I have been a lover of Doctor Who for several years, but only recently have I stumbled upon The Chimes Of Midnight. I have watched a large majority of the available classic episodes and all of the revived series. I’ve been to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff twice.
I even meet Lalla Ward who played my favorite companion, Romana II. But there was one part of the Doctor Who franchise I never experienced, the Big Finish audio dramas. After starting with some of the audio dramas recommended to me, I soon discovered that Big Finish provides some of the best Doctor Who content around.
Some episodes even surpassing the best of the TV series. Today, I will be taking a look at the Eighth Doctor audio drama, The Chimes of Midnight written by Robert Shearman, and explaining why it’s the best Doctor Who horror story ever written.
The Chimes Of Horror In The Chimes Of Midnight
Doctor Who has had a reputation for making little kids hide behind sofas ever since the first few serials aired way back in 1963. In the 70’s, under the producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who embraced this reputation and began telling cosmic horror stories regularly.
Whether it be the terrifying first appearance of the Daleks, the body horror of the Wirrn, the eerie similarity between the Cybermen and the evolution of our own species, or the jump scares of The Weeping Angels, Doctor Who has been excelling at providing horror for 55 years. But what if I told you the thing that scared me the most was an Edwardian house during Christmas Eve?
I’m not kidding you. During the third part of this four-part audio drama, I jumped out of my chair in fright. It was during a very tense moment in the episode, the music was eerie, and a distorted voice was laughing while a grandfather clock chimed in the background. And then my dog walks in, causing this man in his twenties to scream in terror. That’s what The Chimes of Midnight will do to you.
The Chimes Of Beginning
Most Doctor Who episodes open very similarly. We are introduced to a few characters in a certain place or time that sets up the central conflict. Then The Doctor and his companion(s) show up, make some witty banter, and get intertwined with the conflict. The Chimes of Midnight actually does a twist on this that makes it all the more interesting.
It opens with a grandfather clock chiming which gradually gets louder and then turns into a heartbeat. Something takes a breath and moans creepily. Slowly the heartbeat fades, and we hear the TARDIS materialize. While the witty banter is there, it is downplayed as The Doctor and Charley Pollard find themselves in a dark and abandoned house. They must now find out what this place is and where everyone is.
It’s a very atmospheric opening that sets up the tone and horror elements perfectly. This opening reminds me of one of the best Doctor Who episodes featuring the Fourth Doctor, The Ark in Space. Intentionally establishing the monster out of context for the viewer to add to both the horror and the mystery of what is going on.
The Chimes Of Sound
Saying the sound design on The Chimes of Midnight is spectacular would be an understatement. Every sound and bit of music adds to the tension of the story. From the subtle use of clock chimes in the music to the distorted laugh of the monster, it will make you sit at the edge of your seat.
Visual horror stories are often ruined due to showing the monster and thus ruining the mystique of it. The Chimes of Midnight is able to easily avoid this due to it being purely audio. And considering what the monster is, which I will not reveal as you need to experience the twist yourself, it would be hard to pull it off visually without seeming cheesy.
Horror primarily comes from the unknown. What you imagine is always going to be more terrifying than what can be shown. This is a Doctor Who story that works best in the audio drama medium, and it makes the most out of it.
The Chimes Of Characters
Characters drive the story. This is the golden rule of all fiction, and The Chimes of Midnight follows it to the letter. Charley, who is brought to life by India Fisher, is fast becoming one of my favorite companions. She is smart, resourceful, and kind. But she is flawed and comes from a privileged background which is a major crux of the story.
The working staff of the house are intentional archetypes taken from Agatha Christie murder mystery novels. Considering a big part of the episode is playing with tropes of the murder mystery and making them terrifying, this makes sense. However, none of the characters are flat and they fully come alive throughout the story. Especially Edith, played by Louise Rolfe. She is a character you quickly grow to feel for, which makes the ending even more heartfelt.
Doctor Who; BBC
Paul McGann was never given his time to shine as The Doctor on screen. All he had was the poorly received, made for TV film in 1996 for a long time. In 2013, he was thankfully brought back to do a regeneration scene in the mini-episode The Night of The Doctor.
However, in the Big Finish audio dramas, he gets to play The Doctor with some great scripts. And this time there is no shoehorned in idea about him being half-human. He gives an amazing performance in The Chimes of Midnight and demonstrates that the Eighth Doctor is one of the best Doctors we ever had.
The Chimes Of Conclusion
The Chimes of Midnight is not just the best horror episodes of Doctor Who, but also one of the best episodes in general. It will terrify you, intrigue you, and tug at your heartstrings.
I highly recommended it and lucky for you it’s available for free on Spotify! So, go out and listen to it now! I know I plan on listening to it every Christmas. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without The Chimes of Midnight.