Doctor Who, like all good science fiction, is frequently a collision of ideas that helps to show us our society from a new angle. The Middle, the latest Sixth Doctor audio adventure from Big Finish, wears its influences boldly – sometimes even brazenly – to create a satire on social stereotypes in our culture. Those influences include: an ant colony, where older ants do the hardest work; George Orwell’s 1984; and Logan’s Run, already a satire on attitudes to ageing and indolence.
On the planet Formicia (told you the references were brazen, Latin-lovers), society is regimented – the young (those up to the age of 35) get to swan about having fun with no responsibility. The next 35 years are spent in “the Middle”, a giant Kafka-esque version of Heaven, supposedly doing all the real work, but for the most part watching the young. And once you hit 70, the Biblical three-score-and-ten years allegedly “allotted” to human beings, you move on from the Middle to the inevitable End. Into an environment like that, writer Chris Chapman bring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his two latest friends, 19 year-old Flip Ramon (Lisa Greenwood), and – on her 35th birthday no less – Leading WREN Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison), previously at World War II cipher-cracking station, Bletchley Park.
The fact of it being Constance’s 35th birthday is convenient to the story, as it allows the three to be separated early on – Flip to a life of spa treatments and all-night parties; Constance to the Middle; and the indeterminately-aged – but significantly older than 70 – Time Lord transported straight to whatever the End might be. There are some twists and turns here, and I won’t spoil them for you, but suffice to say, there’s more to it than a sci-fi Dignitas, and consent is not really key to the experience.
Each of our time travellers finds allies in their quest to re-unite and get off the topsy-turvy world of Formicia, but along the way, they feel it incumbent on them to take down The Middleman, Formicia’s very own Big Brother, who even goes to the trouble of providing an alien invader they can fight to distract themselves from problems at home (thank you, Mr Orwell).
It’s an interesting dystopia, Formicia, because for a lot of people – indeed, for the people the Sixth Doctor encounters in the End – the societal model that gives freedom to young people, work and worth to the middle-aged and ageing, and the genuine attractions of the End to the elderly could really work. This leaves Chapman pushing hard to show us what’s wrong with the model – which is the lack of fluidity and consent; there’s no going ahead or coming back within this strictly ageist society – in order to justify the TARDIS team’s actions in destroying the way of life for the whole biodome, leaving only the messiness of choice and democracy behind them.
What The Middle delivers, ultimately, is classic-style four-part Doctor Who story that works some surprises into its storytelling, but which is for the most part powered along by some epic performances. Sheila Reid adds another to her collection of feisty old bats you don’t want to cross, and Mark Heap is excellently moustache-twirling, if vocally unrecognisable, as the Middleman. The three now regular principals – Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood and Miranda Raison – are increasingly gelling into an all-time favourite TARDIS team, and The Middle allows extra levels of separation to show their dynamics in different lights.
The Middle is a story that delivers everything you think it’s going to, with an additional spin on some social questions to boot. Pick it up today and enjoy your trip from Beginning to Middle to End.
Doctor Who: The Middle is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until December 31st 2017, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers