Doctor Who – “Catch-1782”

When the Doctor and Mel visit the National Foundation for Scientific Research as it celebrates its cen-tenary, Mel expects only to be able to catch up with her uncle. She doesn’t expect to meet her own ances-tors…

What is buried in the grounds of the Foundation? What secret has Henry Hallam kept from his descendants for three hundred years? Can Mel escape her own past?

Visiting your relatives can sometimes be trying, but surely it should never be this difficult?

Colin Baker is the Doctor in Catch-1782.

X X X X X
Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush)
Derek Benfield (John Hallam)
Michael Chance (Dr Wallace)
Keith Drinkel (Henry Hallam)
Ian Fairburn (Professor David Munro)
Rhiannon Meades (Rachel)
Jillie Meers (Mrs McGregor)

Written By – Alison Lawson
Directed By – Gary Russell

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/catch-1782-234

X X X X X

There are all kinds of complications when it comes to time-travel, often referred to as “paradoxes.” Paradoxes are defined as a statement or event that contradicts itself, yet somehow might be true.

As described by Wikipedia, an “ontological paradox” is a paradox referring to scenarios whereby items, information, or actions are passed from the future to the past, which in turn become the same items, information, and actions that are subsequently passed or taken from the past to the future. This type of paradox can be seen in The Curse of Fenric, as Ace frantically sends her grandmother and the infant version of her mother, Audrey, to live in London to ensures their safety from Fenric and the crazy future-vampires attacking her and the Doctor.

A “predestination paradox,” also called a causal loop, causality loop, and, less frequently, closed loop or closed time loop, is a scenario in which some earlier event #1 is the cause of (or at least one of the causes of) some later event #2, and through time travel, event #2 is also the cause of event #1. The paradox occurs when a time traveler is caught in a loop of events that “predestines” or “predates” him or her to travel back in time. In this case, event #2 would be the event of the time traveler going back in time, and #1 would be something that time traveler did in the past that in turn influenced him or her to travel back in time. In the 2007 Children in Need special Time Crash, the Fifth Doctor watches as Ten devises a solution to the collision of the two TARDIS’s before realizing that he’ll remember the solution as the Tenth Doctor because, as the Fifth Doctor, he saw Ten come up with the solution.

The “grandfather paradox” is described as follows: the time traveller goes back in time and kills his grandfather before his grandfather meets his grandmother. As a result, the time traveller is never born. But, if he was never born, then he is unable to travel through time and kill his grandfather, which means the traveller would then be born after all, and so on. A variant of the grandfather paradox is the entirety of the “Bad Wolf” arc during the Ninth Doctor’s lone season. Rose sees the phrase “Bad Wolf” throughout her journeys with the Doctor, sometimes in an off-hand manner or sometimes in a more direct fashion. After absorbing the powers of the Time Vortex, she reveals that she herself used her new abilities to spread the phrase across time and space as a way to bring herself to that very moment, defeating the Daleks to end the Time War during The Parting of the Ways.

Catch-1782 attempts to play around with the concept of paradox in a direct and forthright manner. Mel finds herself accidentally sent back in time to her family’s ancestral home. While the Doctor and her uncle attempt to track where and when she ended up, her distant relative has his own plans for her. Catch-1782 is an attempt to tell a different kind of time travel story, but a weak second episode is topped only be a weaker resolution, a lack of tension or suspense during its climax, and some unfortunate implications regarding the relationship between Mel and her relative.

The Doctor suggest Mel and he take a bit of a vacation, and what better place than the centennial anniversary celebration of the National Foundation of Scientific Research, home to some of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century…as well as Mel’s uncle John, who resides in the headquarters of the Foundation that was once the ancestral home of the Hallam branch of the Bush family. During the burial of a time capsule comprised of an experimental alloy, the Doctor and John find something unusual; a wooden box that, when opened, contains an unstable prototype of the very same capsule, apparently buried over two hundred years earlier! While fiddling with the time capsule, the Doctor and John don’t realize that, in the room directly above them, is the original unstable prototype. And next to that prototype is Mel, researching the history of her distant relatives, including the repeated appearance of a ghostly woman begging for help. The close proximity of the two capsules, mixed with a kink in time on the Foundation grounds, causes an explosion in the TARDIS control room while flinging Mel back in time. As the Doctor attempts to salvage the TARDIS and rescue his companion, Mel finds herself in 1781, confused, not sure of where she is, and in the custody of Henry Hallam, a relative of hers who has recently lost his young wife. At first, he takes Mel under his protection and care, but as time passes, he begins to see her as quite possibly someone who could take his wife’s place…

Yeah, that last sentence is just a touch creepy, isn’t it?

Catch-1872 is Alison Lawson’s sole contribution to the audio side of Big Finish, having also comprised several pieces of the “Short Trips” range. Listening to this story, I got the impression that Lawson was striving for a Jane Austen type of story – aristocrats, servants, damsels in distress, love shining through, and witty, snappy dialogue. The first episode of Catch-1782 has its moments, especially the chemistry and banter between the Doctor, Mel, and her uncle John. The Doctor and John have their share of moments throughout their time together, as John attempts to balance the wonders and terrors of time travel with the realities of who will take care of his cat, Jupiter, while he’s gone (in an example of where this serial stumbles, Jupiter has his share of memorable moments with the Doctor). Sadly, after the gripping climax to the first story, with an exploding TARDIS and Mel being thrown through time, the story grinds to a halt.

The first speedbump comes with the characterization of Melanie Bush, or as she slurs during her confusion, “Nel,” the name she’ll come to be known by in 1781. Lawson attempts to give Bonnie Langford some dramatic dialogue to work with after a light hearted first episode, but instead of slowly pulling the listener with growing confusion and terrifying realization, Mel in the second episode comes as close as she ever has to being the “shrieking violet” television viewers remember. She spends the second episode in a confused stupor, repeated the same lines and phrases over and over again, first to Henry Hallam and then to his friend, Doctor Michael Wallace, doing so in a louder and more panicked voice each time. It’s not subtle, it’s not even a sledgehammer, its just a case of yelling to convey emotion. She then spends the third episode in a laudanum-drugged stupor begging for the Doctor to rescue her and the fourth episode simply blowing the proverbial popsicle stand and going home. I don’t blame Langford for this, as she tries to do her best with the material, but the direction (Gary Russell…once again) isn’t there, and apparently neither was a script editor. Between this and the mess that was the previous serial, Dreamtime, I’m wondering if the script editor called in sick for two or three weeks during production and recording!

The second speedbump is one that just comes off as flat out icky, as in “Lorraine McFly accidentally lusting after Marty” icky. Keith Drinkel is known to Doctor Who for the role of Robert Scobie from the infamous Fifth Doctor serial Time-Flight and also known for the dual role of Bob Calhoun/Torlakh in the even more infamous fan-movie Zygon: When Being You Just Isn’t Enough. For Catch-1782, Drinkel portrays Henry Hallam, who has just lost his young wife Jane and is slowly suffering a mental breakdown. I wasn’t expecting Roderick Usher levels of grief from his performance, but Drinkel takes his grief in such a neutral and benign way that it’s hard for the listener to empathize with him. Indeed, the only time Hallam shows any emotion is when he’s brought to anger, and the only time he’s brought to anger is during anytime Mel (or as he knows her, Nel, due to a slurring of words when Mel was initially stranded) is threatened to be taken away from him. And what makes it more creepy is this line from Hallam…

“You might find it difficult to retain your honour should you leave his house now.”

What the Minuet in Hell?!?

Add to it a few mentions of Hallam watching Mel while she sleeps and the whole concept of Hallam and Mel/Nel is just inappropriate for this story. For this aspect of the story to work, Mel shouldn’t have been drugged and kept captive for six months (and poor Mel, first three months next to Davros in The Juggernauts and six month of this?), but rather become a part of Hallam’s house, a close friend that he can’t bear to lose when it’s time for her to leave. It would have better served the story AND both actors.

It’s a Big Finish story, and for half of his time, Colin Baker does his usual best to sparkle, mainly when he’s with Mel or interacting in the 21st century with the members of the institute and Mel’s uncle. It’s a shame that Baker and Langford didn’t have more time together on television as their partnership truly works, both when they’re needling each other (“you’re going to wear THAT to a black tie affair?” “…yes?”) and when the Doctor is apologizing to Mel for not coming to her rescue sooner. Baker’s time with John Hallam (long time veteran actor Derek Benfield) is a delight, as Hallam realizes early on just how mad the Doctor is and how insane time travel is, and that this insane madman is the only hope for getting his daughter back. This isn’t a man going “wow, time travel is so cool,” this is a man going “time travel is flat out bananas!” But he and the Doctor do make a good investigative team…and it’s funny that Colin Baker, as mentioned earlier, gets in a few choice lines regarding the care and feeding of John’s cat, Juipter!

That’s when it ends, however. Baker will throw himself into a script, and this doesn’t always work to his benefit, as when the Doctor became a Burke and Hare apologist in Medicinal Purposes. Here, the Doctor spends the third episode tearing his hair out, realizing that due to the family history of Nel being Harry Hallam’s second wife, Mel can’t go back to the future or else history will come undone. My response to this was very simple – “You’re a TIME LORD, not Time’s bitch.” The ease at which the Doctor gives up frustrated me, especially when the solution to the whole puzzle turned out to be a non-solution that literally involved Melanie walking out of the house and the maid dressing up in Jane’s old clothes because she reall loves him, and it turns out SHE is the mysterious “Nel,” and time is set alright, and it’s just as boring and non-climatic as reading it sounds. In the whole back half of Catch-1782 there is nary a drop of tension, excitement, or danger. This story doesn’t even have a real villain! Hallam is of no concern, and where there was a chance to make Time itself the enemy, ala The Chimes of Midnight, the threat is mitigated with a simple “oh, wait, this isn’t really a grandfather paradox. Into the TARDIS!”

Heck, even the sound is, for one, nothing to write home about. It’s quiet and muted, which reflects the whole of the story itself. The sound highlights are, once again, the cat’s meows. And if I have to keep going back to the cat like that one “Improbable Mission” game from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, then you know the story has a problem. The best thing I can say about Catch-17872?. I really love the CD cover. It’s perhaps one of the best Big Finish does, with the snow and the pictures of the Doctor and Mel. Other than that, Catch-1782 is a serial that’s just “there.” There’s some moments of enjoyment, but they take place outside the main story and contribute very little. This one isn’t even exciting enough to be boring, and the only thing a listener might take away is the creepy inter-temproal interfamilial subtext…

Synopsis – Boring and without tension, Catch-1782 wastes the opportunities that a time paradox can bring for bland performances and some creepy subtext. 2/5.

Next up – On an almost lifeless planet in a remote star system, Earth Colony Phoenix is struggling to survive. The colonists, utterly dependent on transmat technology and unable to leave the security of their Habitat Domes, have developed severe agoraphobia…

Peter Davison is the Doctor in…Three’s a Crowd.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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