Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Haunting of Malkin Place
Released on Big Finish towards the end of last month and available on wider release at the end of June, comes the next installment in the always popular Fourth Doctor adventures, starring Tom Baker. Following the previous entry in the sixth series Dethras (you can read my review here), The Haunting of Malkin Place sees the Doctor and Romana II (Lalla Ward) investigating the mysteries of the titular haunted house.
Here's the synopsis...
Whilst on the way to visit the town where Henry James lived, a chance encounter with a spiritualist on a train sends the Doctor and Romana on the trail of a ghost. It's the most convincing case of haunting he's ever heard of, he tells them. And so, on their arrival, does it appear to be.
Things go bump in the night at Malkin Place. The voice of a crying child. Birds bursting into flight. Strange movements in a seance.
The Doctor is determined there must be a rational explanation. But is science always the answer to everything?
Audio dramas are perfect medium for telling really good ghost stories and with the magic of Doctor Who, this latest installment nails it. Writer Phil Mulryne is clearly influenced by horror, something he goes into during the interview extras and there is more than a touch of The Woman In Black in the setting, a large house on the edge of a marsh haunted by strange noises and tragic memories of the past. Nicholas Briggs certainly delivers atmosphere in spades and it's a great opportunity to see the Romana II era fully embrace the gothic horror themes that were so apparent in the early years of Tom Baker's run.
Tom Baker is truly excellent here as he drags Romana off to study the birthplace of Henry James and encounters two strangers on a steam train off to perform a seance at Malkin Place. Baker knows his doctor incredibly well and there was a nice balance of curiosity with a large dose of wit and sarcasm. His disparaging of Simon Jones' spiritual medium Talbot is hilarious and Lalla Ward plays a great double act as Romana, naturally, refuses to believe that ghosts are real.
There is a great build up too in the 'hauntings' taking place at Malkin Place as young woman Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) finds herself on edge by the sounds of children echoing through the empty house while she grieves for her recently dead father and embraces the return of her brother Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery), who was presumed dead in the horrific battles of World War I. By the time the Doctor and Romana arrive with Talbot and his assistant Tom (Rikki Lawton) the stage is set for a dramatic finale as the seance ends with the Doctor's disappearance.
It's a great little cliffhanger and it isn't until part two that The Haunting of Malkin Place plays its hand and reveals the 'scientific' reason behind the ghostly happenings. Maurice encountered an alien device from a future historian in the trenches of the First World War and was transported across time and space to his childhood home years later. It's a well developed explanation that never feels like a cheat; the sense that this rift through which Maurice has travelled is tearing the place and time apart and the ghosts are echoes of children in the future are layered in a way that you are never sat scratching your head or trying to pick the logic apart.
It also adds a greater level of tragedy as Maurice realises that he had to go back with the Doctor's aid and Beatrice faces the prospect of losing her brother again. Sheehan and Cauthery both deliver powerful, engaging performances; in fact the acting throughout is top notch. Just as he did with the hauntings, Briggs is able to capture the horrors of the war in a vivid manner too; the idea of the soldiers drowning in valleys of mud as they march closer to the enemy is a horrifying idea. And when Maurice eventually returns, you feel for every chilling step he takes.
The story does end with a number of bittersweet twists, from the Doctor revealing that he interfered with his past self to play the ghost in the attic he and Romana debated in the opening of part one to Maurice sacrificing himself to save his friend Jack (played by writer Phil Mulryne). The best of all has to be the reveal that housekeeper Mrs Mountford (Denise Black) has been a ghost all along, allowing the episode to have its cake and eat it in a very satisfying manner.
The Haunting of Malkin Place is a perfectly paced two parter, full of atmosphere and dread as a good ghost story should be. There are great performances among all the cast and both Baker and Ward are given something to get their teeth into. This story was a treat for fans of the Fourth Doctor and will be hard to top as the rest of series six continues...
Another atmospheric trailer for upcoming adventure Fourth Doctor adventure Subterrania and a handful of delightful interviews following the usual Big Finish tradition. Tom Baker as always, continues to delight in person as much as his Doctor and it is clear his passion for the show has not waned. Lalla Ward also gets her insight into her character, taking joy in the fact that the Romana of this tale did not want to believe in ghosts.
There are some nice moments with writer Phil Mulryne, discussing his appreciation for horror movies and plenty of love all round for Doctor Who from all the cast, particularly Denise Black relishing her chance to play a role in Big Finish for a second time...