Big Finish wrapped up another successful year for the main Doctor Who audio range with Static and following on from stories which saw The Fifth Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa reunited for the first time since 2014, Philip Olivier returning as Hex and The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel’s continued adventures. Static could quite easily be the best audio adventure from the Main Range to be released this year. Indeed, it is easily on par with The Chimes of Midnight, one of the most highly regarded Big Finish releases ever.
But what made Static one of Big Finish stand out releases?
Well for starters it has some genuinely creepy moments normally made from a combination of excellent writing and sound design. The use of white noise is disturbing and the idea that something can use it to make contact with you is truly terrifying. Sure, this isn’t something new to the horror genre, the movie Poltergeist used a similar method but on audio, arguably it works even better, especially when it is so loud it is all you can hear.
The setting lends itself well to the story, a caravan site, out in the middle of nowhere, gives this story the idea that no one can escape, you’re stuck there and that isn’t a pleasant thought. In his interview for Doctor Who Magazine, author Jonathan Morris says he was trying to think of spooky Doctor Who locations. A caravan site in bad weather becomes like a seaside town in winter – there is an element of being abandoned and unwanted. This is something that is helped along by the use of the fog which surrounds the outside of the campsite. Thanks to the vividness of Morris’s descriptions, the fog itself seems to become another character and is almost felt by the listener. So it is no surprise then that the sound design and music also has a very claustrophobic feel to it.
I’ve always felt a sense of unease with campsites and caravan parks, it is probably the same reason I feel uncomfortable in hotels, you never know what is going on behind those closed doors, so this story really tapped into my nervousness surrounding those kinds of places.
But the story isn’t just about being creepy and giving you goosebumps. Morris cleverly makes this is a story about grief and loss and the horrible feeling that fills your veins when someone dear to you passes away. This element is shown to us through the characters of Andy Clover and Joanna Nash, a couple who have come to the secluded camp to deal with a few things. Joanna’s sister, Susannah drowned while they were all on holiday and Joanna blames herself. Her story is heartbreaking, she blames herself, which makes things even harder for her. She says if she had put down her book and noticed something was wrong then Susannah would still be there with her.
Andy, on the other hand, has brought her to the camp for other reasons, though both characters what to see Susannah back again, Andy wants to test out the myth of a nearby stone circle. He disobey’s the campsite owner’s rules of not having a television and makes contact with the disembodied voice of Susannah. And in traditional Doctor Who fashion, things go rapidly from bad to worse from that point on.
And following on with the tradition of this Sixth Doctor trilogy, the performances are nothing short of stellar from everyone included. The guest cast are superb but the stand-outs include Scott Chambers and Pippa Nixon who bring a real sense of being a couple at the end of their tether. While Jo Woodcock brings Susannah to life in a loving way without ever forgetting that something is supposed to be slightly off.
David Graham is brilliant as the mysterious Percy Till. He plays both the younger and older versions of the character. His performance brings his character’s sense of desperation and unlikability to life throughout the story as you never one-hundred percent know on which side he stands. Is he good or is he evil? And he wields an axe, making his motivations even more muddled.
The main cast are brilliant too with Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood and Miranda Raison all pulling their weight and delivering some really brilliant performances. It helps that Jonathan Morris has tailored moments in the script to play to each character’s strengths. Flip can’t leave people to suffer, Constance’s devotion to her duty and the Doctor’s devotion to protecting all life. All the characters get put through the nasty wringer but each actor is more than up for the challenge.
Miranda Raison as Constance Clarke has quickly become one of my favourite audio companions and companions in general and she continues to be brilliant here, especially when she is paired with Lisa Greenwood’s Flip. Constance and Flip have a brilliant sisterly bond, with Flip being loud and sometimes brash, Constance can reign her in a bit and stops her from getting into trouble. I strongly believe that Constance and Flip are going to be considered one of the best companion-duos of all time!
Colin Baker is superb in this story as the Doctor is so obviously out of his depth. From the off, he knows something is off and that suspicion is only fueled even more when Percy Till makes himself known and he knows who the Doctor, Constance and Flip are already! This trilogy has allowed Baker to show us his considerable acting skills with the Doctor falling in love in The Behemoth, the real-life reflection on how we deal with the elderly in The Middle and now his sheer confusion in Static has proved us why Colin Baker is the one Doctor who was truly let down by the BBC in the 1980s. He had so much more to give, something Big Finish has allowed him to show us.
But at its heart, Static is a story about tragedy and grief, something that director, Jamie Anderson ensures no-one ever loses sight of. It also manages to look into the ethical questions raised during wartime in a very adult way. Jonathan Morris has outdone himself here as both subjects are dealt with in a very mature manner, not something that always happens.
It is rare the stakes are as high as they are here in Static. The emotions are so raw and it feels very grown up. Do we finally have a story which can stand toe-to-toe with the mighty The Chimes of Midnight? I believe we do and everyone involved should be very happy.
This is superb.