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Not so much a Big Finish as a damp squib
So I’ve listened to the first half of Patient Zero and oh god it’s dull. The premise appears to be that there’s some spirit living inside the TARDIS which has been there since The Chase and is invisible to all TARDIS occupants. It’s now taken over plummy, silver spoons and all the other cutlery in her mouth, Charley. That’s right, hundreds of years it’s been there. It even lists them one by one in a piece of fan-wank nerdy listing. This is their hook and it wouldn’t catch a stickleback.
Now of course being written by the supreme egotist Nick Briggs we can run through the checklist of Briggsisms.
Daleks? Check. Base Under Siege? Check. Plenty of middle-class people making a living from doing apparently nothing? Check. Nick Briggs writing himself another “comedy” cameo role which he plays with “an accent”? Check, bloody check.
So yet again he trots out his Daleks and on the CD extras we hear people gush about how he’s the only man on the planet who can do the voices. Rubbish. Anyone with a ring modulator can do it. If you pay attention to Doctor Who 1963-1989 you’ll notice that it’s not Nick Briggs doing the voices. Believe it or not other people can do a perfectly acceptable Dalek too! Who’d have thought? But he’s got a ring modulator you see! So he’s better than anyone else! Even if they all sound like Nick Briggs in different pitches!
It was often said during the eighties that all Dalek scripts had to be vetted and approved by Terry Nation’s people. This lead to a situation where Dalek stories came perhaps one a year, in most cases one per Doctor. Nowadays we have a glut, and not just on television. The Big Finish audio range is full to bursting with Dalek appearances. On television the 6th Doctor met Daleks once. On audio he’s met them (and Davros) so often that he now sneers, is sarcastic and mocks them at every moment. It demeans them and us as a viewing audience. The Daleks are the most evil, cunning creatures in the universe and now they’re having the piss taken out of them by the Doctor. It’s got beyond a joke. In Patient Zero we have yet another piece of writing which reduces them yet further in much the way that Star Trek ruined the Borg.
Let’s just briefly mention “the accent” again. In 1968 the Krotons had magnificent voices, speaking with rich resounding South African accents. When the Krotons were brought back by Big Finish recently (written by Nick Briggs of course) who gets to do the Kroton voices? You’ll never guess. Nick Briggs. Oh we need someone to play Ice Warriors? Hmm, says Nick Briggs, who can we cast? I know! Me! Is there any character he can’t cast himself as? Expect to hear him as a Sontaran, all Autons and as the next female companion, I shouldn’t wonder. Oh it’ll happen.
The tedious Return of the Krotons (listen for yourself) has them doing a cod-Brummie accent, again atrociously. He usually trots out cod-Brummie or cod-Cockney, mockney if you will. And being a terribly well-spoken middle class chap his cockney accent is about as believable as Nicholas Courtney’s in The Mind of Evil. It’s that bad, but it doesn’t stop him trotting it out at every possible occasion.
I tried listening to his stodgy dull, dull, dull, dull Dalek Empire series and hated every second. I tried, believe me I tried, I listened to the whole of the first series and it never reached any level of quality. Cyberman was slightly better, but again piffle. Go on, try to guess who played the Cybermen.
Listening to the Big Finish podcasts is an exercise in fawning and gushing. He seems to have surrounded himself with a group of yes-men who think he’s wonderful. In a recent podcast his employees were congratulating him on how good he was in the Torchwood series, a casting choice brought about by nepotism rather than talent, that’s fairly obvious. He was atrocious in it and it’s not just me that thinks so, it was a roundly ridiculed performance by most of fandom.
But I can’t recall the last Big Finish audio I actually enjoyed. Which is such a shame, as the first 28 Doctor Who audios were almost universally fabulous. I haven’t yet found an 8th Doctor audio I enjoyed (though Chimes of Midnight is good for the first three episodes) and that’s with me being a big fan of Paul McGann.
One of the complaints I had about Doctor Who Confidential is that it was just an excuse for all the crew of Who to gush at each other about how wonderful they all were. This came to a head for me after the nadir which was The Lazarus Experiment. Mark Gatiss failing to be a straight actor in a godawful story with the crappest CGI monster you’ll ever see. Not to mention Martha’s sister and mother being inexplicably around for no discernible reason. Watch it and hang your jaw in disbelief while they congratulate themselves for how much the CGI monster’s face looked like Mark Gatiss. I’ll bet even Mark Gatiss himself couldn’t recognise his face in it.
And this is the problem with Big Finish CD extras nowadays. Nick Briggs wants to have a little making of feature for each as a sort of memorial of the recording process, which is admirable, but every one sounds the same:
“we cast x because he/she has a range to his/her voice which we thought would be great.”
“this is such a great script, it’s better than any others I’ve read” (including the next one and the next one etc.)
and lots of gushing about what it’s like to be an audio director. The same. Every. Time.
I once heard Mr Briggs say that he cast someone as a cockney because they had a cockney accent and they would be perfect for the role. The inference in the way he said it (sorry, I can’t recall word-for-word what was said or I’d prove my point better) was that this person was working class and that he drafted them in to play a working class character because that was all they were good for. There does seem to be an over-reliance on middle-class actors at Big Finish with just about every character and every role played by people with received pronunciation. I realise this is something the middle-class honchos at Big Finish can’t help. It’s been said in studies that employers will tend to employ people like themselves and this is very evident at BF. I never truly understood what Christopher Eccleston meant about posh Doctors poshing about the universe until I noticed it in Big Finish. He was so right. Bless you Christopher Eccleston for opening my eyes. I’m not an advocate of class war, but I feel that in entertainment the working classes are not well represented. The BBC itself seems to be more interested in degrees and which university you went to than how much talent you have.
Now I know this comes across as an attack on Nick Briggs and it really isn’t. He’s probably a very nice chap who is very nice to get on with, but his audio work leaves me cold. I don’t like his writing, I don’t like his ideas for releases and I’m particularly brought out of the scene when I hear his voice, seemingly in every single release. He’s too recogniseable as a voice actor. He should realise his limitations and stand back.
Mr Briggs, please: be a bit more creative in your casting and get a few people around you who’ll tell you when you’re wrong.