Doctor Who
The Chimes of Midnight

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 58 0, BFPDWCD8G
Available now

The Doctor and Charley land inside an Edwardian mansion on Christmas Eve. They don't remain in festive spirits for long, however. Someone - or something - is killing off the servants of the house in the most brutal and macabre manner possible, each murder taking place precisely on the chime of the hour...

I run the risk of appearing to be fixated with Sapphire and Steel. Having recently compared the BBC Doctor Who novel Anachrophobia to that vintage ITC series, I am now going to raise the subject again.

However, you can't really blame me this time, since the sleeve notes confirm that writer Robert Shearman's pitch to Big Finish described this adventure as a cross between Sapphire and Steel and Upstairs Downstairs. There are certainly plenty of spooky goings-on here, with time itself as a likely culprit for the killings, fast-forwarding the clocks towards the next hourly murder. An examination of class divisions is also included, and is splendidly realised by the actors portraying the servants, each of whom looks disparagingly down upon those who happen to be lower on the social ladder than themselves.

Elements of this tale are also strongly reminiscent of Ghost Light. The "haunted house" setting (albeit in a slightly more recent historical period), the sinister ticking and chiming of a grandfather clock, and Russell Stone's creepy incidental music all conjure up a flavour of that offbeat 1989 Who serial. But Shearman's script exhibits an even darker sense of humour than that of Marc Platt, featuring some staggeringly sick and twisted deaths, each of which alludes to the function fulfilled by the unfortunate servant in question.

The opening instalment, in which the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley (India Fisher) find themselves unable to interact with the seemingly frozen timeline of the mansion, is similar to the first episode of The Space Museum - though to compare this magnificently realised work with that 1965 plodder does not seem very flattering at all!

The plot also bears a basic resemblance to Shearman's previous Big Finish masterpiece, The Holy Terror (a hard act to follow), which similarly featured a group of characters unknowingly trapped within a cyclical sequence of events. But I'm sure we can forgive him for that (just as we can forgive Big Finish for accidentally re-running a line of back cover blurb from last month's Invaders from Mars). Beyond its basic framework, this story establishes its own distinct style and appeal.

I have heard The Chimes of Midnight! You should hear it too.

Richard McGinlay