Following on from the excellent Invaders From Mars, this is a delightful black comedy with a distinct Christmas feel so probably best enjoyed in mid-December with a glass of ginger wine and a mince pie… The Doctor and Charley arrive in an Edwardian house in 1906. Finding themselves embroiled in a strange death, they turn detective and are surprised to find the staff extremely accommodating to their enquiries. The staff include the plum pudding obsessed cook Mrs Badderley, ever-so-humble butler Mr Shaunuaghsey, a chauffeur who seems unsure of the car he drives and a maid who seems overly-friendly with Charley.
The story repeats itself with increasingly odd ways of death being described, the staff simply accept (all too readily) that each death is a suicide. The chimes of midnight heralding another death. There are moments of laugh-out-loud humour in a drama which plays like Groundhog Day meets Who‘s own Carnival Of Monsters (wherein a series of characters seem doomed to forever repeat their actions). The final episode lacks fresh ideas and the actual conclusion is disappointing after such a brilliant premise. Robert Shearman’s witty script would perhaps have worked better as an hour-long special rather than as a four-parter. Shearman was asked to contribute to the return of Doctor Who in 2005, for which he wrote the pivotal story Dalek.
The Edwardian house setting invites comparisons with previous Doctor Who stories. There are nods to Black Orchid‘s accepted mistaken identity (even repeating the line -“…you are the Doctor?”) and Ghostlight‘s idea of the house playing a significant role in the companion’s past. There are several links with the TV series Upstairs Downstairs, Mrs Badderley is named after actress Angela Badderley who played the cook Mrs Bridges and the maid’s character is reminiscent of Ruby from the ITV series.
Paul McGann seems at ease in the role of The Doctor and India Fisher is very good as upper class adventurer Charley Pollard, unlike her stagey sounding “principal boy” delivery in earlier adventures. Lennox Greaves as Shaunaughsey steals every scene he’s in, often heightening the black comedy with his eccentric detachment to each death.
Aware of its festive feel, BBC7 broadcast the drama just before Christmas in 2005 and again in 2006. The Chimes Of Midnight would work well on television and as such is an enjoyable listen, oh and you’ll never look at plum pudding in the same way!
The Chimes Of Midnight is also available as an audio download from Big Finish productions.