Back in 1992, the eight Virgin New Adventure was Mark Gatiss’ first official brush with Doctor Who, and while both premise and resolution are entirely agreeable, this new adaptation draws attention to some of the shortcomings in the way he’s taken two ostensibly disparate ideas and bolted them onto a third.
The overriding idea is of an actor whose career is behind him, and what happens when his memories of playing the eponymous professor on TV (a proxy for Gatiss’ beloved Quatermass) start to come alive. However, and doubtlessly more obviously so in this version, Edmund Trevithick is actually only an ultimately inconsequential part of the story; what Gatiss is really doing is folding Quatermass and the Pit into the Doctor Who formula, mostly very successfully. But there’s a sense that by including both ideas – no matter how well they superficially sit together – the emphasis never quite resolves itself. The almost perfunctory way in which Trevithick departs the plot – in spite of the numerous scenes from the fictional drama that punctuate the play and the weight the scene is given – shows that the author(s) had no real notion of the trajectory the character should have been given.
Arriving in Crook Marsham in 1968, the seventh Doctor and Ace find a number of villagers disappearing later to turn up dead, in ways apparently associated with their memories of important incidents from their pasts. The evocation of the remoteness of the village from a world that had just experienced the Summer of Love is nicely done, and the juxtaposition of the local pub and the brand new radio telescope built on the site of a ruined castle – itself built on the site of an ancient quarry – ties comfortably into the cause of the deaths and the way that element of the plot resolves, no matter how contrived some of the ingredients might feel.
What’s really interesting is where Nightshade finds the Doctor and his companion; with McCoy’s incarnation considering retirement about as realistically as could plausibly be conveyed, Ace tentatively looks to begin a relationship with one of the locals with a view to staying on – and the way that thread ends will come as a surprise to listeners new to the story as well as those familiar with it. The Doctor’s frame of mind is equally well played, mirroring both the titular professor’s story and that of the parent series’ first departure, giving the drama much of its intrigue and most of its depth – and even canonising the recent fashion for having various Doctors recite one another’s dialogue at conventions.
A fascinating and attractively odd addition to the Big Finish range, if not as satisfying as some of their original material.
DOCTOR WHO: NIGHTSHADE / AUTHOR: MARK GATISS, ADAPTED BY KYLE C. SZIKORA / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: SYLVESTER McCOY, SOPHIE ALDRED, JOHN CASTLE, SAMUEL BARNETT, KATHERINE JAKEWAYS, EDWARD HARRISON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW