Relative Time

Posted in Audio by - July 19, 2019
Relative Time

Released July 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

For its fourth serial, Matt Fitton’s ‘Relative Time,’ Big Finish’s celebratory twentieth anniversary epic The Legacy of Time turns its focus to the Fifth Doctor and possibly the biggest crossover yet as newer characters from television and audio collide. When disaster strikes within the time vortex, the Doctor suddenly finds himself in the presence of Jenny, a woman he can hardly believe may be the result of one of his future incarnation’s genetic material, and the Nine, the kleptomaniac incarnation of one of the Doctor’s greatest Time Lord nemeses who has his eyes set on stealing the biggest conceivable prize.

Given their father-daughter relationship in real life, it seemed to be only a matter of time before Peter Davison and Georgia Tennant were allowed to play the Doctor and the Doctor’s daughter alongside each other, and the two share an immense chemistry in this production that makes the Doctor’s gradual acceptance of Jenny’s claim and his resulting pride all the more impactful. As shown in ‘Time Crash,’ the Fifth Doctor is a bit less than enthusiastic about the manic energy and colourful phrases that came to permeate the Tenth Doctor era from which Jenny was born, but even he cannot fault the sheer brilliance and determination of this woman who wants nothing more than to explore the universe and see the TARDIS, finding something of a kindred spirit in this mirrored version of himself. Though series continuity makes it inevitable that the Fifth Doctor cannot remember everything about this encounter, the distinct paternal and at times exasperated tones that Davison imbues while listening but still attempting to reign in the exuberance of Jenny while he attempts to assume control mesh perfectly and provide a great one-off pairing that easily carry events to their conclusion.

Whereas the preceding story wonderfully focused on its characters over spectacle, however, ‘Relative Time’ unfortunately chooses the opposite approach and leaves its many fascinating characters somewhat underdeveloped as a result. While Jenny’s intelligence has never been in question, she is presented here as much more forward-thinking and arguably more intelligent than the Doctor given the speed with which she is able to come up with audacious plans to escape the temporal minefield and the vortisaurs confronting them. This may ultimately be fitting for her character with a little more exploration in any future stories, but here it seems more like a narrative shortcut to help her gain the Doctor’s trust than a characteristic that has fully been attributed to this character. However, this shortfall is perhaps even more apparent for the Nine who is very much written as a generic villain with a grand plan befitting of the Master. John Heffernan gives his usual strong performance as this incarnation of the Big Finish rogue who retains the consciousnesses of his previous selves, but there simply isn’t time for this aspect of the character to manifest outside of a brief sequence, meaning that casual fans listening may not fully appreciate the unique nuance that this character and this actor can present. With the Nine gaining a new companion who herself is incredibly unique in his quest to harness the energy surrounding them as well as a ship full of passengers looking to see the thrill of a planet ending and a crew that is very much self-serving, ‘Relative Time’ in its brief running time simply features too many elements to fully resonate.

At the very least, the setting and sound design are fantastic, and the slow-time explosion with fragments of temporal energy frozen around them is one of many immense visuals that help to underscore the immense danger everyone involved is facing. With two TARDISes and another timeship as the only possible means to achieving a result as the Doctor remains sure that the Nine is feigning a genuine desire to help, much of the story is sadly filled with quick speaking and technobabble to progress the plot into its next segment, meaning that some of the potential emotional impact is lost as the scale and scope of the danger continue to increase and the odds of finding a successful outcome that does more than simply delay the inevitable continue to rapidly diminish. Still, the Doctor’s ability to achieve maximal impact against the Nine with his drastic action is a satisfying and emotional conclusion, and these continued space-time fractures that appearing through the Doctor’s many lives continue to lay a fascinating groundwork for what will hopefully be a monumental payoff by this set’s end. There are assuredly highlights and hints at what could have truly developed with more time to focus on its characters, but ultimately ‘Relative Time’ seems more like a story fulfilling a checklist of desires and set pieces rather than a wholly engrossing drama in its own right.

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