Released July 2006
Space is a frightening concept, infinitely large and so much of it devoid of anything at all, and always holding the threat that there could be something quite sinister further out away from Earth. Of course, this is the basis for any number of stories and franchises in various mediums, and ‘The Nowhere Place’ brings something so dangerous that even the Doctor is frightened by it, a concept by itself that is enough to carry a story.
In the near future 2197, Damocles fighters from the space station Valiant are fighting aliens that are attacking human operations. One of the squadron’s very best fighters has inexplicably suffered a nervous breakdown, hearing a ringing bell that is audible to nobody else. The Doctor, taking Evelyn to visit some friends, hears the bell as well and soon finds that Earth’s history has been changed with absolutely nothing past 2197. Strangely, the source of the bell is a train on Earth in 1952, and more and more people aboard the Valiant throw themselves through a door leading to nothing as they begin to hear the bell and suffer from its maddening effects.
There is a stark contrast in portions of ‘The Nowhere Place,’ three episodes taking place aboard the Valiant and episode three itself talking place aboard the train in question in 1952. There is nothing wrong this setup as it is, but the tonal shift and pacing are markedly different and slightly less interesting aboard the train than on the space station. While it is always a pleasure to see the Doctor try to confront a true mystery to him, and Evelyn gets some strong scenes with the train’s passenger as she tries to discover the link between the eras, this third episode feels like a distinct and separate story unto itself. Of course the information they discover ties into the overall plot explicitly, but it seems like there could have been a more seamless way of incorporating this information, even if that means taking the train setting out completely.
As it is, there is still a truly momentous revelation in the fourth episode that is sure to please every listener. The Nowhere Place is a truly fascinating concept, and the reason for its existence as well as the actual physical description of what lays beyond the door are brilliant. While its existence may seem illogical at the same time, it does also present the Doctor with a tumultuous moral dilemma that is truthfully one of the strongest portions of the tale.
‘The Nowhere Place’ is generally filled with solid performances as well. Nicolas Briggs is quite good as the haughty 1952 scientist Trevor Ridgley whose sketches of an FTL system prove so vital of the Doctor’s understanding of the situation. The crew members of the Valiant- Benjamin Roddy, Andrew Fettes, John Schwab, and Stephen Critchlow- are all believable as well as their strict order starts to disintegrate as the bell continues to toll. Martha Cope as Captain Oswin, unfortunately, does not exude the type of military decisiveness that the role requires even before her crew starts to go insane and sacrifice itself. Then there is Hayman, the being beyond the door who, although played with so much inherent anger by Philip Wolff as would be expected given the situation, sometimes comes as a bit overbearing, though not to the extent of ruining the character.
And although it’s noted in nearly every review with Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, the chemistry between the two is utterly natural and superb, and the combination of the Sixth Doctor with Evelyn continues to delight even though her ultimate fate has been revealed. Stables absolutely nails the horror Evelyn must be feeling when she finally hears the bell and knows that she cannot resist its call, and Baker is stellar playing an anxious Doctor who for once does not know what is happening. The Doctor’s moral dilemma, again, is a standout scene, as is his boiling anger for what Hyman is done, though a little more weight given to his choice at the end could have helped end the tale on an even more dramatic note.
There’s a lot to really love about ‘The Nowhere Place,’ and it shows off sides of the leads that are rarely seen. Indeed, aside from an off performance and a third episode that feels quite disjointed to the rest, this is a very solid addition to the Big Finish collection.