Big Finish has decided to change up the way they deliver the Companion Chronicles range; by releasing box sets focussing on the earliest Doctors. This week, Big Finish brought out a box set comprising of four stories from the Second Doctor’s era. Today, we review the first story of four, The Mouthless Dead!
The TARDIS arrives in 1920s England, the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly finding themselves in a wintry dusk beside a railway line. The station nearby appears deserted, but there are figures watching from the shadows, all of them waiting for a dead man’s train…
Frazer Hines is a saint. He’s the voice that kicks off The Mouthless Dead as Jamie, but it’s not long before he fits into the shoes of the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton. It’s not long before disaster (or in this case, a train) strikes. One thing that was really interesting straight from the off about The Mouthless Dead was, because it was being told primarily from Jamie’s point of view, everything that we think of as trivial, like trains, is seemingly much more fantastical and wondrous. I found that having Jamie be the storyteller made me realise just how far the world has advanced.
The TARDIS is seemingly out of action as it tries to repair itself; so the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly all have to evacuate and go and explore Kent in 1920. The TARDIS gang go and find the nearest Signalman to report that a train had crashed into their… vehicle. Once they meet him, they soon get rather cosy with him over a cup of tea. It’s not long before the Signalman starts to talk about all the train crashes and accidents of recent memory, which both fascinates and terrifies the TARDIS crew.
Jamie, Ben and Polly go back up the track to find a waiting room, and they all suddenly get a strange feeling that somebody else is following them, even though the station is supposed to be deserted. I know I jabber on a fair bit about the advantages of having stories told solely through audio; The Mouthless Dead is another title that I can add to my ever-growing list of titles that use the audio medium to strike pure fear into your heart. Why is heavy breathing so spooky?
If you like learning something rather obscure whilst listening to a Big Finish story, you won’t be disappointed; we get a nice little lesson in signalman etiquette and practice; make sure you remember it, you never know when it might come in handy.
What surprised me the most, I think, isn’t the eeriness, the threat or the danger, it’s that the writer, John Pritchard, jumps from storyteller to storyteller; we started with Jamie describing the events as the unfolded, but it’s not too long before Polly takes over. I don’t really mind the shift in the narrator, in fact, I think it was used well in this instance, as it meant we could have a more gentle and compassionate viewpoint from Polly as opposed to Jamie’s utter bewilderment.
One scene that was so beautiful and sombre in this story has to be the conversation between Ben and Jamie where they’re talking about the Unknown Warrior and the consequences of wars. Of course, the wars that Ben and Jamie fought in were two very different battles; but ultimately the outcome remained the same. Lots of unneeded death and loss. It’s not often that the companions in the Classic era had the opportunity to really open up and have a heart to heart; even less so in the 60’s, so to have this scene really humanised these characters to me and made them feel much more realistic.
With this being Doctor Who, it’s not long before this tender moment gets interrupted, seemingly by the ghosts of Ben’s past…
Ben and Jamie return to the Doctor, hoping that the Time Lord might be able to help them understand exactly what’s going on. Whatever the ghosts really were, they were approaching the Doctor, Ben, Jamie and the signalman. Lights keep coming on and off, the train carrying the Unknown Warrior has been ground to a halt, and, in the dark, the ghosts seemed to be swarming. What a cracking cliffhanger to the story!
We start the second episode of The Mouthless Dead with yet another poignant scene, between Polly and Francis, talking about the horrors of the Great War. Having the opportunity to try and sneak upon the now stationary train, Francis has the overwhelming urge to try and see the Unknown Warrior’s coffin. The ghostly shadows of everyone’s past are slowly approaching, seemingly wanting to punish those who didn’t fall in battle.
The second episode of the story is absolutely filled to the brim with grief and suspense, ghostly apparitions and the past coming back to haunt you. If anything, The Mouthless Dead seems to be able to remind the listener of the horrors of war.
Whereas earlier in the year Paul Magrs managed to show the horrors of humanity solely using the truth in The Peterloo Massacre, The Mouthless Dead manages to inject a sci-fi twist into the tale, making it somewhat easier to listen to.
The true identity of the figure that seemed to be lurking in the shadows is a great revelation, and makes the story seem so much more worthwhile; even if it makes one of the other character’s actions and emotions seem even more tragic in hindsight. Luckily though, all hope isn’t lost, as the ending of these two characters stories get to intertwine once again, and, with the accompanying music, it’s rather beautiful.
The conclusion of The Mouthless Dead is rather predictable and rather fairytale; which in a way, totally suits this story, however I thought it was slightly too cliche for my liking. However I do think that a concept of a creature that is made of grief is a brilliantly unique invention for the world of Doctor Who, and I hope that something similar is used again.
Overall, The Mouthless Dead is a very moving story, filled with love and loss, ghosts and trains. It’s a great start to The Second Doctor box set from Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range; I just hope that the other three stories will be of such a high calibre.
Should you want to purchase The Second Doctor Volume One, it’s currently available as a four disc box set for £20.00 or as a download from Big Finish for £15.00 which you can purchase here.