Doctor Who Once and Future 2 - The Artist at the End of Time Special Edition cover

Doctor Who – Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time audio review

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The second story in Big Finish’s audio celebration of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary is Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time.

With the degenerating Doctor in his fifth incarnation, he meets Jenny and another familiar old face too…

Doctor Who Once and Future 2 - The Artist at the End of Time Standard Edition revised cover

After the space dinosaurs and UNIT action of the Once and Future opener, ‘The Artist at the End of Time’ is a more thought-provoking affair.

The Doctor travels into the far future to visit The Final Gallery where he seeks further clues to his predicament. Instead, he discovers both a mystery and his errant daughter Jenny. The gallery holds the final pieces of artwork from worlds now destroyed, but the pair discern that the pieces have the same creator. When they track the artist down, it’s none other than the Curator – played in this form by Colin Baker.

What follows is a slowly unfolding mystery which is more of a character piece. While the Doctor struggles with his condition, Jenny clearly seeks his approval. Meanwhile, like the Doctor, the Curator has lost his mojo too.

As both recover their inspiration, writer James Goss neatly twists the notion that an artist’s work increases in value after their death into something more horrific. He also throws out a bundle of clever references, including one to a previous anniversary story; one of the worlds is The Eye of Orion, often mentioned and finally seen in ‘The Five Doctors’.

In Summary

Much like ‘Past Lives’ before it, this story is fairly light on plot; while the villains get their just deserts, the details of their operation go unexplained.

We’re still puzzling out the mechanics of this degeneration too. Previously it was clear that the Doctor had returned to the fourth body after a long time, and we assumed the incarnation struck by the weapon was from the Eighth Doctor/War Doctor point in his personal timeline.

We know the Fifth Doctor has met Jenny before, but if this is a later incarnation, surely he should recognise the Curator as an aged version of his Sixth self? The Eleventh met the Curator onscreen and understood that he was, somehow, an older version of the Fourth Doctor.  Quite where does this afflicted incarnation come from?

Continuity puzzles aside, Peter Davison and Georgia Tennant have undeniable chemistry. However, their paring would have more impact if it wasn’t a trick Big Finish already pulled 2019’s The Legacy of Time. Surprisingly, what really sparkles is the beautifully performed interplay between Curator and Jenny. Colin Baker, stripped of the Sixth Doctor’s bombast, is fabulous in this more thoughtful, melancholic role.

In the supporting cast, Abi Harris entertains as the gallery’s supercilious AI with a voice like a damaged autotune, while John Telfer impresses in multiple roles.

Doctor Who Once and Future 2 - The Artist at the End of Time Special Edition cover

We listened to the Special Edition version of ‘The Artist at the End of Time’. As well as alternate artwork, there are 40 minutes of interviews from those involved either side of the microphone. Of particular interest were the comments from sound designer and composer Howard Carter, who also provides a music suite.

3 1/2 stars

Next month: ‘A Genuis for War’

Part three of Doctor Who – Once and Future lands in July. ‘A Genius for War’ stars Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor and Terry Molloy as Davros.

Doctor Who – Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time is out now on Collector’s Edition CD (+ download) and digital download from Big Finish. Physical copies of the Special Edition are sold out, but the download bundle is still available.