Doctor Who
Year of the Pig

Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 175 6
ISBN-10: 1 84435 175 0
Available 18 December 2006

Ostend, 1913. War is coming, and the guest in suite 139 of the Hotel Palace Thermae knows it. Which is odd, considering he has trotters, a snout and a curly tail. Two peculiar strangers have been hunting Toby the Sapient Pig. The first, Miss Alice Bultitude, is an Englishwoman and a collector of obscure theatrical ephemera. The second, Inspector Alphonse Chardalot, is a celebrated member of the detective police: the man who brought the trunk murderess of St Germain to justice. The Doctor and Peri must do battle with a villain who wants to wipe every last human from the face of the earth... once he's had another dish of truffles... and maybe a valedictory glass of fizzy lemonade...

This production boasts a small but very notable cast. Adjoa Andoh, who was Sister Jatt in New Earth, plays another medic here, the dedicated Nurse Albertine. Paul Brooke, an actor and comedian who's appeared in simply loads of things, from For Your Eyes Only to The Worst Week of My Life (you'll know him when you hear his voice or see his picture inside the inlay), is endearing as her patient, Toby the Sapient Pig. Michael Keating, better known as Vila from Blake's 7, is every bit as grandiloquent as he was in Soldiers of Love in his role as the dubious Inspector Chardalot. Perhaps most remarkable of all is former Vicki actress Maureen O'Brien, who is virtually unrecognisable as the eccentric Alice Bultitude.

This is intentionally a very silly story (with the inclusion of a talking pig, you've probably guessed as much already) but there's also some intrigue surrounding certain time anomalies and the mystery of Toby's origins. At a whopping 150 minutes, it is somewhat overlong - so long, in fact, that the production team have had to present the story in two parts rather than four, omitting two sets of beginning and end theme music in order to fit the tale on to two discs. However, the quality of the performances from all concerned helps to keep the whole affair afloat.

Talking of the music, according to the CD's sleeve notes and Pig Finish's - sorry, Big Finish's - website, this story takes place between Timelash and Revelation of the Daleks. Therefore, the Peter Howell arrangement of the signature tune should have been used. However, the 1986 Dominic Glynn version has been used instead, which is a bit of an oversight.

In his own sleeve note, writer Matthew Sweet recalls being concerned that Toby might be regarded as too similar to the spacesuited swine seen in the 2005 television episode Aliens of London. That thought hadn't occurred to me, though I was reminded of Anton the talking pig and his fellows in Jim Mortimore's New Adventures novel The Sword of Forever, having recently been put in mind of them by the Bernice Summerfield anthology Old Friends. The time-travel aspects of this tale also invite speculation that Toby's biological augmentation might somehow be connected with the pig-brained Peking Homunculus from 1977's The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Did his "father" travel back from the 51st century using zygma beam technology?

Year of the Pig won't be to every fan's liking (at least one critic considers it hogwash). I found I made very few notes while listening to this story, but I'd be telling porkies if I said I didn't enjoy the experience.

Richard McGinlay

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