11 December 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Chris Chapman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"It’s L/Wren Mrs Constance Clarke’s birthday - and Flip is determined to make it an anniversary to remember.

The futuristic colony of Formicia, where the pampered populace pass their days in endless leisure, seems the perfect place for a ‘Wren Party’. But all is not as it seems. Looking down from the Middle, the skyscraping tower that ascends as far as the colony ceiling, Formicia’s overseers can see that the Doctor doesn’t fit in - and it’s not just his coat that makes him conspicuous...

“The End is the Beginning,” say the propaganda-like posters all over Formicia. Because to be part of this perfect society comes at a price. And the Doctor's already in arrears."

Last time around, I joked that the Gods of co-incidence must have been smiling when Big Finish put out The Behemoth with its head-on tackling of slavery so close to Series 10. This month, we have suits that people wear and a faceless corporation exploiting humanity... ring any bells? I wonder if next month’s much-touted scare-fest spectacular will include a whole bunch of knock knock jokes?

Yes, it seems that someone at the branding department has been hitting snooze on their clock as of late, but pushing that aside, what can be made of The Middle? Thankfully a fair bit of good.

The first thing of note is how well the TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Flip and Constance is working. The two companions have never been as strong as they are here together, and the Sixth Doctor proves to be a nice foil to the excesses of them both. Chris Chapman, the play’s writer, ably uses the comedy potential of Flip and Lisa Greenwood as an actor to good effect, and also makes good use of Constance’s background as a Wren in the plot and its settings.

The script has some good, solid ideas behind it, but does perhaps suffer again from a case of the Co-incidences: the TARDIS crew just so happen to be talking about birthdays when they land on a planet where birthdays play a huge role and Constance just so happens to be approaching a plot-integral age. They then befriend a man who just so happens to be the father of another important regular character and knows a lot about the technology being used because of... reasons. It’s a bit too neat and co-incidental to be glossed over really.

Likewise, just as the story has echoes of Series 10, so too does the play have echoes of other plays surrounding it from Big Finish; the Sixth Doctor in an office block? See World Enough And Time (say, that would make a good TV story title one day...). Memories playing an integral, crucial role in proceedings? See Chapman’s own play, The Memory Box.

Indeed, The Middle feels like its roots are firmly embedded in Chapman’s first Big Finish outing, which is no bad thing as it was a very strong single-episode affair, but also means at times things feel a bit too familiar.

That’s not to take away from the good though, which include a strong guest cast (Mark Heap is especially fun) and a very sturdy opening episode: you can see why Big Finish were giving it away for free as a sampler.

Despite the air of having seen some of it before, the script still feels fresh for the most part, though I wish Colin Baker didn’t have to cry “Nooooo!” as often as he does here as it brings back nasty memories of Slipback.

These are mostly slight niggles though, as The Middle proves to be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, just not an overly original one. What it does do though it show Chapman as a writer worth paying attention to, and is a good case for this being one of the Sixth Doctor’s strongest TARDIS teams.

Overall, this one is far from a middling affair.



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