Following the first episode of the second Big Finish audio production, Phantasmagoria, I’ve been listening to the remaining three episodes over recent evenings and, last night, I finished the final episode. For the most part, I’m glad it’s over.
The positives are that it plays like an adventure that may have worked in the 80s (a bit like The Visitation or something), but the lack of any visual medium hurt it quite significantly, I feel. The alien, his “organic” spaceship, the highwayman, the Jacobian setting, etc, would all have worked much better on TV. Without the visuals, the Jacobian era in particular was wasted under a whole host of oddly-sounding dialogue.
The highwayman concept was completely wasted, boiling down as it was to a housemaid who felt that she couldn’t get about as a “mere woman” to locate her target.
On that point, the cliffhanger to episode 3 was pretty good but then that, too, was wasted. Is it that the alien looked like a young human woman and so needed to look like something else? And how did she look like the highwayman? It sounded like some kind of morphing technology but the fact that she remained looking like the housemaid for the final episode suggests it wasn’t. So was it just a disguise, and thus some kind of homage to the ‘Amy Hardwood’ character in Blackadder‘s Amy and Amiability – an alien who thought that taking a position as a housemaid would guide her towards her target (would have thought that playing the part of a “lady of the night” would have got her out and about and meeting many people, and would have helped her find her target a lot sooner than the housemaid/highwayman disguises).
Episodes two and three achieved relatively little beyond the Doctor worrying about Turlough, and Turlough repeatedly saying the he needed to get back to the Doctor. Hard to imagine there’d be this kind of Doctor/companion reliance if the companion had been female.
Other positives include enjoying Peter Davison’s Doctor. Throughout the four episodes, Davison seems to get ever closer to capturing the voice and spirit of his character from some 20 years earlier. Mark Strickson isn’t really given much to do, which is a shame given that he rarely got any solo time with the Doctor in TV. If this is the best use they had for him, I wonder if Strickson was the only person available at the time of recording and so they just replaced “generic companion” with “Turlough” in the script.
Like all final episodes, episode four brought the adventure to an effective and explosive conclusion before the twee “bit before the end credits” scene, which was nice enough. However, the actual ending of the adventure, the bearding of the lion in its den, was less successful with it being particularly unclear what precisely was going on. Nevertheless, ending it all with a big explosion is, at least, one way out of having to explain anything.
So, what we’re left with is a relatively simple story of an alien stranded on Earth, repairing his organic spaceship with the bodies and minds of his victims, whilst another (presumably alien, that looks like a young human woman) is looking for him and seeking revenge for the death of its/her parents.
Makes you wonder how that made for a confused adventure. I’ll put it down it requiring the visuals perhaps more than most other Big Finish adventures I’ve listened to.
Next time… Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor in Whispers of Terror, featuring Nicola Bryant as Peri.