❉ James Goss’s sharp, articulate script is a diamond anniversary gem, writes Kevin Burnard.
“Colin Baker brings a melancholy gravitas, Peter Davison a lot of complexity and range, and Georgia Tennant blows everyone away with charisma and charm, all in a properly good story.“
The Artist at the End of Time, the second instalment of Big Finish’s Doctor Who 60th anniversary series Once and Future, was beset by controversy even before it came out. AI art is a hot topic of debate right now and the original cover design was hit out the gate with that problem, presenting a very obviously AI designed artwork that was quickly replaced with a new design in response to fandom outcry. It’s interesting, then, how apt that debate is to the story itself. The Artist at the End of Time is an incredibly sharp and articulate story about art: the creation, the expression, the legacy, and the way commercial value gets slapped on at the end of the day.
As with the previous instalment, Past Lives, The Artist at the End of Time revolves around the Doctor flitting through incarnations as the result of a Time War weapon and seeking answers and stability in the form of familiar faces from throughout Doctor Who’s history. In this case, the Doctor settles in the body of Peter Davison and connects with his real life daughter Georgia Tennant as Jenny, playing off Colin Baker’s take on possible future Doctor the Curator.
Moreso than Past Lives, the story gets a lot of mileage out of the combination of characters, wisely avoiding much of a guest cast to delve into their relationships and emotions. With them having already been paired in the last Big Finish anniversary crossover event, James Goss’ script wisely dispenses with much kerfuffle around reintroducing Jenny and the Doctor to each other and gets on with exploring their relationship as two incredibly similar people divided by age and experience, who are obviously family but not quite able to embrace that label for various sci-fi reasons. With the Curator to provide a future perspective on the Doctor’s emotions and relationships, Goss ends up with a very tidy relationship triangle that’s more than sufficient to fuel an engaging hour.
The plot of the hour is similarly tidy and sharp. As mentioned earlier, it’s about art, with a gallery built around selling the final works of dying civilizations to the 1% who are able to endure longer at the end of the universe. And these works are all created by one artist, who leaves the destruction of worlds in his wake. It immediately crackles with stakes and things to say. It’s not just satisfying from a satirical point, skewering the commodification of art, but it manages to bridge the act of creation to the act of parenthood in some very nice moments. There’s something delightfully cohesive about this script. Whereas with the previous installment I was intrigued by the implications but unsure what it was saying with them, this episode is articulate and has many points to make, rattling through them at a good clip without ever feeling unwieldy.
If there is one objection to raise at this endeavour, it’s a similar one to what I had last month: I’m still no more sure than I was what the point of Once and Future is. The story remains opaque beyond a general impulse to shuffle through a bunch of familiar faces in a slightly different way, and the teases at the end of this episode for what to come are even vaguer than the last. The impression I get here for the rest of the event is that how good it will be will mostly be down to the individual episode. This gets a very firm recommendation from me without hesitation. But is that all Once and Future is? I still don’t understand where this is going or why it’s doing it, and that is stuck in the back of my mind no matter how good the episode of the month is.
Unlike the characters here, though, I can’t leap to the end of time. I can only appraise the artwork that’s in front of me. On that front, I loved it. Colin Baker brings a melancholy gravitas, Peter Davison a lot of complexity and range, and Georgia Tennant blows everyone away with charisma and charm, all in a properly good story. Even the bit parts and throwaway side plots brought a lot of joy to me, from a silly but poignant little arc about the Gallery’s artificial intelligence to some riotous antics around art theft.
Maybe the arc will go somewhere I like, maybe it won’t, but either way, I hope it doesn’t impact my feelings on this episode, just like I hope the drama around the cover doesn’t chase people away, because as is, I think it’s likely to be one of my favorite audios of the year. James Goss is one of Big Finish’s most prolific and accomplished writers and he brought his A-game here. It’s a gem: the first diamond of Doctor Who’s diamond anniversary.
DOCTOR WHO – ONCE AND FUTURE: THE ARTIST AT THE END OF TIME
Director: Ken Bentley
Writer: James Goss
Script Editor: Matt Fitton
Producer: David Richardson
Associate Producer: Georgia Tennant
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery
Duration: 73 minutes approx.
Released: June 2023, exclusively from the Big Finish website.
❉ ‘Doctor Who – Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time’ written by James Goss, is now available as a single-disc collector’s edition CD (+ download for just £10.99), or digital download only (for just £8.99), exclusively from www.bigfinish.com. Doctor Who fans worldwide can pre-order a bundle of all eight Once and Future audio adventures for just £72 (on collector’s edition CD and download) or £60 (download only).
❉ Kevin Burnard is a writer, filmmaker, and podcaster. He can usually be found watching TV and tie-in media, tweeting about TV and tie-in media at @scribblesscript, or frequently, both simultaneously. Backflips are sometimes involved.