Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time

Posted in Audio by - June 16, 2023
Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time

Released June 2023


With the Doctor still suffering the effects of degeneration, his fifth form has emerged at the start of James Goss’s ‘The Artist at the End of Time,’ the second release in the Once and Future saga. Traveling to the end of the universe to help with his stabilization, he finds his daughter and together they investigate the mystery behind the Final Gallery and an unknown artist whose works are synonymous with the end of a world’s existence.

While the unfortunate truth is that an artist’s works tend to become all the more valuable and recognized following his or her passing, Goss toys with that fact by exploring the value of art depicting worlds that no longer exist and the lengths that collectors- professional and personal- may go to acquire such pieces. The Doctor rarely travels so far into the future, and the decreasing universal population and number of worlds is a stark reminder of the ultimate brevity of life, a life that even in such extenuating circumstances as these is still marked by the struggles of the masses in contrast to the majesty and splendour of the few. As the Doctor who is very much trying to find himself as well as Jenny independently and then together look to uncover how these pieces have come to be made and collected, a general sense of melancholy pervades the Final Gallery, a melancholy that quickly gives way to accentuated danger when they discover the identity of the artist and the destructive danger that seems to be follow in his wake.

For better or for worse, Big Finish has continued to expand upon the mythos and ethos of the Curator who served such an enigmatic yet near-omniscient role in the fiftieth anniversary tale ‘The Day of the Doctor.’ As such, some of the mystery has been diminished as his role and relation to the Doctor has been explored in subsequent audio stories, and while involving him in a story centred around a gallery is a natural decision, there is little to distinguish the character from the Doctor here, particularly the Sixth Doctor with whom the Curator now shares his visage and voice in a more elderly capacity. He’s creative and impassioned, and Colin Baker plays the role of a man who has all but taken himself out of time to give recognition to worlds that may otherwise pass in silence while avoiding the company of others whom he may put in danger extraordinarily well; that contrasting sense of detachedness with his desire to interact with others creates a fascinating dynamic with which to compare the Doctor in his current state. Though it is somewhat difficult to believe that a man who has seen and experienced so much would so eagerly come to the conclusion that he has become cursed and that any world he steps foot on is thus doomed, this mindset is particularly unique and provides an intriguing entryway for the Doctor and Jenny to begin to piece together the truth behind these worlds’ ends concisely and effectively as all events lead back to the Final Gallery.

As prominently as the Curator focuses here, however, this story is very much about the Doctor and his attempts to uncover the truth about himself and who he truly is. It’s a very different characterization for Peter Davison to play than is typical for his character who is always so wise beyond his years, but he adeptly imbues an eagerness to explore and help with a certain sadness and dejectedness about the current state of the universe. Naturally, his chemistry with Georgia Tennant- his real-life daughter- is superb, something aided by the fact that the Fifth Doctor and Jenny have previously met in Big Finish’s Legacy of Time story ‘Relative Time.’ Jenny is every bit as charismatic and energetic as ever, and she doggedly pushes forward no matter the threats facing them or the seeming impossibility of the task before them. Jenny as a character is very much a testament to the legacy of the Doctor, and while her on-screen capacity has been limited to just one story, there is no denying her importance to the Doctor and thus relevance to this celebratory tale as she ultimately sets out on a new trajectory with the Curator. Indeed, while ‘The Artist at the End of Time’ may not deal too overtly with any overarching threat in this series, it does provide a fascinating study of the Doctor in terms of who he is, was, and will be while also exploring the beauty of life from beginning to end.

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1 Comment on "Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time"

  • Harry West

    I thought this was really boring, the interplay between Pete and Georgia aside. The degeneration story is a long overdue one and started promisingly on disc one, but is largely ignored on this story and the Curator was a throw away character fan-pleaser in the 50th anniversary, to continue to use him as a ‘new’ character is a dead end
    As with lots of recent Big Finish output, this feels complacent, repetitive and lazy, preciously what killed the show off in 1989.

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