The Chimes of Midnight is one of those “holier-than-thou” Big Finish releases along with Spare Parts, and it was also among the first I listened to. While some stories my opinions differ from the majority, as all people find with things like this, but in terms of “The Chimes of Midnight”? No, it’s firmly one of my favourite Doctor Who stories period and I need no excuse to listen to it (though its Christmas setting does lend to a December re-listen…) So let’s finally get a review of The Chimes of Midnight up, shall we?
‘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 the victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out.
And time itself might well be the killer…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Believe it or not, this cover was the first Big Finish release to feature one of their own companions on the cover!
The whole two hours is a perfect example of atmosphere and mood setting. You could say “nothing happens in the whole first episode” but you’d miss the point. The Doctor and Charley spend a while in the dark, slowly uncovering the fact that they’re in a larder, but it’s full of fun dialogue and teases. Several scenes in the kitchen / servant’s quarters with the scullery maid Edith (Louise Rolfe), butler Mr. Shaughnessy (Lennox Greaves), the cook Mrs. Baddeley (Sue Wallace), the driver Frederick (Robert Curbishley) and Mary the maid (Juliet Warner) are not just an intentional “Upstairs, Downstairs” vibe of Edwardian manor house-ness, but they perfectly set the scene as we see Edith is a bit … dim, Frederick and Mary are having an affair that that Mrs. Baddeley is on to, and Shaughnessy is basically the leader of the whole staff. Why is all this important as we head into the next part? Well…
The Doctor and Charley are wondering about a completely empty house, unable to actually effect anything, until they notice Edith singing. They slowly “break into” the actual, house full of people and find her dead, having drowned herself in the sink… something that The Doctor rightfully points out is rather difficult. The rest of the staff don’t seem that bothered, saying that Edith was quite stupid, she “probably didn’t know it was impossible to drown yourself in a sink”. They treat The Doctor as a world famous sleuth who was an expected guest, and things start to get weirder. The Doctor and Charley start interviewing the staff to find the murderer and they all accuse one another of the deed because “they have shifty eyes, don’t they?”, including Mary blaming Edith, despite being the victim!
Funny how these three DWM preview comic panels don’t exactly make the story seem all that exciting…
At the strike of midnight Mrs. Baddeley is found dead, stuffed with her famous plumb pudding (which, for the record, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without…) and the same thing happens again with the interrogation. Charley then hears Edith talking to hear, and acting like they were old friends and eventually mentioning that “Edward Grove is alive”, before everything seems to reset and Edith is found dead again this time via a plunger being stuck to her face. As the pattern of weird deaths vaguely relating to the job the people have continues, The Doctor tries to go upstairs to see the lords and ladies but is always stopped by threat of death, then soon meets back up with Charley, who has begun to acclimatise to a role within the household, before everything resets again. The Doctor soon works much of it out when he finds out the manor house is called Edward Grove, and that, yes, the house had become sentient and was somehow looping time and killing off the staff only to reset everything again. The Doctor theorises that the old idea of a room “absorbing” the negative energy of witnessing something horrific could eventually lead it to gain sentience if it experiences it enough times, and given time is looping, that’s exactly what happened.
Edward Grove soon possesses the body of Shaughnessy and begins to talk to The Doctor, about how he’s finally alive and won’t allow anyone to leave, while at the same time Charley finds out how the house got trapped in a time loop in the first place. An older Edith was part of the Pollard household and loved Charley, so when she officially died on the R101 Edith committed suicide. Now Charley isn’t actually dead and has met Edith, so the paradox of Charley being both dead and alive, Edith having committed suicide and having no reason for suicide, all caused the loop as soon as Charley arrived with The Doctor. The climax sees Charley convince Edith that she is alive and thus breaking the loop, even though that doesn’t change Edith’s ultimate fate, just broke the unanswered question that was keeping it going. Edward Grove, defeated, is … I don’t know, sent into some void wherever sentient architecture goes and time returns to normal. Charley says that she felt herself dying in the R101 during the encounter and wonders what that meant, but The Doctor hand-waves it away…
Not a thing! Perfectly paced, really great script, well performed… not anything to complain about.
The vinyl re-release cover! I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or what, but I still prefer the original…
Charley being saved from her death on the airship R101 is seen in her debut story, “Storm Warning”, and it’s time-breaking consequences aren’t tied up until the 40th Anniversary story “Zagreus”.
Edith actually helped Charley sneak out to go off on her R101 adventure, as we hear in the audio story “The Fall of the House of Pollard”, from the Charley Pollard spin-off series.
The Chimes of Midnight more than lives up to its reputation as an all-out classic. Atmospheric, well performed with some great twists, dialogue and dark humour, it’s the audio story I’ve listened to the most, and I’m sure that won’t change. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas with The Chimes of Midnight.