The Chimes of Midnight

Hallowe’en 1938. ‘Twas the night before
Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring…
But something must be stirring. Something
hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian
mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming
of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight.
Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and
Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the
victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out.
This story, that arrives just about half way
into the 8th Doctor and Charley Pollard’s adventures together, is
unusual. Part detective story, part horror, part personal tragedy, its
unconventional formula allows it to hit the story sweet spot of keeping you on
your toes and wanting to listen to more. In fact the first time I listened to
it, I was so engrossed I completely forgot I was meant to be going out for a
meeting with someone!
The Doctor and Charley land in the servants
part of an old Edwardian mansion, populated by the staff of the master
upstairs. Drawn by a blood curdling scream they dash to help, only to find it’s
too late. As the hours move to midnight, one by one the staff all die. Then it
all starts again…
As such, it’s a break from the usual murder
mystery fable – the Doctor and Charley are aware they are trapped in a story
that re-writes itself on the fly to account for any interruptions, so they have
to figure out the cause and the real culprit fast, before they become a part of
the act.
The Chimes of Midnight  keeps air fraught
with tension at all times by being lean and mean. Nothing is wasted in the
script and as soon as one part of the solution of the mystery is unearthed and
threatens to turn things stale, it metamorphoses to catch the Doctor and
Charley (and us, the listener) off guard.
Constantly on the back foot and forced to
try and work within ill defined and every changing rules, things are kept
unpredictable. It was one of those rare tales that kept me (a longtime Who fan)
feeling like I didn’t know what would happen next. Things are kept tense by a
soundtrack that enforces how everything feels unstoppable, always containing a
tick of a clock one way or another, as a reminder of that fateful countdown to
midnight.
What’s most surprising is the emotional core
at the centre of the story, that not only plays into Charley and the Doctor’s
larger arc, but also covers the fate of those ‘downstairs’, revealing a life
that isn’t that great if you don’t happen to fit into the working life of
servitude and what happens when the only person who cares about you is snatched
from your grasp.
All in all, it’s a great story. Perhaps more
low key than many would expect from Doctor Who, but it reaps the rewards of
that. Complex, gripping and all over a superb production, it’s one of the high
points of the 8th Doctors travels with Charley. Perhaps one of the best
of the 8th ‘s and, dare I say it ,all time Doctor Who stories. If
you have any interest in the show, you owe it to yourself to buy this.
Cover image courtesy of Big Finish.


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