Alas, not even the Brigadier can save the Eighth Doctor and Charley from this hellish script.
Hell, in this case, is a fictitious proto-state in the United States of America, packed to the yeehaw-rafters with phony Alabama and Texas accents.
Have a trailer.
In Minuet in Hell, Charley is abducted and forced into virtual sex slavery at a modern-day Hellfire Club, while the amnesiac Doctor lands in an insane asylum. Which is apparently the most plausible place for an American televangelist to launch a political campaign and fundraise for his fundamentalist Christian church. What’s the Brig doing in the midst of this madhouse? Ostensibly, he’s on hand to assist the locals in forming the 51st state, because of course highly patriotic Americans are likely to consult foreigners on matters of statecraft. In fact, he’s spying on a mind-reading machine at the insane asylum which closely resembles one that British scientists “bought online.” As one does, especially in 2001. Demons and demon-hunters round out the unlikely cast.
[Concentrate exclusively on assignment as laid out. Demons have no interest to HM government. Out.]
“Well thank you very much, Secretary. Hope you find one in your jacuzzi.” — The Brig’s thoughts re: email from his superiors
To add an almost tolerable plot twist, the Doctor’s mind has been partly transferred to a British reporter who’s the only other person in the story without a horrendous American accent.
Are you following me so far?
Congratulations. The Hellfire Club plot might have been good when Emma Peel infiltrated a similar organisation in The Avengers, but it’s terribly difficult to pull off this kind of thing without it sounding sleazy. The exaggerated portrait of patriotic, Bible-thumping, corrupt American politicians is so utterly grotesque that it’s hard for me to listen to. On top of the cringeworthy accents, there’s a few uncharacteristically poor actors, unable to deliver emotion convincingly.
The sad thing is that this story could have been excellent. Like several early Big Finishes, Minuet in Hell is adapted from an unauthorised fan-made Who audio. The original was a good story, set in 1762 England at the historical Hellfire Club, minus the distracting American caricatures. It makes more sense in the original, which had Nicholas Briggs playing the Doctor.
There are two worthwhile things in this audio which make it almost but not quite bearable. One is Nicholas Briggs reprising his role as the Doctor, via the clever expedient of the aforementioned British journalist channelling the real Doctor. Two, the Brigadier delivers some dry, witty monologues in the form of reports back to his unhelpful superiors. Those scenes are good Big Finish.
But they can’t make up for the rest. Which is a shame, since this is the last time Nicholas Courtney plays the Brigadier opposite the Doctor, apart from the AU Unbound series.
(For an alternate review by someone who thoroughly enjoyed this audio, see Big Finish Sketches, who pointed out the parallels with the Avengers episode “Touch of Brimstone.”)
I don’t care to dwell on this story more than necessary, but I couldn’t help noticing: Dashwood (Robert Jezek, aka Frobisher) talks like someone from the Deep South (sort of) but praises Philadelphia and Massachusetts as places to emulate. Also, at one point he seems to imply that the setting is near Maryland, even though his accent sounds like fake Texan. I think this is some sort of revenge upon clueless Americans who can’t tell a Cockney or Sydney accent from Geordie.
It’s the fourth Charley and Eight audio, the end of their first “season.” Production code 8E. The next season would start in January 2002 with Invaders From Mars.