We’ve met Winston Churchill before in Victory of The Daleks and since then we’ve seen him in The Wedding of River Song. The Doctor however, has met Winston Churchill a number of times, and we’re about to discover what the Time Lord and the former Prime Minister got up to in this new box set from Big Finish called The Churchill Years. Comprising of four stories, The Churchill Years is set throughout the life of the Prime Minister; the final release entitled The Chartwell Metamorphosis features the Eleventh Doctor and Lily Arwel, whom we first met in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, but will it be a victory or will we have to just have to bugger on?
Comfortably retired to his home at Chartwell, Churchill plans to live out his days in peace, in the company of his butterflies – if his attendants would just leave him alone.
But it isn’t simply Lepidoptera breeding in the gardens, as a far more sinister species is about to emerge from its cocoon – and is ready to feast on something more than just the shrubberies.
Surrounded on all sides, the former Prime Minister must put a life’s worth of experience into action in order to win the day. Can his new nurse Lily Arwell offer her assistance?
It’s almost a shame that I have to write this review; not because I don’t enjoy reviewing Big Finish, I absolutely adore it in fact, but because it means I’m at the end of this box set. The stories were varied and featured a number of different incarnations of everyones favourite blue box travelling Time Lord, in The Chartwell Metamorphosis we join Winston in his latter years, being cared for by two nurses, the very stern and militaristic Mrs. Whitaker (I’m probably a descendant, who knows? Whitaker is spelt the same way and everything) and the more youthful and caring Lily Arwell, whom we first met in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, the… less than stellar Christmas special.
My first concern was whether Lily would be as interesting, captivating and engaging as Churchill’s previous companion in the last release, Living History in the form of Kazran Sardick. Sadly, we don’t really hear much of Holly Earl’s portrayal of Lily in the opening quarter of the story, instead we have a lot of Churchill’s narration of the action. I think it would have been nice if Lily had narrated her opening scenes, as she was away from Winston when taking parts in these events.
If there’s one televisual episode that I was reminded of whilst listening to The Chartwell Metamorphosis, it was the Series 4 episode, The Unicorn and The Wasp, I won’t tell you why but I’m sure you might be able to work it out.
Hearing Winston Churchill be so angry at Lily is rather unexpected, but in some ways I found this more spiky Winston rather refreshing; like in Hounded it shows that the former Prime Minister isn’t a saintly, perfect human being; he had his off days too, and rather irrational, especially in his later life.
The more I listened to this release, the more I was reminded of The Unicorn and The Wasp; not just from the twist, but also in the way Winston and Lily go around trying to solve the mystery. Like in Living History too, Churchill’s fanboyishness gets the better of him, last time whilst meeting Julius Caesar and this time with the… irregular butterfly. Churchill also comes up with an alternative title for this release, “The Rebirth of Mrs. Whitaker”. I quite like it actually. Well done Winston.
It’s not until after the halfway mark that there’s any mention of the Doctor; with Lily realising that both her and Churchill are well out of their depth with the events of what had started to transpire. Even though the Doctor has been summoned, he doesn’t arrive in the story immediately after like one might anticipate; the TARDIS must have been on the blink. Again.
It’s not often that I’m really surprised by an element of a Doctor Who story, usually I can kind of have a gist as to what’s going on, and how everything will transpire, but in
The Rebirth of Mrs. Whitaker, I mean The Chartwell Metamorphosis, there’s a certain element that could be considered quite small in the scheme of the story, but really threw me off. All I will say is that the noise in the attic isn’t what I expected.
If someone said that this series would end with Winston Churchill arguing with a giant butterfly hybrid, chances are I wouldn’t have believed you; but that’s pretty much what happens. Churchill argues with a giant butterfly hybrid using a lot of Latin, the giant butterfly hybrid, like most of us listening, doesn’t understand the Latin at all, which rather riles Winston.
What I didn’t quite understand is why on the cover they show rather prominently the Eleventh Doctor, as even though he’s mentioned, he doesn’t show up until the very nick of time, acting slightly as a Doctor-ex-machina, getting Churchill and Lily out of harms way when all hope seemed lost. If it wasn’t for this rescue, there’s not really any need for the Doctor in this story at all, he doesn’t really add anything to the narrative apart from explaining the more alien side of what’s transpired in this story.
One thing we did learn about the Doctor and the TARDIS in this story is that, rather conveniently, the TARDIS has a butterfly room; meaning he’s able to offer the giant butterfly hybrids a compromise, offering to take them to a new planet as long as they leave Earth. The story then ends with a rather large, unexpected bout of violence, being rather too disturbing I feel for this to have been shown on the TV version of the show. That’s one good thing about the audios, they can suggest violence or gore or something horrific, and it’s purely up to the listeners imagination as to how far it goes.
In conclusion, I really liked hearing Winston whilst he’s past his prime, having to rely on others more than he had done in the previous three releases. I have to admit that when this box set was first announced, I wasn’t entirely sure that it would work, it wasn’t the first idea that shot into my head when Big Finish announced that they had finally been given the rights to producing new stories based on the new series of Doctor Who. After listening to all four releases in this box set though, I can wholeheartedly suggest that anyone who likes the new series of Doctor Who should definitely invest in The Churchill Years, the four stories are so vastly different, that it will cater to everyone who has the pleasure of listening to it.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Chartwell Metamorphosis, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase The Churchill Years, click here to be taken to the Big Finish website. The Churchill Years is currently on special offer until the end of the month, costing £20.00 for both the download and the physical copies.