Death in Blackpool

Posted in Audio by - October 01, 2017
Death in Blackpool

Released December 2009

The Christmas special has become a staple since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005, offering a chance for experimental or monumental storytelling, but that special release is something that Big Finish has largely stayed away from within the audio medium. However, with the television series in a time of transition with only four specials to see out the Tenth Doctor, ‘Death in Blackpool’ seizes the opportunity to offer a yuletide outing for the Eighth Doctor and delivers an impactful, character-driven, and emotional coda to the third series of The Eighth Doctor Adventures that catapults the fourth series into a completely unexpected direction.

The story starts casually enough as the Doctor brings Lucie to experience one more Christmas in Blackpool while surrounded by her loving family, and the Doctor seems unusually excited for such a proposition. However, events quickly turn more melancholic when Auntie Pat turns up. Catering to long-term fans and spending almost no time explaining the harrowing happenings in ‘The Zygon Who Fell to Earth’ previously, the Doctor and Pat quickly resort to furtive whispers of conversation out of earshot of Lucie, Hagoth having suffered for years with the responsibility of carrying the burden of Lucie’s misplaced love and wondering if their decision to protect Lucie’s feelings through lying by omission was the proper course of action.

Yet as Lucie is suddenly taken to the hospital in a coma, Sheridan Smith absolutely shines as Lucie’s aware but unconscious self exemplifies within her mind the humour, confidence, brashness, and charm that have made her character so memorable from the very start. The story does well with presenting the possibility of Lucie truly being dead, and the panic Smith instils into Lucie realizing nobody can hear her is exceedingly effective and emotive. However, this pales in comparison to the torment Smith conveys as Lucie discovers that every memory she has with her beloved Auntie Pat was a falsity invented by Hagoth and the Doctor. She understands that feeling pain is what makes one human, and Smith and Helen Lederer share a wonderful scene in which Lucie quickly flits from impassioned fury to utter desperation as Pat gives her life so that Lucie’s may continue, the ultimate sacrifice for one who learned to be human through the actions of Pat.

Noticeably, though perhaps fittingly, the Doctor is given fairly little to do in this story in order to give Lucie and Pat the requisite time to fully come to terms with the situation in which they find themselves. Still, Paul McGann is superb when called upon, first as he wrestles with trust in himself as he contemplates leaving Lucie at the hospital and later as he wrestles with Lucie’s broken trust in himself once his secrecy comes out into the open. Though Pat’s love for Lucie emerged as the strongest force present, Lucie understandably finds herself unable to look past the Doctor’s deceptions and decides to leave his side once the truth is known regardless of his motivations and intended kindness.

‘Death in Blackpool’ also sheds a little more light on the many facets of Zygon culture and the duplicate component, and it’s particularly intriguing to note just how a Zygon suffers if it stays in the same body for too long without the aid of the Skarasen. This continues to put into context just how momentous Hagoth’s decision to take Pat’s form was, and though the terms Zynog is perhaps somewhat derivative, the revelation of one being a Zygon whose original form has been destroyed because of using the body print of another Zygon is an enormously ingenious plot element that could certainly fuel further stories if ever desired, tying together the past and present threads of this story nicely through the strong performance of David Schofield. Indeed, as an intermediary step between proper series, ‘Death in Blackpool’ is the perfect bridge that makes the most of its small cast and the events that have led up to this story. With incredible direction and sound design, this melancholy and morose holiday tale that sees Lucie’s excitement about a normal family Christmas quickly turn to helpless despair as she realizes that the two people closest to her have betrayed her, Lucie’s time in the TARDIS seemingly comes to a close with an incredible display of emotion.

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