I had never quite 'got' Joe Lidster. Always highly rated by reviewers and employers, I suspected I was missing something. 'The Rapture' and 'Master' remain two of my least liked Big Finish Doctor Who audios, one trying too hard to be modern and 'yoof', the other trying too hard to be traditional and 'radio 4' and both failing miserably. 'Terror Firma' was much better though the opening companion-under-torture was brutal and unnecessarily long and graphic, betraying a ill-judged sadistic streak inserted into what is essentially a family brand (a nastiness seen even more vividly in the horrible ending to Lidster's Sapphire and Steel audio, 'Daisy Chain'). The Reaping / The Gathering were clever but (the appearance of Janet Fielding aside) unremarkable while 'Bedtime Story', Lidster's contribution to '100', was inconsequential, self-regarding tosh. In spite of some good dialogue here and there, one had the underlying feeling of someone trying to shock at the expense of entertainment, like an adolescent goading his parents. Couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
Which made 'The Final Amendment' all the more welcome a surprise. Undoubtedly one of Benny's best, though it could all too easily have not been up to much, considering that slightly-altered-reality had already become a cornerstone of the Benny range. Yet TFA is fresh and compelling and above all, funny.
There are many sci-fi fans who steadfastly refuse to do 'witty', preferring the po-faced, the technological, the male-orientated, the overly detailed. TFA is none of the above, revelling in word play and subtle fan references that deflate the innate pomposity of the genre, building to a rousing and ultimately poignant climax. Having said that, it also does what sci-fi drama (hell, any drama) really should do more often: carry you along, keep you involved. In a word, entertain.
Stars of the show? Ann Bryson (hilarious as the dysfunctional empress) and Harry Glaves (with some superbly deadpan neologisms), their sheer normality making them so much more believable and, at the appropriate moments, more scary. Great casting.
One of the saving graces of a lot of the later Benny stories is that the music doesn't p**s you off. Not too much, not little, not too modern or too sickly. The script even tells you of Lidster's (or the script editor's) own awareness of the problem: "Too much schmaltzy music. I hate it when they do that, don't you?" But how TFA is perhaps most noteworthy is its being unashamedly fan-centred without excluding the more casual listener. In an interview concerning the Doctor Who audio 'Scherzo', the then head honcho Gary Russell (playing a barman in this episode) stated that such an experimental two-hander would be great for the writer, great for the actors and great for the sound people. What he omitted to mention was that it might be great for the fans too. Which it wasn't. 'Scherzo' was a triple indulgence that made no concession to the people actually paying for it all; TFA is its antidote. It takes one of those wished-for pasts that the Who world throws up from time to time (in this case taken from the Virgin New Adventures book range) and runs with it. Doesn't try to supercede it or revise it, just runs with it (and manages to include one great, unexpected little cameo).
What makes it ultimately such a listening pleasure, however, is that is such good radio comedy drama. Along with 'Timeless Passages' and 'The Diet of Worms', one of the best introductions to the later Benny audios.