The Light at the End

Posted in Audio by - April 06, 2016
The Light at the End

Released October 2013

Big Finish kicks off Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary proceedings a month early with ‘The Light at the End,’ its ambitious love letter to the programme and its fans that brings together each of the surviving classic Doctors along with a host of former companions, a touching cameo of sorts from the first three Doctors, and arguably the greatest nemesis of them all, the Master.

The story begins as each of the Doctor’s first eight incarnations is stopped by a warning light on the TARDIS console, one that has never been noticed before by anyone and seems to correlate with the very specific address of 59A Barnsfield Crescent, Totton, Hampshire, England, on the inauspicious date of 23 November 1963. Multi-Doctor anniversary stories are a tricky concept to properly write and deliver, with varying levels of success achieved in ‘The Three Doctors’ for the tenth, ‘The Five Doctors’ for the twentieth, and even Big Finish’s own ‘Zagreus’ for the fortieth. Yet while there is, by necessity, quite a lot of exposition and even some repetition as each Doctor confronts the warning separately and becomes involved in the story, the actual flow and pacing of the story is very well maintained.

Events in England tie directly into the Master’s latest scheme for universal domination, Geoffrey Beevers’s television version jumping his own timeline to interact with Doctors he had not met before his change into Anthony Ainley’s version. However, though the scope and ambition of his plans are admirable, they never seem to be fully explained, instead acting as an impetus for nostalgia and the coming together of and interactions between characters who would not normally do so.

While, in essence, this is presented as an Eighth Doctor story as he both opens and closes the tale, every Doctor and his chosen companion gets ample time in this release. The usual humour and friendly animosity between different iterations of the hero are there as always, but it’s the interactions between the Fourth and Eighth Doctors at the beginning that provide a real highlight. Big Finish is extremely confident with each of its Doctor now, and the way they fluidly interact with and play off each other once in the same space is a joy to behold as together they save the universe and themselves, showing just how far the company has come since its initial release of 1999’s ‘The Sirens of Time.’ The same holds true for the companions even if running time and story dictate they must be more in the background, and the voices and essences of Leela, Nyssa, Peri, Ace, and Charley, are captured perfectly. Ace, in particular has a standout scene as she describes the other Doctors, and her interactions with the Sixth Doctor- who terrifically takes control of events in the latter stages of the story- are a joy to hear.

Everyone involved puts forth a sterling performance, though special credit must be given to the one true guest star, John Dorney playing Bob Dovey. It is up to him alone to provide the context for the story and be the glue that holds it all together because as grandiose as concepts such as the TARDIS heading towards the explosion that created the universe, time and the TARDIS folding in on itself, the pocket universe weapons factory that can be entered only through this one point in space and time, and the likes of sentient mud creatures are, it’s the story of a man who has lost his family to the Master and his tissue compression eliminator that provides the emotional and narrowed focus required to keep the more fantastic events grounded in reality.

While the Master’s plan, as usual, seems fraught with holes in its logic, it does provide a reasonable way for the Time Lords and Gallifrey to enter the celebratory anniversary events. In exchange for the Mater keeping his silence about the Celestial Intervention Agency’s dealings with the pocket universe to the High Council, the CIA has given him one weapon of his choice, one that he is using to fold the Doctor’s lives in upon themselves in no particular order. The conceptual bomb, causing a thought to be turned to reality, is a clever concept and, placed inside Dovie’s head to cause the TARDIS to never have existed when he see it for the first time on the designated date and proclaims it impossible, is a great concept. This, then, leaves a role for the first three Doctors whose actors have sadly passed away as, through some work in the background with only occasional dialogue from other cast members, they disperse the destruction along the TARDIS’s entire timeline so that a warning can be given and the Fifth Doctor eventually can negate events by introducing Dovie to the TARDIS a year earlier.

‘The Light at the End,’ as has to be expected is slightly more about the spectacle and event rather than the plot. However, it does still manage to introduce a few very clever concepts and innovations along the way and, astoundingly given the size of the cast involved, to give every Doctor and main companion a sizable role without favouring or discarding anyone. It may take a while to fully get going as it deals with its heavy exposition and a seemingly wandering- though excellent- teaming of the Fourth and Eighth Doctors, but the end result is a testament to the quality of the actors and staff at Big Finish. Clearly many lessons have been learned since beginning these audios in 1999, and even since the ill-received ‘Zagreus’ for the fortieth anniversary, and ‘The Light at the End’ is everything that such a milestone anniversary story should be.

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