The Chimes of Midnight stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with India Fisher as Charley. It was written by Robert Shearman, directed by Barnaby Edwards and released in February 2002 on CD and in October 2016 on a 500 pressing Limited Edition Vinyl by Big Finish Productions.
The idea of the effects of a paradox was never really explored through the entirety of Classic Doctor Who. We did get stories about the effects of changing history in The Aztecs and The Time Meddler, but never showing just how fragile the Web of Time actually is. Father’s Day from the New Series goes far into what can happen if fixed points are messed with, but The Chimes of Midnight did the idea first.
The story involves the Doctor and Charley landing in an Edwardian House on the night before Christmas where all through the house, not a creature was stirring. It is too quiet as time seems to be frozen still, almost as if the Doctor and Charley has jumped a time track a la The Space Museum. When everything gets going the find the dead body of the house’s scullery maid and they get themselves confused for two detectives from Scotland Yard. This was as the clock struck 10:00. The house’s cook is killed next as the clock strikes 11:00 and the Doctor and Charley realize just how deep the rabbit hole goes as the two hours start repeating themselves in different ways and with different victims until we hit the twist. This is a plot that I just adore for just being so creative. The story acts as a Christmas Special, but it also acts as a horror story with people being killed in gruesomely comedic ways. The twist of the story is also brilliantly set up and executed which has grave implications for the Doctor and Charley. This is your last chance to look away before I go straight into spoiling the twist so if you haven’t yet go and get this story and give it a listen before continuing.
The twist of this story involves the scullery maid Edith Thompson who worked for the Pollard family as cook where only the young Charley was the only person who was nice to her. The announcement came to the Pollard estate that Charley had been killed on the R101 airship which in turn led to Edith becoming depressed and slitting her wrists. Charley, even though she was supposed to be killed on the R101 according to the Web of Time, was saved by the Doctor and in an attempt to fix itself the Web of Time took control of Edith’s spirit and created the house which started to gain a mind of its own. This is all because the Doctor wanted to save someone’s life. The story becomes a character drama with the Doctor having to find a way out of the paradox before they become trapped there forever.
Louise Rolfe’s performance as Edith Thompson steals the show as when she’s alive she is happy but by Part Four while she is explaining to Charley what happened to her. She has broken down into depression and is almost insane in that she wants to be allowed to rest or be allowed to live. India Fisher’s Charley Pollard also goes through hell as Edith and the house wants to make her go crazy and kill herself to resolve everything. She is forced under hypnosis of the house for portions of the story even becoming a child. She doesn’t like plum pudding and once chipped her tooth on a three-penny bit which the inhabitants of the house know of and try to get her back to a childlike state. Paul McGann as the Doctor is at his best here as he has to be the one to figure out the mystery of the story. He knows something isn’t right from the start and he knows that everyone in the house is too one note to be normal. The villain of the piece is the house, Edward Grove, which is a booming voice that represents a god of these two hours which are on a complete loop forever. The voice just sends chills down your spine.
The supporting cast of the story is all pretty standard as they are supposed to be one note characters. There is Frederick the chauffer played by Robert Curbishley who reveals part of the mystery as he doesn’t know what type of car he drives, a Chrysler which hasn’t been invented yet or a Bentley. He has an affair with the Lady’s Maid Mary, played by Juliet Warner, which reflects Edith’s affair. The head of the servants are Mrs. Badderly the cook and Mr. Shaughnassy the butler, played by Sue Wallace and Lennox Greaves respectively. They are both the prime example of stiff upper lip British servants, who only act on their master’s orders from upstairs. Mrs. Badderly is famous for her plum puddings and is extremely pleasant which are yet another clue as to how everything fits, yet she is just downright rude to those beneath her. The same can be said for Shaughnassy who is a kiss up to his masters as he wants to have his own personal gain, but is almost verbally abusive to Edith.
The direction and music of this story have to get special notice. Barnaby Edwards directs this story as a very tight nit space as it does take place mainly in the servant’s area of a home. It takes a particular skill for something like this to actually work and Edwards is great at not only doing it, but doing it well. The music was done by Russell Stone which is full of actual chimes as the clock plays a very important role in the story. Everything sounds like some sort of chime in a Christmas music style, but with an underlying atmosphere of something darker.
To summarize, The Chimes of Midnight is in one word perfect. Serving as a continuation to Charley’s story arc which you don’t really need to have listened to the other parts to understand and I just love every minute of the story. The acting is great as everything feels undeniably British from the supporting cast and the main cast act as the emotional centerpiece for the story. The direction and music of this story both compliment the script and show just how dark the story is. There really is no excuse for you to not have heard this story and it is deserving of its Limited Edition repress. 100/100