Creatures of Beauty was the 44th entry in Big Finish’s “Main Range” or “Monthly Range” of Doctor Who audios (released back in 2003), featuring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.
(Daily Doctor Who #254)
I keep thinking I’ve heard all the unusual storytelling approaches that Big Finish can take (see here and here and here for example), but I keep being wrong. Creatures of Beauty takes what appears to be a fairly conventional plot, and for no reason other than an attempt to obfuscate what is going on, tells it completely out of order. There is no internal or story-driven justification for this (except for a few scenes that the script uses as an excuse for going into some flashbacks, in which one character interrogates another–who is himself an interrogator–about an interrogation that he has performed). It does all this to create an unsettling feeling about the events going on, and to conceal one tragic twist until the final moments of the drama (even though, chronologically, it happened first).
And though this payoff isn’t completely satisfying, I can’t really fault the story for what it’s trying to do. Ambiguity is the name of the game here, especially when it comes to ethics. Villainous character are shown to be well-intentioned. Sinister activities are revealed to be sadly necessary. A vicious alien attack is revealed to be the result of a tragic industrial accident. And most shockingly of all, a tragic industrial accident is turns out to be in part due to the hapless wanderings of an itinerant Time Lord who is just looking to travel, meet people, and do good.
It’s a sobering story which wouldn’t work all the time because it would make Doctor Who horribly depressing, but as a one-off, it’s an interesting effort from writer-director Nicholas Briggs. The non-linear storytelling definitely keeps the listener engaged. Peter Davison delivers a strong performance a the Fifth Doctor, and Sarah Sutton is good as Nyssa. The guest cast is also good–I particularly enjoyed Nigel Hastings as Quain, and the rest of the performers, including Jemma Churchill, David Mallinson and David Daker.