An English Gentleman: Even the Doctor is partial to twisting his ankle, something that is usually reserved for his companions. Tegan describes the Doctor as a 'posho', suggesting the title of Time Lord speaks for itself. It always serves as a good dramatic device when the Doctor knows about the truth about the horrors of history to come. There was a stifling feeling of Androzani about this story too, that the Doctor is swept along in the events despite trying to fight against the tide. He's just trying to get away but fate seems to conspire to force him to live these terrifying events. As time travellers they have to remember that they have to see things they were never supposed to see.
Mouth on Legs: Tegan has a bit of a problem with the class system of this time, specifically the class divide between above stairs and below. She fulfils the same purpose as Donna in Planet of the Ood, reminding the audience of the inhumanity of the slave trade and how rich men leech off the poor in order to build their business empires. Like Donna she's not forward about coming backwards about it either. She cannot understand how workers can be consider such a disposable commodity, how they aren't treated as people. Is she always this argumentative? Of course she is. There's an invaluable insight into Tegan at one point in this story that explains a little of why she is so abrasive in her attitude. She questions what she doesn't understand, probably a little too harshly but if somebody has the nerve to stand up to her then she finds that she learns something. This is Tegan's first real slice of brutal history - she might have visited the time of the Great Plague but she wasn't privvy to any of the suffering that the people endured at the time. This time she is right in the thick of it, watching as the militia charge the crowds and cause mortal wounds.
Alien Orphan: Not a princess but from somewhere a little more exotic than Cheadle Hume. Nyssa admits that she isn't very good with babies, something that will be rectified in the future as fans of the range are well aware of. From this vantage point it sounds like she is going to be a natural. Nyssa comes to the conclusion that she has had every handed to her on a plate in her life too but at least in her case it hasn't spoilt her character. The Doctor has taught Nyssa that they always need to try and make things better. Nyssa is as up close and personal as it is possible to be in this story, befriending one of the protestors, discovering her secret and narrowing avoiding being killed in her place. It is rare to see the daughter of Traken unleash her anger the way she does here which makes it all the more impressive. Nothing can placate her, she wants justice for the murder of Cathy's child and she will go to any lengths to get it.
Standout Performance: Peter Davison has been given some terrific acting opportunities of late, certainly in the last two trilogies but this has been his most mesmerising performance for many a year. The moral indignation of which he bellows at the yeoman on what has become a battlefield is a thing to behold. For once he has every right to size up the oppressors and judge them viciously.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'It seems like rich boys dressing up and playing at justice.'
'Time travellers need to have brave hearts.'
Great Ideas: The TARDIS doesn't much care for the Industrial Revolution. Immediately Paul Magrs sets up a believable, flawed family unit for the story to focus on. They're a struggling working class family and one of their number is in touch with the protestors that are the catalyst for the bloody massacre that is to come. As soon as the 'speechifiers' are mentioned, I couldn't see this story ending well. There is an ominous tone to the piece as early as that. People are starving, poor and desperate and they are being pushed around by those who have a bit of money behind them. That's the nub of the complaint that the protestors are gathering for. The trouble with these peaceful protests is that they can so easily get out of hand or appear to be getting out of hand, the 'peace-keeping' forces feel threatened and violence erupts. It's catch-22 because you need to make something of a fuss to be heard but the consequence of your pleas being listened could be as extreme as mass murder. The story captures the unnerving atmosphere of a mass gathering turning into a riot a little too authentically. I felt as if I was part of the crowd, stifled, crushing, terrified. William forcing his father to face up to the truth of his actions is quite gripping.
Audio Landscape: Grandfather clock ticking, a cock crowing, birdsong, smoke billowing out of the TARDIS, thundering machines grinding in the factory, knocking, dogs barking in the distance, a baby gurgling, horses whinnying, pegs being hammered, singing, music being played, chanting soldiers, the marching hooves, the horses trampling the crowds, the people screaming, firing field guns at the crowds.
Musical Cues: The music really stood out in this release as something a bit different from the norm, the beautiful choral moments connecting scenes in particular. I loved the booming bass of the factory scenes, making it seem like genuinely threatening place to work. Where Nigel Fairs' music was obvious and drowned out the action in Last of the Cybermen, he provides a startling and frightening musical backdrop to The Peterloo Massacre. He helps to build up a near intolerable feeling of tension leading up to the massacre itself.
Isn't it Odd: The revelation about Cathy and William...really isn't. But it does give the final episode some loose ends to wrap up otherwise it would be an extended coda after the massacre that wasn't really needed. Magrs has built his characters and the situation so well that this time is needed to deal with the regulars reaction to the massacre and to tie up the fates of all the cast.
Standout Scene: It might have been a manipulative move to introduce a baby just to kill it off in such an obscene way but that doesn't stop the moment being an extremely powerful one, especially thanks to Sarah Sutton's extraordinary performance at the end of episode three. How awesome for the regulars to be scoring acting opportunities like this. It just goes to show how vanilla so much of the main range is these days. The massacre is brutal and stark but the death of a child carries a weight all of its own.
Result: 'This city is about to go to war against its own people...' Unexpected, dramatic and different. The pure historical was in full operation during the first 100 releases of Big Finish Main Range but somewhere along the way with the transfer from Russell to Briggs the sub genre was all but wiped out. Hurrah to Paul Magrs then who has the chutzpah to tackle his difficult subject matter head on without a monster or a time travel twist in sight. He's always been one of my favourite character writers and a vivid cast was vital to make a story that dismisses science fiction work and fortunately he has assembled a collection of flawed, memorable characters to savage in this conflict. My buttocks were clenched early on thanks to an ominous tone and some truly haunting music but nothing could have prepared me for the massacre scenes themselves and the reaction of the regulars. Like The Massacre, it is a period of history that I had relatively little knowledge about and dramaticised in such a way I am not going to forget about the events in any hurry. I really want to applaud Jamie Anderson at the end of his first trilogy for his outstanding directorial work in all three stories. He's had three tonally diverse and challenging stories to bring to life and he has done so with real verve and skill. If there was ever an argument for fresh blood in the main range, Anderson is at the heart of it. It's very very rare for the main range to surprise me like this anymore and it's even more rare to provoke this kind of emotional response. Bravo to all concerned: 10/10