“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread and whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
…Not very wise. She should have sent the children out to hunt wild animals and only whipped them if they returned without any!”
Louise Jameson graduates from acting to try her hand at writing, in conjunction with Nigel Fairs (Cuddlesome, Jago in Love). The result is interesting…but a bit strange.
The Doctor is acting more strangely than usual, pondering the mathematical coordinates of zero. The Tardis seems to be behaving in a far more sentient fashion than normal. And Leela, still learning from her children’s fairytales, does not question when a paintbrush mysteriously materializes…and the objects she paints seem to turn real?
Why has the Tardis stopped? What is the Point of Stillness? And why are imaginary childhood friends returning to pay The Doctor a visit?
“Ah, education. Always a good reason. Try explaining that to my savage…she has difficulty grasping the smallest of details. And yet, she has wisdom beyond her years…”
On one level this is a simple story of revenge, with mad Timelady Marianna (Stephanie Cole) returning from a long exile within the very heart of the Tardis to wreak vengeance upon her homeworld of Gallifrey for their long ago betrayal.
But layered into all this is a sort of children’s book illogic that defies more clearcut and rational discourse. Much like certain televised Who scripts over the years (think Barry Letts and Robert Sloman’s Planet of the Spiders or Christopher Bailey’s Kinda), it taps into Buddhist jiggery pokery, hallucinogenic drug-incuded psychedelia, mystic arcana and a general feel of borderline schizophrenia that brings the pre-verbal, pre-realist undefined borderless fantasyland of childhood into a more sinister adult iteration.
With nursery rhymes and Shakespeare intertwined with Alice in Wonderland, the better part of the dialogue amounts to little more than gibberish and infantile babbling, pretzel logic and circular arguments with no point or conclusion. Like Grant Morrison on MDMA or LSD, the yammering and jabbering of “One” (Mandi Symonds), Two (Andy Snowball) and Three (cowriter Nigel Fairs) serve mainly as obfuscation and distraction, while the cockroach infestation they apparently originate from brings Burroughs and Naked Lunch to mind. It’s bizarre and likely unhealthy for more unbalanced types to pay much mind to…
There’s also a more central theoretical scientific theme going on, referencing the properties of zero (or the dimensions of nothingness, if you prefer) and tapping into theoretical physics of black holes and the Big Bang…but it all comes out far more Terrence McKenna than Isaac Asimov, more Carlos Castenada than Stephen Hawking in the end.
Jameson gives Leela a bit more opportunity to develop as a person, as has been a welcome theme throughout this season, here stretching beyond the actual book and concept learning or moral dilemma to face up once again to the death of her father (a subject previously tapped into somewhat in The Evil One a few months back). There’s also the expansion of Gallifreyan lore, with the introduction of yet another Timelord from the early days, and some more support for the sentience of the Tardis, who herself proves to have an imagination…
Regardless of the success or failure of the story per se, it continues to be an absolute pleasure to rejoin the Tom Baker Doctor and Jameson’s Leela in their monthly travels. In fact, it’s often one of the true highlights of the Big Finish oeuvre in that respect, with their warm banter and, given their relations in the days of the teleseries, surprisingly affectionate interplay offering perhaps the most human of relationships across the many lines the company provides.
Whether the childish (or Zen-like?) inanity of much of the actual script detracts from that centrality or no, I leave to the listener to decide.
But as a first time at bat? I’m giving a slightly grudging nod to Jameson and look forward to what she manages to come up with next time around.