Big Finish Who Review: The Chimes of Midnight
By Reece Morris Jones
Released February 2002
Hallowe'en 1938. 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring...
But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight.
Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the victims don't stay dead. Time is running out.
This story, that arrives just about half way into the 8th Doctor and Charley Pollard's adventures together, is unusual. Part detective story, part horror, part personal tragedy, its unconventional formula allows it to hit the story sweet spot of keeping you on your toes and wanting to listen to more. In fact the first time I listened to it, I was so engrossed I completely forgot I was meant to be going out for a meeting with someone!
The Doctor and Charley land in the servant’s part of an old Edwardian mansion, populated by the staff of the master upstairs. Drawn by a blood curdling scream they dash to help, only to find it's too late. As the hours move to midnight, one by one the staff all die. Then it all starts again...
As such, it's a break from the usual murder mystery fable – the Doctor and Charley are aware they are trapped in a story that re-writes itself on the fly to account for any interruptions, so they have to figure out the cause and the real culprit fast, before they become a part of the act.
The Chimes of Midnight keeps air fraught with tension at all times by being lean and mean. Nothing is wasted in the script and as soon as one part of the solution of the mystery is unearthed and threatens to turn things stale, it metamorphoses to catch the Doctor and Charley (and us, the listener) off guard.
Constantly on the back foot and forced to try and work within ill defined and every changing rules, things are kept unpredictable. It was one of those rare tales that kept me (a longtime Who fan) feeling like I didn't know what would happen next. Things are kept tense by a soundtrack that enforces how everything feels unstoppable, always containing a tick of a clock one way or another, as a reminder of that fateful countdown to midnight.
What's most surprising is the emotional core at the centre of the story, that not only plays into Charley and the Doctor's larger arc, but also covers the fate of those 'downstairs', revealing a life that isn't that great if you don't happen to fit into the working life of servitude and what happens when the only person who cares about you is snatched from your grasp.
All in all, it's a great story. Perhaps more low key than many would expect from Doctor Who, but it reaps the rewards of that. Complex, gripping and all over a superb production, it's one of the high points of the 8th Doctors travels with Charley. Perhaps one of the best of the 8th’s and, dare I say it, all time Doctor Who stories. If you have any interest in the show, you owe it to yourself to buy this.