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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Middle


Starring: Colin Baker
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 813 4
Release Date: 30 November 2017

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 subterranean populace pass their days in endless leisure, appears to be the perfect place for a “Wren Party”, as Flip calls it. 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 tell that the Doctor doesn’t fit in – and it’s not just his coat of many colours 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…

I was going to review The Middle, but then I thought, what the heck, I’ll review the whole thing! Seriously, though, this high-concept audio drama, which just so happens to form the middle part of a Sixth Doctor trilogy, might just as well have been entitled The Beginning, the Middle and the End – though admittedly that would be a bit of a mouthful.

The society depicted here is divided strictly according to age, into the Beginning (for those under 35), the Middle (for those between 35 and 70) and the End (for those over 70). Those at the Beginning enjoy a carefree existence of non-stop parties. Those in the Middle do all the admin work needed to maintain order on Formicia. Personally such a lifestyle fills me with horror, as I am very much in favour of deferred gratification, of getting work done before having fun, rather than the other way around. As for those at the end… that would be telling.

A comparison that immediately springs to mind when listening to this audio drama is Logan’s Run, with its depiction of life with an upper age limit. However, scriptwriter Chris Chapman’s story soon grows beyond that in surprising, poignant and often topical ways.

The social structure of Formicia is well tailored to the TARDIS crew of this trilogy, allowing each crew member to occupy a different ‘zone’ (though there is some crossover). The youthful and energetic Flip Ramon (Lisa Greenwood) greatly enjoys the endless entertainments of the Beginning. She is amusingly excited at the prospect to treating her friend Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) to a birthday bash – until she realises the price that must be paid. Constance turns 35 during the course of the story, and so experiences the transition into the Middle – where her Wren training proves beneficial to both her work ethic and to formulating escape strategies. The Doctor (Colin Baker) is, of course, well over 70 – and as a result faces an end-of-episode situation that seems impossible for him to avoid. The characters actually spend as much time at the Beginning and the End as they do in the Middle, but, as indicated above, any title reflecting that fact would be rather cumbersome, so The Middle it is.

Which brings us to the villain of the piece, the Middleman, who is played with just the right amount of sinister slipperiness by Mark Heap. This actor is always worth watching or listening to, whether his role be Eric Feeble in Stressed Eric, Brian in Spaced, Dr Statham in Green Wing, Jim in Friday Night Dinner or Robert Greene in Upstart Crow. I’m simply staggered that he has yet to be cast in a guest role in the television series of Doctor Who. Why on earth not? Well done to Big Finish for getting there first! Now Heap has added the Middleman to his list of memorable grotesques.

Also very worthy of note is Sheila Reid (who played Etta in Vengeance on Varos) as the elderly Janaiya, who shows great spirit even in her advanced years, and Chloe Rickenbach in multiple roles including the voice of the colony’s computer. The latter is disarmingly upbeat even when imparting depressing information, just like a present-day automated telephone service.

Though some of the set-up on Formicia does not stand up to very close scrutiny (for example, consider the logic of devices powered by memories – does no one on this planet suffer from dementia?), The Middle is far from being a middling adventure. In fact, it’s a shame it had to end.


Richard McGinlay

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