, this was stunning!” What I can’t understand is how I missed making that same mental note for Creatures of Beauty. This story was outstanding!
Creatures of Beauty, the 44th issue of the Big Finish main range of Doctor Who stories, opens with the Doctor in a particularly philosophical mood pondering if they really make a difference wherever the go. What then follows is a fascinating adventure that soon makes evident has a lot more going on that we are lead to believe. Episode one is done as an interrogation of Nyssa, focusing on the events of a mutilated girl, Veline. “Why did you come here to mutilate one of our people?” Following the interrogation kept me on the edge of my seat. Episode one ends with hearing the slicing going on during what is, on appearance, Nyssa murdering Veline. After the slicing, we hear a man channeling his inner Sharez Jek, saying “Beautiful!” It’s eerie and magnificent and I could not believe I had to wait until my ride home from work to start part two.
As the story continues, we become aware that the Doctor and Nyssa are now escaping. It took me a moment before I realized that we’ve been hearing the story out of order. This is one of those times where Big Finish goes experimental and assumes the audience has a brain and I love them for it. The result is an increasingly rewarding story. The Doctor actually sums the entire story up magnificently well while talking to Nyssa: “Confusing, isn’t it, when you don’t know who the bad guys are? So much simpler when they have a satanic beard or black ears.”
And that’s at the heart of this story. It’s a story of moral ambiguity, and according to Nick Briggs in the CD notes (something I have not referenced until this audio), “Viewed from different times, places and people, the familiarity of Doctor Who may start to seem distinctly alien.” What starts off with what appears to be a murder committed by a male murderer (for, as fans we know Nyssa did not commit the murder) ends up as something totally different. By the end, your brain is reeling and you’re seriously considering re-listening to the whole audio because now that it all makes sense, you can get new appreciation out of it. And we can sincerely answer the Doctor’s opening question about whether they really have made an impact on this society or not. It’s a mindbogglingly good story with one shock revelation after another!
Davison plays second fiddle for the bulk of the story while Sutton carries her weight, but the reality is it’s not about the characters. It’s a story that works on giving you more and more information and watching as the listener makes new judgments based on the evidence provided. In that way, I felt like a member of a jury!
The drama is played out over four parts in such a way that the audience has to work to grasp it all. And it’s worth every second. Even the ending is a surprise: the story ends at the conclusion of part three! So what’s part four? More work for the audience. But I am not talking “work” like “chores”. I’m talking like creating a meaningful narrative from bits and pieces and making up your mind at the end. It’s an incredible piece of audio drama and any fan of the series should give this one a listen!
This is the way an audio should be done; created by people who love the series for fans of intelligent, well-written drama. And if you notice I’m fairly vague on details, it’s because you need to experience this one for yourselves. To give away anything is to ruin what is an otherwise outstanding piece of writing. From the Big Finish website, the story is $2.99; absolutely worth the investment. In a word, I’d describe this story as… beautiful. ML