Released October 2006
‘Memory Lane’ begins on a perfect summer day in an idyllic English neighbourhood, an ice cream truck rolling down the street and snooker playing on the television. Unfortunately, what seems to be a peaceful and unassuming place houses a much greater secret, and writer Eddie Robson slowly increases the mystery and sense of unease to create an enjoyably unsettling but still lighthearted experience.
With a shorter running time than most Big Finish main range releases, ‘Memory Lane’ moves along at a very brisk pace with minimal padding. Tom Braudy, a ten-year-old boy, starts off as the focus of the intrigue as he builds a spaceship out of Legos. Strangely, though, he appears to be much, much older than his age would suggest, and his Nan seems completely undisturbed by the appearance of the TARDIS which is then promptly stolen by the driver of the ice cream truck. Yet finding the TARDIS proves rather difficult as every house in the unending neighbourhood is the exact same, each filled with its own Tom’s Nan and each one’s television playing a video of astronauts trying to escape from a creature aboard their ship, one of the astronauts sounding eerily like Tom and another one physically on the neighbourhood street trying to rescue him.
‘Memory Lane’ fills two roles for the current TARDIS team. First, despite some serious moments within, it gives Paul McGann’s series of adventures an overall lighter instalment after a bevy of consecutive heavy-hitting events, and McGann is superb as displaying the sort of childish wonder and excitement of experiencing the simple things of human life. Secondly, it finally gives C’rizz a meaningful role that makes use of some of the unique characteristics that have only been teased in previous stories. Conrad Westmaas is paired with the astronaut Kim who is played by Sara Carver, and their interactions prove to be a highlight of the story. After C’rizz channels his anger to break his chains after Kim pulls a gun on him in her desperate attempt to rescue Tom, the two spend a lot of their time together arguing and bickering, Kim’s anger imprinting on C’rizz and thus fueling his owner anger the perpetuating the entire cycle. The physical chameleon nature of C’rizz has briefly been used in stories before, but this is the first time that the mental component of it has been discussed, and it works exceedingly well through the story, but especially so in the climax when all of the voices and personalities in his head finally serve a very important purpose. This is, without a doubt, the strongest use of C’rizz yet, and Conrad Westmaas delivers on all accounts.
With McGann utterly enjoying himself even when events become more serious and the prison and experimentation plot takes precedence and the Doctor must again endure torture with his memories, and with Westmaas stealing the show as C’rizz finally gets to step into the spotlight, India Fisher still gets a satisfying role to play as well. Charley, initially falling into the prison’s trap as she succumbs to the comfort of her childhood home and mother appearing at the end of the street, later puts her full trust in the Doctor as she goes back into her home to distract the jailers and gain valuable information.
The supporting cast is quite solid throughout as well. Neil Reidman is quite good portraying Tom, both as the nervous and as confused captive and the innocent child, and Nina Baden Sempter is also enjoyable as the absurdly doting grandmother. As the jailors, Charlie Ross’s Lest gives off the vibe that he is just barely managing to keep the prison running, and Neville Watchurst’s Argot proves quite forgetful as he needs to write everything down to remember, both aspects that satisfyingly pay off at the climax when the truth about Tom’s imprisonment is revealed.
There is a notable sequence where the lighthearted tone takes a much more sinister tone, and though very effective, it does undo some of the characterization of the jailors up to that point. When the Doctor manages to get Tom aboard the TARDIS, the jailors instantly become ruthless and conniving foes rather than the competent but harmless men they were portrayed as before, trapping the Doctor in his own ideal moment before threatening to trap him in a loop where his companions are constantly torn away from him and killed. Even after that scene that just feels a bit out of place, the Doctor still shows compassion as C’rizz saves everyone and the Doctor shares the technology the jailors need to ensure that the prison is never run or used again.
The jarring mental torture scene aside, ‘Memory Lane’ is a superb tale that flows quickly and seamlessly, giving all of the leads some standout moments and creating a suitably unnerving mystery and atmosphere along the way.