What’s it about: On the human colony planet Nocturne, there is suffering and blight, tragic symptoms of an ages-old war. Never the less, Nocturne is also one of the Doctor's favourite places in all of time and space, because it is here that a late, great flowering of human art - the High Renaissance - is taking place. He has been back here, many times. It is a place of music and art which he finds inspirational and uplifting. It is a place he wants to share with Ace and Hex. It's always been a safe haven for him, a world of friends and laughter. But with strict Martial Law imposed on the front-line city, and the brutal scourge of interstellar warfare vicing the system, how safe can anyone really be? There is a note of death in the wild, midnight wind…
The Real McCoy: I think Big Finish has finally got a hang of the seventh Doctor in the last handful of stories and Nocturne continues that trend. McCoy plays the part with wonderful wit and relaxation. Its wonderful to hear his two friends mocking him gently and affectionately. Somewhere along the line these three have become a very entertaining trio with Ace and Hex as aware of his faults as he is of theirs. Keeps his friends baffled and in the dark and drips feeds them information on a need to know basis so he looks clever and they look stupid. He likes the grand reveal and takes them to places and tells them nothing about it. Nocturne is just about one of his favourite planets because art blossoms in the adversity of wartime. He talks longingly of the great art works that were created and long remembered from this time period and how he tries to visit whenever he can. The Doctor has friends and delights in being able to show his companions somewhere where he is welcomed. The Doctor has returned to Nocturne without changing his face, a rare delight. He hasn’t brought guests as feisty as this since Senora Jovanka! The Doctor has never been comfortable with the familiars because too much can go wrong with robots and he’s seen it done before. He has foreknowledge, secret information that he is not willing to share, not even with his own friends. The truth is a funny thing because even when he speaks it people tend not to believe him. Death and mystery seems to accompany him but no more than anybody else in his line of work. In a quiet moment the Doctor says sorry for not always giving Ace all the information she needs but in his defence he only does it to protect her and Hex. He sounds genuinely sorry to have once again have put them both in danger. The Doctor orders Oberst to put her gun away because he doesn’t like them. He’ll be back to Nocturne, sooner or later, when its more quiet.
Oh Wicked: ‘Too much temptation…must tease Hex!’ should have been a fun line but Sophie Aldred fudges it. Its just Ace unless you want something snapped out. Ace well and truly puts her foot in it with a man with a missing foot! After all the great material she has been given of late this isn’t the best of stories for the character. She really works when she is sympathising with Alleron and trying to deal with his death but during the dramatic moments she lacks any kind of conviction. I always find she works very well when she is given quiet, understated material but just like McCoy, Aldred finds it hard to underplay the more shouty moments and sounds simply hysterical. What is this fool talking about? Go and listen to Olivier screaming for help at the end of episode one and compare and contrast with Aldred playing out the same scene at the end of episode three and you’ll see how the former creates drama and the latter melodrama. However Ace does share an intimate moment of friendship with the Doctor at the beginning of part four and its rather touching.
Sexy Scouse: How relaxed does Hex sound in this story? Philip Olivier has really eased into the role and shares some very fine chemistry with McCoy and Aldred. He went to the kind of school that went on a trip to Venice.
Standout Performance: I’m very pleased to see Trevor Bannister playing a role in Doctor Who as I have long been a fan of Are You Being Served. His recent death gives this story an extra feeling of poignancy.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sound, art, my dear everything around us is art in some form or other! The buildings the sky, the sound of music or a brush of paint on canvas…even the war!’
‘Pure living music!’
‘This particular masterpiece is deadly. No art however perfect should be valued over life.’
‘Bang your pot man!’
Great Ideas: One of the most enchanting original locations Big Finish has offered up for a while, a place of romance and art. Glass City on Nocturne smells like Venice because of the canals. There is a war on and it has been going on for a long time. The greatest collection of artists and creators since the Florentine renaissance. The ‘inky black’ recital is truly the worst poetry known to man! Familiars are all girls because research shows that people are more comfortable with the female form but Ace wonders if sexism is still rife in the future. Respected artist Lukaz Morane is murdered and his house is torched and Hex being the first person on the scene was arrested and accused. Killed by the noise that a really bad feeling would make. Alloran tells the story of what he discovered in the archives before the war, ancient, alien scripts found on a distant planet – it was information on bio harmonics, a completely kind of music, pure and raw and beautiful but potentially deadly. His brother made a copy of the notes before Alloran went to war but he made him promise that he wouldn’t do anything with them. Bio harmonics is using your own planet as a musical instrument, to create music that was an expression of their own world. Lillian tries to intercede as they are about kill the music, trying to save the most destructive of art forms.
Audio Landscape: Thunder rumbling, lapping waves of the canals, the mechanical footsteps of the familiars, polite chatter, I like the squeaky familiar voices, crackling fire, there is an impressive clap of thunder in part four followed by an almighty downpour, banging pots.
Musical Cues: For an adventure about exploring art through music I thought the score was a little dull and was doubly surprised to see it was produced by the usually reliable Steve Foxon. The music we hear Korbin playing sounds tinny and synthetic and the piano theme Alloran plays is plain and lacks the bounce of the best of the instrument. Even the Beethoven sounds horridly artificial.
Isn’t it Odd: Oddly the cover makes Sylvester McCoy’s head look like a huge misshapen crystal and cause my husband (who isn’t the actors greatest fan) to laugh his head off when he sat at the computer to do some work! The first scene is pretty nonsensical and quite annoying – Lomaz emoting crazily over a whole lot of noise! Not the most inspiring of beginnings. The cliffhanger to episode one comes completely out of the blue, it has been a pleasingly quiet and relaxed episode and suddenly Hex is screaming about some unknown noisy danger. It doesn’t mean anything to the audience because we don’t have a clue what is going on. Whereas his direction was right on the mark throughout Circular Time there is something a little disjointed about how this story has been put together with long stretches of silence and only the barest minimum of sound effects. It founds half finished. The second episode is remarkably bland – a lot of discussion about an ambiguously unknown threat and I really don’t feel any great danger from the Familiars. Cate Reeney is an astonishingly irritating character, she’s one of those police officers that turns up every now and again to hamper the Doctor’s chances of solving the crime and to accuse him. The actress sounds like a petulant child rather than a serious professional. DI Menzies, she aint. Lillian aside, I thought the guest characters were all pretty unmemorable. The end of episode one and episode three are identical! You would have thought that they would have gone for a really creepy sound effect to portray the sound of a planet but instead it sounds rather like a rock band smashing up the garage during a jamming session.
Standout Scene: Poor Lothar, I felt more emotion for him being told that his poetry is abominable during the climax than the actual events!
Result: Average, unfortunately. Nocturne has the feeling of an unfinished production – the script feels like it needs another few drafts to iron out the repetitive nature of the plot and dullness of the characterisation but what I was really shocked about was John Ainsworth’s direction which is usually top notch but lacks any kind of sparkle. For a story that should exploit the audio medium to the nth degree its remarkably quiet and unengaging. There were a few bright areas – the regulars are mostly written for very well and Sylvester McCoy grows ever more confident on audio and Philip Olivier really can’t do much wrong in my book (as an actor, not a looker!). I feel that I am being far too unkind on a story that doesn’t really get anything too wrong but on the flip side it really doesn’t distinguish itself very much either. After Circular Time’s unforgettable kick start into a new era it is a shame that we should plummet into blander territory quite so quickly: 5/10
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/