Doctor Who: Creatures of Beauty (2003)
Big Finish #44
Starring: Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton
In the last release, Doctor Who and the Pirates, we saw Big Finish taking risks: they turned Doctor Who into a musical. In Creatures of Beauty, from Big Finish head honcho Nicholas Briggs, we see further experimentation. There are no songs here, but the chronological structure of this story is jumbled, deliberately, so instead of following an adventure, the listener is forced into evaluating what happened, choosing a side, and is left after one brutal kick in the teeth. Creatures of Beauty is that rare thing: an involved, dark tale, in which nothing is as it first seems and which lingers long afterward.
The story begins near its end, and then begins to move backward and forward in its narrative. The listener must piece together what happened from this jumbled chronology. When he first read the script, Peter Davison is supposed to have asked Nicholas Briggs if he cut the script up and put it back together without any thought of form. His comment, though, betrays how simple all this is to follow: the audio cues, the music and the tone easily suggest when and where we are. It is because of Big Finish’s production that it works as easily as it does, though I suspect Briggs’s script was just as simple. After all, everything must be on the page first.
The plot in correct order is something like this (not entirely, for I do not wish to reveal the last moments of this script): The Doctor, stopping to repair the TARDIS, detects the atmosphere of Veln is laced with a dangerous substance, and decides the people must be warned of its dangers. While there Nyssa comes across a young woman who kills herself, but Nyssa is arrested for the murder. The Doctor, then, must rescue his friend and solve the mystery of what an alien race, the Koteem, are doing on a planet that should be otherwise out of bounds to them.
It is a story of ecological disaster, of responsibility, perception and genetic disease. Even if all its parts of clear by the end, one feels the mysteries of Veln will live on, for what Briggs has achieved is create a tangible troubled world, and one that will suffer the consequences for time to come as it begins to heal and look towards an uncertain future. With Creatures of Beauty Nicholas Briggs has produced one of the most challenging and interesting Doctor Who stories in the Big Finish range yet.