If there’s a Doctor synonymous with Big Finish’s range of Doctor Who audio plays, it’s Paul McGann. Doctor number eight has appeared in books, comics and countless other media since his appearance in the TV movie of 1996. But it wasn’t until 2001 that McGann was to appear again as the Doctor and show us how he would have portrayed that wanderer in time and space if he’d been given the chance.
It was Big Finish who gave him that chance. Together with the producers, he’s crafted a fun-loving, slightly comedic, sports-worshipping, Peter Pan of a Time Lord that anticipated the lonelier, romantic and pop culture-friendly tendencies of David Tennant’s tenth Doctor – he does, perhaps, encapsulate best the various themes of Big Finish’s disparate writing styles.
Now several ‘seasons’ in, with 1930s adventuress Charley Pollard by his side, he’s encountered Daleks, Cybermen, the Brigadier, the Time Lords and dozens of new enemies, forever dispelling the “George Lazenby” jibe that he’s endured over the years. He’s not had the best of stories, with a few notable exceptions, but he’s had some of the best of the Big Finish ‘atmosphere’ in his time.
Now, we have Memory Lane, perhaps the most Eighth Doctor-ish story of his adventures so far.
Plot (hazily recalled from childhood fun at the Big Finish web site)
No summer can ever quite be as glorious as the ones you remember from when you were young, when a sunny afternoon seemed to last forever and all there was to do was ride your bike, eat ice-lollies and play with Lego. Tom Braudy is enjoying just such an afternoon when the TARDIS lands in his Nan’s living room and interrupts her in the middle of the snooker.
After they’ve apologised, the Doctor and his friends soon discover matters of far greater concern than the fact that their time machine is blocking Mrs Braudy’s view of a thrilling century break. The street which Tom happily cycles up and down appears to have no beginning or end, and every single house on it is identical.
Is this the future of suburbia, or something even more sinister? Why doesn’t Tom look as young as he behaves? And can anybody remember which house the TARDIS is in?
Is it any good?
In many ways, this is a story firmly in both Big Finish’s and classic Who‘s traditions. There’s bickering between the Doctor and companions; there’s the splitting up of Doctor and companions; there’s the torture of the eighth Doctor by nefarious villains; Charley meets a vision of her mum again. All the themes and plot devices we’ve come to expect are in there.
Since we maintain a spoiler-free policy as much as possible round here, I can’t tell you too much more than what’s on the Big Finish web site, but suffice it to say, the clue is in the title as to what’s happening. Why it’s happening is a different matter, and the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz spend a reasonable period of their time trying to piece together what’s going on.
It’s quite a warm story, despite the aforementioned torture, etc. The villains aren’t that evil. The supporting characters aren’t out to hurt anyone, only help each other. It’s quite a nice world they’ve arrived on for once.
Unusually, too, each of the TARDIS crew is given something character-illuminating to do. The Doctor is in full little-boy mode, chasing after ice creams, watching the snooker whenever he can, but the ‘torture’ he undergoes reveals an interesting side to his personality. Charley’s initial whining, a modern feature she never used to have, is quickly replaced with her former enthusiastic self in all its glory. But the vision of her mother reveals both a Sisyphian tolerance for the torments she occasionally undergoes, as well as some of her most heart-felt desires. Even the annoying fifth-wheel C’rizz is useful, interesting and entertaining.
Memory Lane isn’t a deep play. It isn’t full of import or angst. But it is fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously and does have some good moments. It’s not the best of the eighth Doctor range (try Other Lives, Terror Firma, The Natural History of Fear, Scherzo and The Chimes of Midnight first) but it’s an interesting character piece, a good way to pass a couple of hours and will probably make you laugh. Which isn’t something to be sniffed at.
The Doctor (Paul McGann)
Charley (India Fisher)
C’rizz (Conrad Westmaas)
Mrs Braudy (Nina Baden-Semper)
Kim Kronotska (Sara Carver)
Mawvik (Finlay Glen)
Tom Braudy (Neil Reidman)
Lest (Charlie Ross)
Argot (Neville Watchurst)
Lady Louisa Pollard (Anneke Wills)
Writer: Eddie Robson
Director: Gary Russell
Release Date: October 2006
RRP: £14.99 (international £15.50)