Doctor Who – “Frozen Time”


In 1929, Lord Barset’s expedition to the Antarctic is lost without trace. Or so it seems…

Nearly a century later, his grandson funds a much-publicized return to the icy wastes. His mission: to discover what happened to the original expedition. But what he finds instead is an enigma – a battered London police box frozen in ice millennia old.

But something else lies in wait in this awful place, something from an era before humankind set foot on the continent’s cold soil. A menace frozen in time.

Until now.

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in Frozen Time.

X X X X X

Cast
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor)
Anthony Calf (Lord Barset)
Maryam d’Abo(Genevieve)
Tony Millan (Professor McIntyre)
Gwynn Beech (Harman)
Gregg Newton (Ben)
Nicholas Briggs (Arakssor)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/frozen-time-264

X X X X X

2009 was the year without a season of Doctor Who.

Russell T Davies had announced he was stepping down as showrunner in mid-2008, and David Tennant had proclaimed that fall that he would be leaving the role of the Tenth Doctor.  With these huge changes on the horizon (changes so huge that there was a deep concern that the show might be very well cancelled with Tennant’s departure), Davies decided to give the incoming production team, led by Steven Moffat as the new showrunner, a chance to get everything in order so they could be absolutely 100% ready for the introduction of the Eleventh Doctor.  Instead of a final full season with episodes aired on consecutive weeks, Davies instead comprised four “special” episodes spread out from Christmas 2008 through New Year’s 2010 – The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, The Water of Mars, and the two-part swan song for Tennant, The End of Time.    Each episode ran for 60 minutes, as opposed to the standard 45 minutes (75 minutes for The End of Time, Part 2), and was played up as “event” television that “couldn’t be missed.”  While the quality of the specials will always be debated (there are people out there who liked Planet of the Dead after all), the “Year of Specials” helped bridge the gap between the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor by closing out Ten’s story arc in a meaningful way while giving Moffat plenty of time to set up shop for Matt Smith’s arrival.

Oh, and Tennant took advantage of the time off to perform as the lead in some play about a Danish prince.

If Sylvester McCoy had a “Year of Specials,” Frozen Time could have been one of its serials. It’s a straight-forward action packed adventure with strong secondary characters as well as a one-off companion, memorable villains, and sound effects that paint a picture of a very elaborate set with lots of special effects, as well as showcasing a fine performance by McCoy.  All the pieces coming together to comprise one of Big Finish’s stronger stories overall.

Underneath the Antarctic ice, an archaeological team wonders why their British financier has directed them to dig in this particularly isolated location, when the purpose of the expedition was supposedly to find the remains of the financier’s long-lost grandfather and HIS ill-fated expedition.  The true purpose is soon revealed however, as the survey team makes several incredible finds, all locked away by the wind and snow for millions of years; a group of reptilian creatures frozen within the site’s icy walls, a perfectly preserved human in strange clothing, and most peculiar of all, a blue English police box…

If someone came to me and said “I want to start listening to Big Finish, where should I start,” I have a simple list to choose a single story from. The Renaissance Man, Spare Parts, Singularity, The Marian Conspiracy, The Fearmonger, Colditz, and Storm Warning/The Chimes of Midnight. And I can now add Frozen Time to that grouping. Nicholas Briggs has damn near done it all when it comes to Big Finish – actor, director, producer, and writer. His early stories tended to be solid-but-flawed, including Sword of Orion and [Embrace the Darkness, but he’s also nailed a couple of classics – Creatures of Beauty, Blue Forgotten Planet, To the Death, and The Light at the End. Frozen Time isn’t quite a classic, but it’s incredibly solid with very few missteps. Briggs’ script ticks off all the classic Who check marks to give a very traditional story. You’ve got an isolated setting, villains who can be reasoned with but still commit horrible acts…

(I don’t want to spoil who the villains are, but they were a VERY nice surprise. Not a surprise so much about who they were, but a “oh…oh, THEM, that’s cool!” type of reveal. Much like Dust Breeding, not knowing the twist makes the story better)

…humans who show off both the best and worst of mankind, and the Doctor being incredibly alien, incredibly clever, and incredibly awesome…did know you know the Seventh Doctor could fly a helicopter? Neither did I!

Frozen Time takes place towards the end of the Seventh Doctor’s regeneration, as he’s once again traveling without a companion at his side. Really, you could view the companion-less stories Valhalla, Frozen Time, House of Blue Fire, and the trilogy beginning with A Thousand Tiny Wings as a sort of “Year of Specials” leading up to Seventh’s transformation into Eight. Briggs takes a page out of the Big Finish playbook by opening the story with Seven being trapped in the ice for millions of years (I’ll buy him being perfectly preserved and in a medical coma to avoid adding to the “how old is the Doctor” argument) due to events…events the Doctor can’t quite remember due to amnesia! Yes, for most of this story Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor has amnesia, though he still is fully functional and capable of action, vs. how Paul McGann’s Doctor always seems a bit more passive and sometimes insane when HE loses his memories! Briggs’ script plays up the alien nature of the Doctor, not just in terms of physiology (he can endure the freezing temperatures better than his colleagues) but how he sees and reacts to things. But the slightly cynical Seventh Doctor is still there (“Are you poor and clever, or rich and stupid?”) though without the melancholy or sense of humor he showed in Valhalla, as he doesn’t seem to miss Ace/Hex/Mel so much as call Genevieve by their names once and again! McCoy seems comfortable in this story, with an even keeled performance as opposed to “bored” or “flailing like a madman.” The amnesia is used to push the story forward, as the Doctor’s memories slowly come back to him (I guess being frozen and thawed is sort of akin to regeneration sickness) to reveal not only what happened in the past, but how they’re going to help stop the villain in the here and now. McCoy plays it straight, still managing to BE the Seventh Doctor even if he doesn’t quite have all his memories…

On the other side of the coin, Nicholas Briggs plays Arakssor, leader of the villains. I can’t say much more without giving away their identity (to be fair, veteran Who fans will know who they are almost instantly, but…well, I AM eternally optimistic), but Briggs NAILS the part in terms of characterization and performance. Although…the voice effects, complete with each sentence being prefaced by a bit of heavy breathing, reminded me of the bad guys in the lost Doctor Who episode The Web of Caves.

The secondary characters aren’t necessarily well written, but are instead well acted and help to elevate the story. My personal favorite performance comes from Anthony Calf, best known as “one of the medieval guys who gets shot in the opening of The Visitation” as well as numerous West End productions. He plays Lord Barset, hereditary noble who funds the expedition. He plays the standard “human willing to sell out everyone to save his own skin” part very well, but there’s a great part near the end where he reveals his motives…he’s not a greedy bastard looking to harness alien technology to corner the market and turn a huge profit on the advancement of mankind, but looking to harness the technology and corner the market so NO ONE else can come in and make a huge profit off the advancement of mankind. He’s doing it so the greed and divisiveness of mankind won’t get in the way of progress thanks to his, and only his total control…but, of course, everyone points out that this STILL makes him a greedy bastard.

Professor McIntyre, played by Tony Millan, provides the scientific heart of the story by demanding to know what Barset is up to, but still intrigued from the point of view of an academic. It’s one of the drawbacks to Frozen Time however that McIntyre’s final fate is never truly revealed! Gwynn Beech’s Harman is the security team leader of the expedition, and while he definitely is the stern “do what I say or else I will shoot you” type, he gets his moments in the back half of the story in managing to deal with the villains on an equal footing. Gregg Newton plays Ben, junior member of the expedition, who covers the lower end of the temporary companion spectrum by handling the minor stuff that the main temporary companion doesn’t handle, as in making sure everything else is covered so she can run off with the Doctor to help defeat the villains once and for all. And said temporary companion is played by the lovely Maryam d’Abo, perhaps best known as Bond Girl Kara Milovy from (my favorite Bond movie alongside Skyfall) The Living Daylights with Timothy Dalton. D’Abo plays the French archaeologist Genevieve. Briggs’ script doesn’t really give her anything beyond standard companion material – the Doctor is mysterious, she struggles to deal with his eccentric nature, figures out who he really is, stands by his side to do things she never thought she could, and is incredibly grateful to have met him – but d’Abo does make Genevieve stand out a bit thanks to her acting and a French accent (d’Abo grew up in Paris) that works well on audio.

Speaking of working well on audio, Steve Foxon’s score knows when to stay in the background and when to rush forward. Big Finish, for the next few audios at least, put separate tracks at the end of each disc for the musical score of the serials. Foxon’s score emphasizes the drumbeats that make up the militaristic nature of the villains, but not to the point of over-saturation. The sound effects, though, are outstanding. They might be among the best Big Finish has ever done. The cracking of the ice, the sound of the villains and soldiers fighting, gunfire vs. sonic weapons, the howling winds of the Antarctic plain…there’s a great bit where one of the villains walks from the tunnels into the open air and there’s not a single word of dialogue necessary to tell the viewer of the scene change. It SOUNDS like a big budget television production, which heightens the enjoyment.

I enjoyed Frozen Time. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a very solid, well put together story with some good villains and good performances from McCoy. Now, I wouldn’t call it a classic story, as there’s just…something missing to put it over the edge from being a “B+” player into the “A” range. But it’s not a case along the lines of Valhalla where the story is dragged down from an “A” grade due to several misfires. In the end, Frozen Time is simply a damn good story with very little to drag it down and one I can easily recommend to both Big Finish veterans and newcomers.

Pros
+ Incredible soundwork
+ McCoy on top of his game
+ The performance of the secondary cast raises the material
+ Grand villains

Cons
– The script is a little iffy

Cobi’s SynopsisFrozen Time is a solid, well acted and well produced story that should appeal to Big Finish veterans but also serves as a great entry point for newcomers interested in the audio adventures of the Seventh Doctor.

Next up – A very special story which at last provides a heroic exit for Colin Baker’s much-loved Time Lord…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…The Last Sixth Doctor Adventure.

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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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