Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #23: “Project: Twilight”

This is the next in line of my Big Finish Productions Doctor Who retro-reviews.

#23 – “Project: Twilight”

From Big Finish’s site:

In the renovated docklands of South East London, on the bank of the river Thames, the doors of the Dusk are open for business. Bets are called, cards are dealt and roulette wheels spun. As fortunes are won and lost, an inhuman killer stalks the local avenues and alleyways – a killer with a taste for human flesh.

Is there more to casino owner Reggie ‘The Gent’ Mead or is he just a common gangster? What secrets are hidden in the bowels of the Dusk? And what connection does the apparently sleazy Bermondsey casino have to a long-buried government initiative known as Project: Twilight?

The Doctor must form uneasy alliances where the line between friend and enemy is blurred, playing games of chance…

But are the stakes too high?

Written By: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott

Directed By: Gary Russell


Colin Baker (The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Holly De Jong (Amelia Doory); Rob Dixon (Reggie Mead); Rosie Cavaliero (Cassie); Stephen Chase (Nimrod); Rupert Booth (Doctor William Abberton/Matthew); Mark Wright (Mr. Deeks); Kate Hadley (Nurse); Daniel Wilson (Eddie); Gary Russell (Newsreader)

***minor spoilers ahead***

Before Stephanie Meyer pushed her neurotically-sappy and sparkly vampires fairies with bad attitudes upon an unsuspecting world that deserves so much better, the name “Twilight” actually meant something  more classic and sinister in regards to vampires.  It hinted of expectation and dread as those who rule the night go forth to wreak their particular brand of horror.  Doctor Who, of course, takes it one more step beyond the expected.

Imagine if you will, the setting of World War I and all of the advancements and horrors that came with it.  I’m always fascinated by old photographs from that era.  The early photos show Napoleonic era uniforms, horses, and wagons.  The later photos give us modern uniforms, gas masks, and tanks.  In four short years, the world shifted into a bizarre and desperate nightmare, the ramifications of which are still felt even to this day.  Maybe it’s my upbringing on comic books and pulp novels, but to me, such a time is fertile ground for seeds of story to be planted, and the writers at Big Finish have done just that.  Indeed, that is what this story is all about – the planting of seeds.  Within those dark years, according to this story, experiments were undertaken to create a kind of super solider, sort of a dark echo of Captain America’s World War II origin story.  The harshest lesson of any war is dealing with the fallout, and in this case, the fallout takes the form of scientifically engineered vampires.

Fast forward to 1999, when this story takes place.  The Doctor and Evelyn stumble upon a nest of vampires who are conducting further experiments.  When the Doctor does what he does best – grandstanding in the name of righteousness – the vampires reveal that the purpose of their experimentation is to reverse the damage that has been done to them.  It seems that they are on a quest to regain their humanity.  The Doctor, of course, is only too happy to help them unlock the genetic secrets they seek.

Opposing the vampires is Nimrod, an agent of a secret organization known as The Forge, which will feature prominently in a handful of later adventures.  Though ruthless, Nimrod is essentially correct when he says these vampires are up to no good and need to be destroyed.  They have been using the Doctor.  Unlike the Hollywood vampire, these have a serious disadvantage in that they are unable to create others of their own kind, and the Doctor has unwittingly given them the keys to create more vampires.

The Forge and Nimrod are not the only seeds planted in this story that will bear fruit in a big way later on.

One seed sown is the character of Cassie Schofield, a single mother who has left her young son in better hands in an attempt to build a better life for the both of them.  She becomes the first of the new breed of vampires as a result of the Doctor’s unwitting cooperation, and she will return to exact her revenge for what has happened to her.  The tragedy doesn’t stop there.  Her son, referred to here as “Little Tommy,” is raised by his father and maternal grandmother, whom he assumed was his mother until later.  Thomas Hector Schofield, nicknamed “Hex,” will one day find himself travelling in the TARDIS with the 7th Doctor and Ace after an encounter with the Cybermen.

Another seed, probably the biggest and most immediate one, is a poem the Doctor rattles off, seemingly as a random throwaway point of character expansion.  The poem is a Gallifreyan nursery rhyme that inexplicably comes to him at an odd moment early in the story, as such is prone to happen to anyone, for we all sometimes remember tidbits from our past for seemingly no reason.  And much like the nursery rhymes of Earth, the ones on Gallifrey apparently have a far darker story behind the story, as later episodes of Big Finish will reveal, culminating in the adventures of the 8th Doctor and Charley.  In this case, Zagreus, whom the rhyme refers to, is the Gallifreyan bogeyman, a creature of anti-time.  Let that whet your appetite for more.  Zagreus will be mentioned repeatedly as a throwaway point, the predecessor to the kind of stories Russell T. Davies would later tell regarding “Bad Wolf” and “Torchwood.”  Once again, this is why I have such a disdain for things like this in the current TV series.  It comes across as old hat by the time they aired.  Once is genius, after that, anything becomes contrived and lazy, and copycats appear exactly as they are.

As I say, seeds are what this story is all about.  Spoilers or no, these seeds will grow and create undercurrents in the future stories of Big Finish, adding to the already rich and vibrant tapestry that is Doctor Who.  For my money, this story has a lot to offer for those who like stories that build on their mythologies slowly and with purpose.  As a beginning, it is a standalone adventure in its own right, but it does leave some plot threads dangling for later resolution.