06 April 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - No More Lies

No More Lies is wildly different to anything we've had so far - and my favourite of the four one-part stories this series has offered. I'm beginning to see a pattern of couples through these stories, and this is no different, with Nick and Rachel - guest stars Nigel Havers and Julia McKenzie - at the heart of both periods of the action. Paul Sutton tells the story of Dr Zimmerman (Havers), and his reformation, in a very interesting manner and makes this one of the most engaging hours this new series of adventures for the Eighth Doctor has delivered yet.

We join the Doctor and Lucie partway through an adventure, just as they corner Zimmerman for a final confrontation. His ship is under attack from creatures called the Tar-Modowk and he leaves the pair to their death. They manage to escape in the TARDIS and track him down to Earth... where he is in the middle of hosting a dinner party. It's quite a gear change but is very good at capturing the listener's attention. And to be honest, the plot unfolding on Earth is involving enough by itself anyway.

It turns out Rachel is not well and so Zimmerman has organised a small party for her, but unknown to her, that was all years ago. He created a time loop so that this day would go on again and again and again, so that he and his wife would be together forever. It's a similar idea, if engineered slightly differently, to Immortal Beloved. But the group have been round the loop so many times that it's becoming weak, and the Tor-Modowk are forcing their way in, along with their Vortisaur friends. Zimmerman is not a good man, but he has found something to live for in Rachel, and so it's appropriate that his actions at the start of the story should lead to his undoing at the end in a story all about facing up to your past.

The Doctor and Lucie are a solid team that both understand how the other works by this point. They've come a long way from where they were at the end of Blood of the Daleks, and are now resigned to the fact they're going to be together for the foreseeable future but aren't entirely unhappy about that. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith work exceptionally well together as a double act - there's no feeling that the Doctor is superior to Lucie at any point, not that she would allow there to be. Both the writing and direction give them equal prominence, attention-grabbing dialogue and interesting journeys and I love how committed these two performers are. 

This is another story that absolutely flew by for me. It has a very relaxed pace to it but the story is structured very economically. It feels like this is the result of many revisions, all unnecessary elements excised. It's very tight, but has a very delicate touch and it's probably the way that it eased me into its story that made it seem to pass so quick. Of Paul Sutton's other Doctor Who stories I've only heard The Angel of Scutari, which I remember enjoying a lot, but haven't heard for a few years now. His pair of stories for Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have a bit of a reputation for being quite sweeping and emotional, and I can definitely see those traits in No More Lies.

Zimmerman is a very interesting character, and I do wonder what happened to him after the end of this story. He was initially so self-centred, but then was prepared to sacrifice it all for the one he loved. It's quite a reversal and it seems to me that after the tragic events at the story's conclusion, he might well swing back the other way. Perhaps all that time pretending to be a human had some effect on him, but the scenes between him and the Doctor make for thought-provoking listening. The fact that the involvement (and money) of the BBC was able to draw Nigel Havers and Julia McKenzie together into a single play shows what a high standard this series is operating at. Tom Chadbon makes his first return to Doctor Who proper since City of Death too - and he once again gets to deliver a very important punch - and it surprised me to learn that although he's done bits and pieces in between, his next 'proper' Doctor Who story was last month's The Paradox Planet, which reunited him with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. 

This story is another with a prominent amount of music. McKenzie's character sings twice and the accompanying soundtrack felt more song-orientated than ordinary incidental music, thanks to the input of Tim Sutton, who had recently collaborated with director Barnaby Edwards on Horror of Glam Rock. More than some others, No More Lies sounds really nice; it's gentle on the ear but the moments of action are all realised as you'd expect, and I'm still massively impressed by the sound design Gareth Jenkins produces. The polish on this series is one of things that makes it really great.

Turning to the series as a whole, I'm glad to see the Headhunter finally catching up with Lucie. Her kidnapping also means the Doctor is trapped in this place, at this time, unless the Time Lords reverse whatever they have done to the TARDIS. The stage looks set for a very exciting finale. I can't quite put my finger on what makes No More Lies so enjoyable, but I think overall it's just a great story, in the most literal sense. It's very different to Big Finish's usual output, and it seems a bit of a shame Paul Sutton never wrote another Paul McGann story. This isn't one that gets mentioned very much, but I'd certainly recommend it.

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