LIVE 34 is the third Doctor Who Big Finish audio serial to star the TARDIS team made up of the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex (and the 74th in Big Finish’s monthly range overall). Hex is a Big Finish original character, and as such this is only his third outing ever, after The Harvest (pretty great) and Dreamtime (not too good). Hex’s addition to the audios has been wonderfully refreshing so far, thanks in large part to great performances by Philip Oliver (Brookside). The Seventh Doctor’s audio dramas have been some of the most variable of the lot. Does Hex’s presence continue to help Big Finish find its feet with Seven?
Well yes and no. It’s hard to be too judgmental about LIVE 34. The writers were new to Big Finish at the time, and the format is an experimental one, and it’s interesting to listen to because of it at least, even though overall it doesn’t really seem to work. The entirety of the story is told through LIVE 34 broadcasts, a news station in Colony 34. The story is largely told in news reports, interviews, on-scene reporting, and features – each episode playing out in real-time. The episodes are only separated by radio static and the LIVE 34 jingles. The audio effects make the broadcast sound believable, with some pretty great bits of detail in the audioscaping in places – making it especially nice to listen to with headphones.
The Doctor, Ace, and Hex appear to have all been split up for some reason in Colony 34, a dystopian dictatorship where the “Premiere” has been putting off an election for 5 years due to vague threats to the colony’s security. We’re introduced to the Doctor as a representative for the Freedom and Democracy Party (FDP), who are campaigning for this to change. He’s booked in for an interview on LIVE 34 regarding recent bombings which are blamed on extremists headed by a “Rebel Queen” but never makes it, instead taking some questions by phone while he is travelling, quite quickly telegraphing that the Rebel Queen is Ace, as is her M.O.
McCoy’s performance is as good as ever, and him flitting between audio sources and appearing on LIVE 34 in the first and last episodes seems to fit the general idea of his characterisation of the Doctor being a master planner, pulling strings in the background. While this is a great aspect to the Doctor that’s pretty unique to his incarnation, it doesn’t work quite so well when we really don’t see much of his machinations coming together. It makes everything feel a little bit cobbled together. While this is kind of a nice use of the media bias forced on the network, with us having to figure out what’s going on through rescinded broadcasts, and spotty bits of coverage, it just doesn’t really make a satisfying or complete story. Most plot beats feel a little out of nowhere, none more so than the abrupt twist at the end, followed by a just as abrupt end. Maybe that’s kind of the point, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good.
The middle two episodes feel a bit tighter, each one focusing on a radio broadcast that will later be rescinded and cause problems for LIVE 34 with the government. The first is a report that sees a reporter doing a secret interview with Ace. It’s a little hard to follow as the interviewer isn’t even very good at interviewing her. Still, Aldred puts in a good performance, and ends up telling him most of the details about how they ended up at Colony 34.
The third episode is by far the best, and on its own is really quite good. It sees a reporter following along with Hex, who is working as an emergency response paramedic for the colony. This ends up exploring his backstory in quite a nice way, as he changes small details to make it sound like he’s from another colony. It adds quite a lot to the Hex character, who is still pretty new, and cements him as a great, likable addition to the TARDIS crew. Hopefully they won’t get really edgy and write him out in an edgy way in the near future. The episode has a nice build up, and ends in a pretty tense and interesting way that’s quite easy to follow given the linear “over the shoulder” nature of the radio report.
I’m reminded somewhat of Natural History of Fear, one of my favourite Big Finish audio dramas (#54) in the way that it’s also quite confusing and tasks the listener with piecing a lot together before a big reveal. The difference being that in Natural History of Fear they’re not limited by an experimental format, and the difference really shows. LIVE 34 is an audio drama with an idea that is interesting as a concept, but hasn’t really carried through in practice. Ultimately you’re just listening to a mediocre news programme for about two hours.
“You’re listening to LIVE 34.”
“LIVE 34 | News on the hour every hour | LIVE 34 | Broadcasting to Colony 34 all day every day | LIVE 34 | Constantly updated every minute of every hour | LIVE 34| Sport, weather, business, local news, interplanetary affairs | LIVE 34 | Live, independent, accurate, comprehensive | LIVE 34 all news, all day, every day | LIVE 34…”
“Reports are coming in of an explosion…”
“On the line now is the leader of the FDP…”
“The President is about to begin his address…”
“We can see bodies in the wreckage…”
Written By: James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown
Directed By: Gary Russell
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor); Sophie Aldred (Ace); Philip Olivier (Hex); Andrew Collins (Drew Shahan); William Hoyland (Premier Jaeger); Zehra Naqvi (Charlotte Singh); Duncan Wiseby (Ryan Wareing); Ann Bryson (Gina Grewal); Joy Elias-Rilwan (Lula)