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A slightly unfocused attempt at a historical conundrum
on 27 August 2007
"When the Doctor and Mel visit the National Foundation for Scientific Research as it celebrates its centenary, Mel expects only to be able to catch up with her uncle. She doesn't expect to meet her own ancestors...
"What is buried in the grounds of the foundation?
"What secret has Henry Hallam kept from his descendants for three hundred years>
"Can Mel escape her own past?
"Visiting your relatives can sometimes be trying, but surely it should never be this difficult?"
I had been looking forward to listening to "Catch-1782", by Alison Lawson, for some time, for two principal reasons: because the Sixth Doctor stories are among the best audios that Big Finish have produced, and because of the very atmospheric cover art.
Sadly, the story didn't really live up to expectations. The plot involves Mel (Bonnie Langford) being whisked back to the 18th Century in a time travel accident and forced to live there for six months, confused and doped up on laudanum by one of her ancestors, Henry Hallam (Keith Drinkel), who has recently lost his wife and has started to fall in love with Mel, and believes he is helping her to heal. The Doctor (Colin Baker), accompanied by Mel's uncle John Hallam (Derek Benfield), sets off to rescue her and must try not to disrupt Mel's family history in doing so.
It's an interesting, character-centric concept, but "Catch-1782" is a rather poorly structured play, with the first episode serving solely to set up some rather obvious foreshadowing in the present day whilst also delivering a history lesson that is necessary for the listener to fully understand the rest of the story. It's only in episode two that the historical aspect of the story gathers any momentum, and it's only in the closing moments of episode three that the Catch-22 implied by the title, which should actually be driving the whole story, is appreciated by the principal characters, meaning that the seemingly unsolveable conundrum has only one episode in which to be resolved and, unfortunately, the story cops out.
Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford put in great performances, as do Keith Drinkel as Henry Hallam and Michael Chance as his friend Dr Wallace. I was less convinced by Derek Benfield as John Hallam, who had a persistently nervous and bewildered air that didn't allow for a great emotional range. None the less, it's the performances, sound design and music that hold the listener's attention through this slightly unfocused tale, and all in all "Catch-1782" isn't that bad. Big Finish, however, have, in what is now their very considerable history, done better.