What on earth–?!
It’s hard to know where to start with Minuet in Hell, the conclusion to the first “season” of Big Finish Doctor Who audios to star Paul McGann. The preview for the story gave one the vibe that it was going to be a psychological thriller, with the story sort-of locked into the mind of a Doctor gone mad, locked in an asylum and without his memory.
Well, the Doctor has lost his memory in this story and he is locked in an asylum for much of it, but the story is really about an America in the near-future where a 51st state is forming, and where most people’s American accents have undergone a bizarre mutation that threatens the fabric of the universe. Upon this American landscape is thrust such a hodgepodge of ideas that I find them challenging to organize.
The governor-apparent of this fledgling state is a villainous Bible-quoting politician who also worships demons (but this being Doctor Who, they are actually alens from another dimension). If that’s not enough, he also has helped develop a technology to completely remove (and back up onto computer) people’s minds and personalities, ostensibly to help cure mental illness, but really to provide host bodies for these “demons”. On top of that, he runs a Hell Fire club (a perverted gentleman’s club with overtones of devil worship) and kidnaps disenfranchised young ladies from the area to serve as its “hostesses”. The Doctor’s apparently comely companion Charley (who also has lost her memory, at first) has found herself in the thick of this, but luckily finds help from a fellow kidnapee who turns out to be part of a secret society, trained since birth to fight demons, or something. Meanwhile, the Doctor is in an asylum (also run by this same villain) because of an accident with the Tardis that caused he and a local journalist to accidentally trade parts of their brains. Oh, and the Brigadier is in it.
It’s always nice to hear Nicholas Courtney playing his most famous role. This was apparently his second appearance in the Big Finish line, though the first that I have heard. He and the 8th Doctor have not met at this point, and since the Doctor spends a lot of his time without his memory, I was afraid at first that the whole story would go by without them acknowledging each other. Fortunately, they do recognize each other toward the end and so we get some fan-pleasing interaction between the two.
Because the story is so overcrowded with ideas, the Doctor himself ends up sidelined a bit for much of it, which does not work in the story’s favor. Paul McGann delivers a good performance as always, and in a story which features so many people talking so strangely (one of the major guest characters in particular), we could really use more of his solid vocal presence to anchor things.
The story also concludes the minor “Ramsey the Friendly Vortisaur” subplot that’s been running through these past few stories by…having the Doctor and Charley drop the creature off home. So much for that little bit meaning anything. The other running story, that of the mystery of why Charely’s survival from the R101 is so problematic, is not addressed.
Overall, it’s not the worst thing that I’ve heard come from Big Finish (that surely must have been The Mutant Phase), but not a particularly strong entry either, and doesn’t have much to recommend it except for the fun of having the Brigadier connect with the 8th Doctor.