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The Causality of Melanie Bush
on 30 October 2016
What caused Mel? And what are her effects? When you’ve been travelling with the Doctor since *before* he first met you, things are likely to get complicated. And for Mel they certainly do – more than once… 5* (4 episodes, 2 CDs, 120 minutes + extras)
Matt Fitton’s ‘The Wrong Doctors’ is an outstanding, funny, very clever and mind-spinningly complex tale of cause and effect (though not necessarily in that order…) It comes before any of Mel’s other audio stories and tries to answer the conundrum posed by the classic TV series; who came first, Mel – or Mel?! The problem of how Mel was there ready to travel with the Doctor *before* she’d first met him is just about answered (I think!) and shows why (on audio at least) she is a companion tailor-made for life in the TARDIS.
The incidental music is low-key, just as well with such a busy plot, but Simon Robinson’s sound design has to work overtime to keep up with the shifting reality and does it excellently. There are two impressive ‘time montage’ scenes in particular that really shouldn’t work on audio, but they do work very well indeed, giving a convincing picture of multiple moments all packed together.
For the first half this is mostly a comedy and a really good one, including possibly the best / worst Shakespeare pun ever uttered by the Sixth Doctor. The second half raises the stakes for the Doctor and has some genuinely moving moments, but without losing the lighter touches that are one of the highlights of this story, along with the aliens, the action, the iguanodon...
The main highlight is, of course, the chance to hear the same Doctor twice and the same (or is she…?) Mel, twice too, sometimes double-doubled in one scene. I wondered how well this would work on audio, and you do need to concentrate on this story – it’s really not one for casual listening in the car – but the excellent writing and performances pull off the trick in style.
Colin Baker is (naturally) superb as both the brash, younger Sixth Doctor, fresh from his TV trial and the older version, here feeling lonely after the departure of Evelyn and mellowed by all their shared experiences. I must confess that back in the 1980s, Mel was not my favourite companion (I think “most annoying companion ever” was my actual phrase), but thankfully she too has been given a major audio makeover by Big Finish.
So it’s a pleasure to hear Bonnie Langford excellently playing a script worthy of both her and clever, confident (and thankfully scream-free!) Mel. The script has fun referencing Mel’s ‘80s TV persona and indeed with many other jokes at the expense of that decade, including some of the aliens, mired in business babble-speak and enjoyably played for comedy.
It’s in keeping with this complicated story that some of the elements we *think* are there for comedy (Mel’s endless rehearsal of a nursery rhyme for the Pease Pottage ‘heritage event’ and her unexpected duties at the radar station, etc.) are actually key parts of the plot. The guest cast are all excellent and one person you might think is slightly over-playing is… well, be assured that the acting style is there for very good reasons. Part Four reveals all and shows us both ‘real’ aspects of the character and their complex history. The curious inhabitants of this very English village make perfect sense in their own times and the alien visitors are a treasure, literally…
I won’t even attempt to go into the plot, partly to avoid spoilers and partly because I’d probably get it wrong! This is not a story for the temporally faint-hearted; it’s very complex, it partly runs *backwards*, it took me three enjoyable listens to fully get my head round it – and it’s utterly brilliant, a delight from end to beginning…! But if you prefer more linear plots, this one will be a challenge.
Actually, it’s a splendid challenge for any listener - in the Writer’s Notes, Matt Fitton mentions he had a ‘colour-coded diagram’ explaining Mel’s point of view! So if you feel up to matching the eidetic memory of Mel and the time-sense of a Time Lord, dive into this very strange part of the Vortex and be swept along as Time swirls through Pease Pottage.
Because, for me at least, Colin Baker’s redoubtable ‘Old Sixie’ is *always* The Right Doctor – even when there are two of him at the same time! 5*
(Disc 1 has a 19 minute suite of the incidental music after the episodes and 11 minutes of documentary tracks follow the episodes on disc 2. The CD booklet has cast photos and interesting Director’s and Writer’s Notes. Unusually for this range, if you’re playing the discs on a PC you’ll see the tracks each have titles like the chapters in a book, a nice idea.)