Released September 2005
After some strong releases successively, Big Finish appears to be on track with quality releases. As such, the mantle falls to ‘Live 34’ to continue the trend. Featuring the truly fascinating concept of framing events within a live broadcast which surprisingly hasn’t been used in Doctor Who previously, the pieces were all in place for another great release, but unfortunately the desire to employ new writers works against Big Finish as the final product is filled with predictable and clichéd situations and revelations.
The radio show conceit is an inherently clever and exciting one, allowing the scene to be set as needed without any awkward exchanges between characters. Cutting into and out of events to catch snippets of conversations and the reactions of the characters works also quite well. Unfortunately, the majority of the show is just a dialogue of actualities as they occur, hardly with any flare or any real sense of excitement. The sponsorships and weather reports add a bit to the verisimilitude of the programme, but these again are some of the most boring parts of a broadcast, and it seems as though intrigue could have been kept higher with audience phone calls and the like. Regardless of how it’s presented, the radio show still effectively moves the story along, and the paramedic ride-along to a mass grave site Hex discovers is genuinely moving.
The plot of ‘Live 34’ in general is decent, but almost everything in it has been done before and in the same fashion. So while a seeming utopia that isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, a shady and controlling government, and a programme used to spread political and governmental propaganda are all strong concepts, none of them are presented with a unique twist to make them even more memorable. The Doctor’s final confrontation is which Sylvester McCoy exquisitely brings out a burning rage regarding all of the crimes that have committed is engrossing, but the plot twists that lead up to that point all arise arbitrarily with no setup or thorough investigation. Again, while the government’s elected leader being a double and bodies being burned for fuel each hold substantial weight and create an instinctive level of fear and horror, there just isn’t much work done to make these findings resonate more realistically. The Doctor, Ace, and Hex leaving a riot in progress after they expose the true villains comes off as exceedingly cruel and heartless as well.
There are still several exciting moments throughout ‘Live 34,’ but the vast majority of these take place off air, meaning that they are reported rather than experienced and diminish in impact, accordingly. Of the revelations and events that do take place on air, some are delivered in an understated manner not fully fitting of the situation, Hex’s reaction to the soldiers breaking into the broadcast station being a glaring example. This may be unfair since the events are not shown from the regulars’ point of views and so an idea of what their mindsets and thoughts are is not available. Because of the setup in which the regulars are not driving events like usual, these potentially minor quibbles gain more importance than they would otherwise.
‘Live 34,’ then, is a script with a very strong core foundation and good pacing that just fails to be presented in the most interesting fashion available. Some questionable scripting choices in a plot littered with clichés and unwarranted plot twists makes this one of the rare releases where an experimental twist and new writers don’t mesh completely coherently.