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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
A Death in the Family


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 499 3
Available 31 October 2010

The future folds into the past. The homeless hero has fallen. Now begins the time of three tales: The Tale of the Herald, The Tale of the Hidden Woman, The Tale of the Final Speaker. When the last tale is told, all the lights shall fail. The world will end.” 21st-century London: the Doctor has learned that a Time Lord casket is somewhere in the remains of the Forge. When he finds it, he sees a very familiar face inside. However, the worst is yet to come. Nobody No One, the extra-dimensional Word Lord, has regenerated and is once again running amok. Only this time, he’s unbeatable, with an almost endless amount of words and information to take advantage of. A terrible tragedy is about to unfold. It is written...


So, who dies in A Death in the Family? Ah, thereby hangs a tale... for this audio drama is all about closure and the apparent writing out of characters. I say “apparent” because writer Steven Hall repeatedly toys with our expectations as to precisely who (or do I mean Who?) is for the chop.

Following his shooting at the end of The Angel of Scutari, I had wondered whether Hex (Philip Olivier) was going to be killed off. Then, following the emotional revelations of Project: Destiny, at the end of which Hex stormed off, I wondered whether that would be the last we would hear from him, at least for a while. Hex returns, but then appears to find peace on an alien planet, where he meets one Evelyn Rossiter née Smythe (Maggie Stables), who used to know his mother...

In a subversion of the traditional type of cliffhanger in which the Doctor appears to die but of course does not, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is actually killed at the end of Part One, thus writing him out of most of the rest of the story. It will come as no surprise that the Time Lord’s condition “gets better”, especially as the reality-bending Nobody No One (who previously appeared in Hall’s episode of Forty-Five) is involved. However, the mind-bending solution is every bit as devious as the Eleventh Doctor’s return from seemingly certain annihilation in the Series 5 finale The Big Bang.

This time the Word Lord is played by Ian Reddington, who is just as delightfully insane as he was in his role as the Chief Clown in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. In case you haven’t heard Nobody No One’s previous appearance, Big Finish is currently offering the episode, The Word Lord, as a download for just 99p.

Ace (Sophie Aldred) is also offered a happy ending, appearing ready to settle down to married life with a charmingly hapless young man called Henry (the significance of whose surname is immediately obvious), who rather reminds me of Rory Williams.

Though this time Hall is writing a four-part story rather than contributing to an anthology, A Death in the Family has a clearly defined episodic structure. Part One sets up the main story and reintroduces the Word Lord. The middle two episodes focus on the aftermath of the Doctor’s demise from the respective viewpoints of Hex and Ace. Part Four brings all the plot strands together.

This adventure contains some remarkable similarities to themes and developments in Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor (which, given that this production was recorded on 28-29 April 2010, must be coincidental). As well as the Doctor’s resurrection and Ace’s Rory-like suitor, the whole notion of the power of words, with people living on in stories, is redolent of Series 5. As in Steven Moffat’s Who, the Doctor takes on a mythic/supernatural quality. As in Flesh and Stone, he describes himself as a “complex space-time event”, a term coined by Moffat in his 1996 short story “Continuity Errors” (in Decalog 3: Consequences). As in The Big Bang, the Doctor encounters a near-dead future version of his current incarnation.

With its timey-wimey happenings and talk of pocket realities, A Death in the Family offers plenty of food for thought for continuity-obsessed fans (like me). When the Doctor imagines his future self “burning” back into existence, I was reminded of the burned Seventh Doctor at the start of Master. Could that dramatic entrance represent another resurrection of the Time Lord, perhaps following his apparent demise in Death Comes to Time...?

The first disc ends with a six-and-a-half-minute suite of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason’s moody incidental music, while the second concludes with an eight-minute interview with the writer, who discusses the genesis and development of his intriguing tale.

No One will want to miss this.


Richard McGinlay

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