Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Middle

November's Doctor Who main range release for Big Finishsees continues the adventures of Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and travelling companions Flip Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) and Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) in their second adventure of 2017.

The Middlewritten by Chris Chapman and directed by Jamie Anderson, has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 31st December. Here's the synopsis...

"It’s L/Wren Mrs Constance Clarke’s birthday - and Flip is determined to make it an anniversary to remember.

The futuristic colony of Formicia, where the pampered populace pass their days in endless leisure, seems the perfect place for a ‘Wren Party’. But all is not as it seems. Looking down from the Middle, the skyscraping tower that ascends as far as the colony ceiling, Formicia’s overseers can see that the Doctor doesn’t fit in - and it’s not just his coat that makes him conspicuous...

“The End is the Beginning,” say the propaganda-like posters all over Formicia. Because to be part of this perfect society comes at a price. And the Doctor's already in arrears."

As usual, I'll be joined by my son Ben, the biggest Doctor Who fan this side of Gallifrey, to the review this latest release. Spoilers of course, if you haven't listened to it yet...

The Review...

Baz Greenland (aged 36)

Like Paul McGann, Colin Baker's Doctor has certainly benefited from the expanded stories of Big Finish, most notably in new companions Flip and Constance. This latest release, the second of a trilogy of stories with the trio, certainly exemplifies their individual strengths, but also how well they work as a unit.

The Middle is a classic Doctor Who story, examining what the show does best; the morality of humanity. There's a simply but effective concept at play; up to the aged of 34, the inhabitants of Formicia are allowed to enjoy life to the full, are then whisked away to work in 'The Middle' from ages 35 to 70 and then suited up in battle armour to fight in the 'wars' at the end. It's a strong examination of the frivolity of youth, the responsibilities of middle age and how the elderly are discarded and let loose without the constraints of employment.

Naturally, each of the TARDIS trio are allowed to explore these split societies. Flip enjoys herself with fairgrounds, parties and spa treatments, but her good conscience soon exposes the insidious nature of it all, and she teams up with a local rebel to fight the authorities. Constance - celebrating her 35th birthday - finds herself whisked into an office to work her long years away; again, her penchant for peril leads her to team up with the one man seeking to bring the system down.

Most fun of all is the Doctor, who is suited up in battle armour and teaming up with band of fearless OAPs, headed up by Sheila Reid's Janaiya (Reid of course, previously appeared in the Sixth Doctor story Vengeance on Varos). It's interesting that we see another exploration of the Doctor making a stance against war even as he is conscripted - a theme explored heavily in the recent Eighth Doctor box set for Big Finish, The Time War Vol 1. His resistance puts Flip in danger, bringing her over into the battle, before it is revealed to be all one big horrible illusion; a test at the hands of a nefarious company completing psychological testing on a group of planetary hubs.

It's a fun end to an intelligent tale that is filled with plenty of great twists (the Doctor's 'euthanasia' at the end of part 1, Flip being hunted because of the Doctor's defiance in part 2). There are also some tense moments, Janaiya being forced to hunt down and kill her own daughter and granddaughter being a particularly thrilling scene.

But overall, it is the Sixth Doctor, Flip and Constance at their very best, each given something to get their teeth into as they explore the nefarious society of Formicia. The Middle is certainly one of the strongest Doctor Who main releases from Big Finish this year.

Ben Greenland (aged 11)

Does the Middle mark a first? The first companion birthday in any medium? (If it doesn’t, don’t blame me)

For “the middle” of their adventures, The Middle is a very strong story for Colin Bakers Doctor. I think it is far superior to The Behemoth, and the storyline is interesting. If you are 0-34, you get freedom in the beginning, 35-69, you must pay off all your freedom from the beginning, in the middle, 70-over, you must have an armoured exoskeleton strapped to you, and fight an alien army which are just holograms that can kill.

It is also interesting that the Doctor must fight a fake alien army, after being conscripted to fight in the time war in The Time War Vol 1. I think the story is named the middle as a double meaning. One,  It is Constance’s birthday and she is sent to the middle. Two, it is the middle of the trilogy. I had a question in my head after the middle. Where would William Hartnell go? His age says the middle, his looks say the end.

I also enjoyed the trailer for the upcoming Static. I love a horror story…

The Extras...

A trailer for the final Sixth Doctor, Flip and Constance tale of the year, the chilling-sounding Static. A potentially perfect ghost story in time for Christmas...

At almost twelve minutes, the music suite for The Middle is also wonderful. From the atmospheric synth sounds to emotive piano solo and a bombastic end, this is pure 80's Doctor Who music and a delight to listen to.

Finally, the usual high standard of interviews with the cast and crew, from Sheila Reid's reminiscing about Vengeance on Varos, to Lisa Greenwood and Miranda Raison discussing the close, sisterly bond of their two companion characters. A great addition to the strong story at the heart of this release.

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