The Light at the End Review
Gustaff Behr gives his verdict on Big Finish’s 50th anniversary audio drama.
So we’ve had the onscreen quintessence, now we’re going to look at The Light at the End, which is Big Finish’s way of celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who. Don’t worry, there will be minimum spoilers here – nothing that you couldn’t have worked out for yourself. This story brings together eight incarnations of the Doctor and throws them all into an exciting adventurous romp/mystery all centering around one particular time and place: 17:03 PM, 23rd of November, 1963, 59A Barnsfield Crescent, Totting, Hampshire, England.
“Ah! Gentlemen. There you are. Time to fight back I think!” – Sixth Doctor
First off, let’s check out when the magic happens. This story takes place between The Horror of Fang Rock and The Invasion of Time for the Fourth Doctor and Leela, sometime after Time-Flight, but before Arc of Infinity for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, between Revelation of the Daleks and The Mysterious Planet for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, sometime before Survival for the Seventh Doctor and Ace and for the Eighth Doctor and Charley, this story takes place after Living Legend, but before Time of the Daleks.
“Sorry to be so tediously repetitive…” – Fourth Doctor
When this story was first released, and while I was waiting for it to become available, I had a peek at TARDIS wikia for a little taste of what was in store. There, I discovered a list of names longer than Don McLean’s American Pie song. After that…I simply sighed. This was going to be a fan fest of a story. Eight Doctors, 15+ companions and only 1 hour and 50 minutes of storytelling. In a way, this is what a lot of fans were hoping the actual fiftieth anniversary would be like. The story was bound to be dragged six feet under with so many characters – only it wasn’t!
Despite the long list of names, this story is one of the most misleading ones out there. True, over a dozen companions do feature, but only five fully take part in the story. Also, despite there being eight Doctors present, the first three also stay behind in the background, but cameo from time to time. To be honest, this story is all about the Doctor since the five companions also have minimum screen time; most of them having no more than twenty minutes at the most each. But alas, The Day of the Doctor had already been taken, so it was renamed The Light at the End.
“But why are they here? Why are all the Doctors here?” – Sixth Doctor
Now the plot is nothing new here. To be honest, a friend of mine wrote a fanfic with a similar synopsis a few years ago (also multi-Doctor story), but given that these kinds of Doctor-meets-Doctor stories tend to get harder to do the more they’re done, I suppose it was inevitable that this one would be turned into an actual story. The narrative borrows from previous episodes, namely The Name of the Doctor and The Sirens of Time, but manages to make you forget about the similarities rather quickly as the story kick starts within seconds after the theme music plays (a new version which rocks I just want to add!). This is Big Finish doing New Series Doctor Who with old Doctors. The Classic Series pacing is gone. In fact, when I first heard this story, it actually felt like I was watching a movie in the cinema. I mean it! The soundtrack, the background mixing, it felt like a Series 7 movie of the week story with no rushed ending syndrome.
“Is this some kind of Doctors afterlife?” – Fourth Doctor (Don’t you just love when people lean on the fourth wall)
Since this story is not a fan fest, but a legitimate tale, Big Finish had to tell an intelligent storyline. For this, you couldn’t have all the Doctors just pop up at once and get to work, so the first part of the story revolves around the Fourth and Eighth Doctors teaming up after being lured to a mysterious time and space destination. Having these two Doctors fool around for half an hour is enormous fun and you can just hear Tom and Paul having a ball. The Fifth Doctor also plays a semi-huge part here, solving the plot on his own while the other Doctors, namely Six and Seven, do feature, but in a minor respect. It isn’t until part two that these two get a chance to shine alongside a full on Five (while Four and Eight take the backseat) for their 30 minutes of fame before the traditional all-Doctors-team-up-party ensues.
Some might worry that this story will waste one or two Doctors. Despite how you may have interpreted the above, eventually, all the Doctors shine and their screen time is more or less the same, though this story does tend to have long scenarios only featuring one set of Doctors at a time.
“That is pretty pointless cruelty – even for you!” – Fifth Doctor
“Oh Doctor. Nothing I ever do is pointless. Not when it comes to you.” – The Master
What I love about Big Finish is that they aren’t afraid to break tradition. They could’ve their newly created Master and have him take on the Doctors as his incarnation most likely resides somewhere after Eric Robert’s, but before Jacob’s, but no! Geoffrey Beevers’ Master crosses his own timeline in this story to take on a herd of Doctors, some from his own future as the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors have already faced some of his successors onscreen. The Master here is true to form, as is Geoffrey Beevers, whose thirteenth incarnation of the Master just steals the show. Mind you, also true to form is that there are some holes in the Master’s scheme, but without spoiling things, I will tell you that the master plan this time round (couldn’t resist) is one of the best we’ve seen yet from the evil Time Lord and the weapon he uses this time is really a stroke of writing genius. Kudos to Nick Briggs!
“Stop fiddling about and get on with it!” – First Doctor
Big Finish promised us eight Doctors and they delivered…sort of. William Russell stands in for William Hartnell, Frazer Hines for Pat Troughton and Tim Treloar voices Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.
It’s hard to describe these Doctors as you only hear them through static and most of what they’re saying is so soft, you’ll have to turn the volume up just to hear them. One, Two and Three do play a part in this story though. They communicate and help the other Doctors, but once you listen to it yourself, you’ll realize that it’s just a variation of what happened with the First Doctor in The Three Doctors.
Also part of the peanut gallery is all the other companions who aren’t Charley, Ace, Peri, Nyssa and Leela. The voices are so garbled most of the time, I doubt you’ll be able to spot every secondary companion involved in this story without TARDIS wikia, but worry not, they don’t do much except provide a cool language barrier between you and your music speakers.
“So…are you seriously telling me, all those blokes: Old man white hair, Beatles haircut, frilly shirt, long scarf big eyes, cricket boy, Joseph and his amazing Technicolor dream coat and Lord Byron? All of them, they were you?” – Ace perfectly summing up the Doctors.
Quite possibly my favorite quote in Doctor Who for…well ever! As mentioned, these companions do feature prominently in the story, aiding their respective Doctors for the foremost part as they try to solve the story’s mystery, but after that, the companions start vanishing. No. I don’t mean they get lost; they literally disappear from the timeline. It was also eerily entertaining when I realized that the five girls were disappearing in the exact order I wanted them to. After all, least favorite goes first. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go?
How does this story hold up against other Multi-Doctor Specials? The ranking, in this author’s opinion, goes something like this:
- The Day of the Doctor – 9.4/10
- The Light at the End – 8.8/10
- The Two Doctors – 8/10
- The Three Doctors – 7.6/10
- The Four Doctors – 7.5/10
- Time Crash – 7.3/10
- The Sirens of Time – 7/10
- The Five Doctors – 6/10
- Dimensions in Time – 2/10
- Zagreus – 1/10
So! If you’re thinking about making The Light at the End your first Big Finish audio adventure, but you’re worried that there are some elements in this story that you just won’t understand because it relies on previous audios, then don’t worry. All you need to know is that Charley Pollard is travelling with the Eighth Doctor. Apart from that, this story is a once off.
Be warned though, this story is one of those that requires at least two viewings before you fully understand what’s happening/happened/will happen. It’s very wibbly-wobbly. Hearing wibbly-wobbly, you might think it’s just lip service coming from me (check out the slang I’m busting out), but I assure you, it’s not! I didn’t just put that in because it sounded funny. This story has a ridiculously large timey-wimey ball (yes, even bigger than The Day of the Doctor) that even had me mildly confused the first time. Hopefully you can avoid this by paying 100% attention the first time. If not, don’t worry. The ball manages to clear itself up at the end and although it could be considered on par with some of Steven’s best timey-wimey plotlines, this story does include a spectacular Rewatch Bonus which will make you enjoy this story even more the second time round.