Main Range 29 – The Chimes of Midnight

If you’ve been in Big Finish fandom for any length of time, you know that “Christmas isn’t Christmas without Mrs. Baddeley’s plum pudding.”

Have a trailer:

The Holy Terror gave us a taste of Rob Shearman’s knack for taking idealised storybook settings and making them macabre. He’s done it again, this time dropping the Doctor and Charley into the servants’ quarters of a well-to-do Edwardian house on Christmas eve. They soon find themselves cast as sleuths in a murder mystery. However, it’s hard for the Doctor and Charley to make much headway when the household is more concerned about plum pudding than corpses. What’s going on? Why do bodies keep piling up by the hour, on the hour? And who is Edward Grove?

“It’s taken fright, Doctor! Time has take fright and is running away.” — Charley

I feel like the Eighth Doctor’s run really begins here, partly because it’s the start of a loose plot arc culminating in Zagreus, and partly because Paul McGann and India Fisher have really settled into their characters’ skins. Guest actors do a great job of playing fresh-faced servants who all seem wholesome and ordinary– until they don’t. I love the way Edith and the head butler keep slipping in and out of their regular roles and breaking the third wall (not to the us the listeners, but to Charley and the Doctor). I would also suggest paying attention to the three female servants in the story: there’s something that’s far from obvious until your second listen.

It’s an excellent, clever, spooky piece of timey-wimey. The commentary about “Upstairs” vs. “Downstairs,” i.e. class structure, is a bit heavy-handed, but there’s a reason for that. It’s also still relevant in the 21st century; with the 1% and the tendency of western governments to be oligarchies of the wealthy, we’re all “downstairs” more or less.

If you own this audio, here’s better custom cover art by Simon Hodges.

Oh, trigger warning: Killings and horror are part of the palette of Who, but it’s not usually quite this blunt on the suicide front.

Spoilerific Comments

In my original Tumblr review of Chimes, I said, “I might nitpick a minor unsolved paradox at the end, but we’ll just toss a pudding at it and move on, shall we?” Freedom to discuss spoilers is why I created this website in the first place, but now I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out what that was! I think the problem is that in the end, Edith encounters Charley Pollard years before she goes to work at the Pollard household. Her whole life will play out differently if she really takes Charley’s words to heart and refuses to be treated as a doormat.

The first time I listened to Chimes at Midnight, I guessed who Edward Grove was immediately, since Edith’s creepy phrasing seemed to imply a normally inanimate object. What I didn’t catch was that Mrs. Baddeley the cook and Mary the lady’s maid are different stages of Edith’s own life. (Eventually I realised that Mrs. Baddeley and Edith had fused, but I didn’t understand why). All the servants are echoing Edith’s thoughts about herself. On a second re-listen, it’s chilling to note that the first murderers accused are Mrs. Baddeley and Edith herself. They did kill Edith, since they are she. Indirectly, so did the butler and chauffeur, since their verbal and sexual bullying contributed to her despair.

I didn’t entirely like the notion that there’s a character whose whole life centers on Charley… really? And that Edith would feel like her life was worth living if Charley the privileged aristocrat would only deign to think of the poor downtrodden servant once in a while while gallivanting around enjoying freedom and adventures. Ugh. But I can imagine someone in Edith’s situation might latch onto the only person who didn’t keep telling her she was nobody.

It’s a true-to-life irony that from Edith’s perspective, Charley is her best friend, but from Charley’s perspective, she hated plum pudding and barely spoke two words to Edith.