By an odd coincidence, I’ve listened to two Big Finish adaptations back to back, with a great deal in common. Both are directed by Scott Handcock; both feature Mark Gatiss prominently – the first being based on his early New Adventures novel, the other starring him as Count Dracula – and both are excellent. However, while Jonathan Barnes’ script for Dracula is very faithful to Stoker’s text, Kyle C. Szikora’s adaptation of the novel is far freer.
For those of us who followed the Virgin NAs through, there are a lot of elements about Gatiss’s Quatermass homage that we might have hoped would make the audio version but haven’t – the stresses between the Doctor and Ace, the reporter character who echoed the great James Fullalove from Kneale’s stories, the opening sequence featuring a former companion that foreshadows what happens later… But to produce an audio of that version of Nightshade would probably need a four-hour box set and would be, bluntly, uneconomic to do.
The two hour adventure we have here reworks the dynamic between the Doctor and Ace to give both of them an arc within the context of a standalone story set moderately early in their travels together. It smooths a few of the edges that worked on paper but not so much on audio, and also amalgamates a number of characters to get at the heart of Gatiss’ tale.
And this it does admirably, dealing with the emotional beats of people dealing with both what their past really was and their own perception of it – whether it’s the Doctor looking back at the actions of an earlier incarnation, or TV star Edmund Trevithick who had fame as Professor Nightshade (whose adventures are nicely reprised with appropriate music from Blair Mowat, and sound design by Iain Meadows). Handcock has assembled a strong ensemble in front of the microphones to match Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s powerful performances, and it’s great that Carole Ann Ford returned for a critical scene.
Verdict: A gripping movie length tale – different from but equally valid to the original. 9/10