This main range Big Finish Doctor Who release features Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, travelling with his current duo of audio companions, Flip and Constance. As a pair, the two could not be more different in background and age and it is the latter aspect which plays heavily into ‘The Middle’.
The story is high-ish concept sci-fi and delights in multiple rug-pulling moments which make it a challenge to review. Suffice to say, the TARDIS brings the travellers to the subterranean Earth colony of Formicia on the occasion of Constance’s birthday. While she is more than happy to let the day pass unmarked, Flip insists on celebrating and finds the youthful culture of the planet ideal, although the Doctor’s presence raises eyebrows and Constance finds the whole place debauched.
Doctor Who has a good track record stories set on quirky Earth colonies, such as ‘The Macra Terror’ or ‘The Happiness Patrol’, and Formicia fits right in; with a structured society, the young enjoy a carefree existence until the age of thirty-five, at which point they progress to “the Middle” to begin a life of work. This continues until seventy, when they reach “the End”.
After an initial exploratory episode, where Flip’s party quest brings ample entertainment, not least the Doctor’s discomfort at receiving a robot massage and a great gag at the expense of his coat, the trio are naturally split. Flip remains in the Beginning, while Constance is our woman in the Middle – the massive structure that dominates the colony – and the Doctor faces the End.
The script is written by Chris Chapman and it is his first full-length story, although he previously contributed ‘The Memory Bank’ to 2016’s Fifth Doctor and Turlough anthology release, and is perhaps better known for his Doctor Who related directing work; Chapman has directed a number of engaging DVD documentaries, ensuring the term value-added-material lives up to its name and on occasion being a touch more enjoyable than the subject.
Demonstrating a great ear for dialogue and gags, her provides Lisa Greenwood with some superb Flip one-liners like “the planet of the age police” and also manages to create plenty of dramatic moments for all three of the regulars. There is also a lovely reference back to ‘The Romans’ and the Doctor’s wrestling prowess too.
Director Jamie Anderson marshals an impressive guest cast including Shelia Reid (‘Vengeance on Varos’ and more recently Clara’s Nan) sparkles as Janaiya, this time getting to act with Colin Baker rather than simply observe him, and Mark Heap (Friday Night Dinner) who turns in a terrific performance as the shady Middleman. Also worthy of notice is Chloe Rickenbach, in multiple roles here, who delivers a superbly cheery computer voice which engenders terror though the flat unemotional tones of every automated phone system you have ever been stuck on the end of.
As well as some solid sci-fi action, involving the cover star (sadly not a Nimon) and some menacing drones, there are plenty of thought-provoking points made about how we treat the elderly in society, and our attitudes to war, which lift this above the usual science fiction fare. For us though, the heart of the story is Miranda Raison’s Mrs Constance Clarke, with her WII perspective on proceedings and her desire for a gentle retirement. We really do hope she gets it!