on 10 January 2012
Nights Black Agent is a story we should have had before, and after all the fiction that precedes it, there is a freshness to this story. The structure is simple, and the villainy is superb, in terms of scripting and execution; therefore three five-star elements.
Some coincidence lies in the fact that it is the first Doctor Who outing for two unrelated Ross's. Marty Ross's first Doctor Who story is stronger than some of the output of regular Big Finish authors. Hugh Ross, familiar screen actor, is exemplary in his first Doctor Who role. So a big plus to the casting and choice of writer.
The story concerns the older Jamie McCrimmon, who was "introduced" on Big Finish monthlies as a companion to the sixth Doctor, although in this story, the sixth Doctor is featured very little. Newcomers to Big Finish products may be surprised that a second Doctor companion is travelling with the sixth Doctor and is somewhat older, particularly as there are second Doctor era Jamie stories in the Companion Chronicle range. I am not sure this was a good idea to introduce this, particularly as we are denied further examples of Hines' impersonation of Troughton. However without the older Jamie the story would have worked less well. A no-win situation that has denied this story the full 5 stars, for it is so close. The revelation scenes near the end of the story and the accompanying sound effects are some of the best of the whole Companion Chronicle range.
Magnificently literate and literary, as much high Gothic as Highlands, this superb Companion Chronicle pits the Sixth Doctor and Jamie against all the powers of darkness in a version of late 18th century Scotland as strange as can be imagined. 5* (2 episodes, 1 CD, 58 minutes + extras)
‘Night's Black Agents’ by Marty Ross is the extra ‘second part’ of the Main Range trilogy miraculously reuniting the (Sixth) Doctor with his old friend Jamie McCrimmon, some 35 years after they last met – when Jamie forgot the Doctor and all his incredible adventures. This story fits directly between ‘City of Spires’ and ‘Wreck of the Titan’ and would have made a great full cast drama – but the Companion Chronicles format brings its own special magic to this tale and it’s hard to imagine an end result better than this.
The script is wonderfully erudite and literary from the title to the unforgettable closing twist, combining mythical monsters with strangely familiar characters in a story of temptation and loyalty – Jamie’s loyalty, to Scotland and to the Doctor he barely knows. It’s darkly humorous at times and exciting with action set-pieces, but also with a sinister, creeping undercurrent of classical evil and unfolding tragedy. The result is satisfying on so many levels and the atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Howard Carter’s superb music and sound design.
This Companion Chronicles format (where one actor delivers the narration and plays all the roles except for one guest actor) depends heavily on the script and the two performers; here all three are exceptionally good. The writing is truly excellent, word-rich and a pleasure to listen to, while the older Jamie has been given a narrator’s voice of characteristic bravery plus experience, irony and even some regret.
Frazer Hines delivers the deeply-textured narrative with great style and of course plays this portrayal of Jamie perfectly as always. His take on the Sixth Doctor’s self-confident persona is fun, though I do wonder if even the Doctor was really convinced as he chuntered about ‘acoustic’-this and ‘electrostatic’-that - if it looks like witchcraft and it feels like witchcraft, then…? But that’s impossible of course, unless… though I noticed the Doctor doesn’t even attempt to explain away the rampaging Kelpie…
The Doctor is there to help save the day with typical ingenuity, but this is mostly Jamie’s story, as he fights off the temptations of the ‘Reverend’ Merodach and his tragic, beautiful young wife Lucy. Hugh Ross gives a virtuoso performance as the anything-but-holy ‘man of the cloth’, a veritable agent of darkness played with all the intensity the writing and character demand.
It’s among the very best guest roles I’ve heard in any ‘Doctor Who’ audio; the lengthy scenes where he and Jamie contend for the Highlander’s loyalty to the Doctor (and in effect, for his very soul) are gripping, claustrophobic drama. The action spectaculars where Merodach unleashes his true nature are more in the usual style for ‘Doctor Who’, but no less impressive for that.
I’ve not attempted to conceal Merodach’s demonic reality because the story doesn’t do so either. From the opening description of him, it’s perfectly obvious where this ‘holy man’ (he’s neither) is heading and the same is true of other characters from the first mention of their names – if you are a fan of ‘Gothic’ Scottish literature (or opera for that matter.)
Whether the final twist (with musical clue) arrives as a brilliant twist or just as elegant confirmation of what you’d already guessed - or whether it’s simply a great scene with no additional significance - will depend on familiarity with the sources from which the author draws. (But is this purely a splendid homage to Scottish literature inspiring a great ‘Doctor Who’ story, or are there clues that will continue through the Main Range trilogy? After some other hints in ‘City of Spires’, I’ve strong suspicions and if they’re right, there’s only one, logical but rather tragic conclusion…)
An outstanding story in every way, most highly recommended. 5*
(10 minutes of very entertaining documentary tracks follow the episodes and the CD insert has interesting writer’s and producer’s notes.)
(Thanks to Keen Reader for the reviews recommending this great story.)
This is a Companion Chronicle story, where a story is told and performed by a companion of one of the Doctor’s incarnations, and usually features just one other actor playing a part. This story features Jamie McCrimmon, who travelled with the Second Doctor. At the end of the Second Doctor’s incarnation, Jamie and Zoe had their memories cleared by the Time Lords and they were returned to their own times, having forgotten their travels with the Doctor. But Big Finish have worked Jamie into a series of stories with the Sixth Doctor, starting with #133, City of Spires, continuing in #134, The Wreck of the Titan, and concluding in #135, Legend of the Cybermen. Those are full cast audio dramas. This Companion Chronicle sits in between City of Spires and The Wreck of the Titan in terms of Jamie’s relationship and travels with the Sixth Doctor and follows on directly from their struggles with Red Cap in that story.
Jamie tells of how he and the Doctor are trying to get back the Doctor’s mysterious blue box, but as they try to track it down, they are attacked by a mythical creature, and then rescued by the Reverend Merodach, and given his hospitality. But are the Doctor and Jamie any safer there?
This is a wonderful story. Wonderful, because it features Jamie, who had such a wonderful time and a great relationship with the Second Doctor, and it is lovely to see him now in these stories with the Sixth Doctor. Also wonderful because Frazer Hines does such a great job performing the story, which in itself is beautifully written by Marty Ross, and full of the most wonderful dialogue. Listening to the cd extras, Lisa Bowerman who directed the story, describes the writing as ‘dense’, and it is; not in a bad way, but in a way where the language is all, and it is all-important in the telling of the story, and in the characters’ narrative. And the reason this story really stood out for me was the absolutely blindingly good acting of Hugh Ross as Merodach. What a voice, what measured tones, what character is spilled through the words and the way he delivers them. Absolutely astonishing. A great story, a great added extra to the Jamie/Sixth Doctor story arc, and a wonderful Companion Chronicle.