Here we are again in the middle of another Big Finish trilogy. In City of Spires, the sixth Doctor returns to 18th century Scotland where he bumps into former travelling companion James Robert McCrimmon (aka Jamie), who has no recollection of the second Doctor, the TARDIS or anything else. More than that, Scottish history’s gone a bit weird: Edinburgh and Glasgow have been destroyed and replaced with what seems like an oil refinery. What could be happening?
Well, we never found out at the end of City of Spires. With The Wreck of the Titan, though, we’re starting to get a few clues.
Here, the Doctor and Jamie land on board the RMS Titanic, which is heading for an iceberg. Or should be. Except the moon’s all wrong, the crew aren’t the ones recorded by history, and most of the doors just lead to blank bulkheads.
More mysteries to solve. But will there be answers this time?
‘It’s the biggest ship the world has known – and in just twenty minutes’ time it’s going to hit an iceberg the size of Ben Nevis!’
The North Atlantic is a treacherous place at the best of times. 14 April 1912 is the very worst of times. The Doctor and Jamie find themselves trapped aboard the RMS Titanic, 400 miles off Newfoundland and heading towards a conclusive appointment with destiny.
But the iceberg isn’t their only problem. Down in the inky depths, something is hunting: something huge, hostile and hungry. This should certainly be A Night To Remember.
Is it any good?
With The Wreck of the Titan, Big Finish appears to have latched onto the fact we know they love a bit continuity (and their customers love a bit of continuity) and that we’re pretty adept at recognising those continuity references very quickly in our autistic savant ways.
So the first couple of episodes of The Wreck… are a series of red herrings, designed to spoil our continuity spidey sense. It has references to everything from Carnival of Monsters to Big Finish’s own output, including Sapphire and Steel – with the Titanic even changing into another ship, the Titan, in another time period with the same people on board, just with different characters (Assignment 6 anyone?). I mention Sapphire and Steel here because of a marked tendency that Big Finish’s own S&S range developed towards the end that comes to the fore here, and which I’l go into later.
Barnaby Edwards, who’s only written one (?) other story since he left school, again does a reasonably good job with all these red herrings and creates a spooky atmosphere once the play really gets into gear. He’s clearly done his research (and wants us to know it), littering the stories with historical nuggets aplenty. Jamie doesn’t really get to do much (except mysteriously rip off a bit of reverse psychology from the fourth Doctor story The Ark in Space at one point) and the Doctor spends most of the play listing facts and making bad guesses, but it putters along nicely enough.
Whoops, look who it is
The trouble is that as soon as one character is introduced at the end of the second episode, your continuity spidey sense will go off and you’ll know exactly which second Doctor/Jamie/Zoe story is being referenced (spoiler alert: Captain Nemo turns up and instantly you know you’re in the Land of Fiction from The Mind Robber). After that, you’ve got two more episodes of clock-watching and wondering to yourself when the Doctor’s going to rumble what’s going on.
Edwards tries to deflect your attention with some more red herrings, but problematically, the fragrant fish he flings at us are so unappealing that if any of them had turned out to be true, you’d have thrown your CDs/hard drive into a dustbin in disgust (I’ll give you a one-word clue to the herring I’m referring to: “Avatars”. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve listened to it).
As I said, that Big Finish Sapphire and Steel tendency appears in the first two episodes, particularly once the Titantic turns into the Titan (spoiler): the “let’s create a deliberately poor piece of work because the protagonists are actually stuck in a work of bad fiction” theme, which got used on several occasions in the S&S range.(/spoiler) As a result, you have to sit through first those two episodes and then the remaining episodes as well, since they suffer the fallout from this set-up, listening to some particularly poor bits of acting and dialogue – and Big Finish have a legitimate reason for it all.
Doesn’t stop it all being quite painful to listen to.
The direction and the production are both pretty good here. I’m not sure why DS9‘s Alexander Siddig, last seen as a giant centipede in Sisters of the Flame, is doing here in such a thankless role, apart from putting on an accent that’s neither French nor Indian. Colin Baker’s in fine form, while Frazer Hines feels a bit passive, mainly because he hasn’t a whole lot to do. The guest cast are really not that great, but you can’t tell if that’s deliberate or not.
The story arc
Eventually, it’s clear what’s been going on over the last two stories – at least, I think it is – and it’s a nice turn-up when it arrives (you actually wonder why BF have taken so long to exploit this particular bit of continuity). Not everything’s explained, and we still need to know why said bits of continuity are busily getting “the black liquid” (spoiler: ink) from all over (spoiler)the works of fiction that presumably the Sixth Doctor is finding himself in(/spoiler). We still have a third story to come, this one also featuring Wendy Padbury as Zoe – I think I can guess at least some of what’s going to happen there, and presumably answers will be more forthcoming, too.
If you’re going for the trilogy, this is certainly better than City of Spires and so should give you confidence in the next story. On its own, it’s almost good enough to be got on its own, but the last two episodes are really just treading water (ho ho) until the final cliffhanger, so undermine it overall.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Frazer Hines (Jamie)
Alexander Siddig (Captain)
Christopher Fairbank (Professor)
Miranda Raison (Tess/Myra)
Matt Addis (Teddy/John)
Writer: Barnaby Edwards
Director: Barnaby Edwards