Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Piper's Lament - A Review

For the last five decades that 'Doctor Who' has been entertaining us, it has provided us with a host of memorable companions. Arguably one of the most popular of these has to be highlander Jamie McCrimmon, portrayed brilliantly by Frazer Hines. Jamie was a very loyal companion, and the relationship his character shared with Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, is still one of the greatest partnerships in 'Doctor Who' history.

Of course, Jamie's final moments with the Doctor, echoed 40 years later when a similar fate befell Donna Noble, saw the many memories of his adventures in the TARDIS get erased without remorse. Although Hines would return several times to 'Doctor Who' in future years, these appearances would always be set within the time-frame of his travels with the Second Doctor (erm, more or less...see SEASON 6B). We were never given a chance to discover what happened next to Jamie, or if he ever rediscovered his lost past. Until now....

'The Piper's Lament' is Jamie's story. Although legal issues forbid the audio to mention Jamie by name, author David J Howe cleverly works this into the actual story, adding to the mystery, and the final, emotional climax of the piece. It is, essentially, a one-man play in audiobook format, told from the viewpoint of the nameless Piper, in a cosy highland pub. Hines is no doubt an expert at the audio format through his work with the Target readings and Big Finish, and his performance here balances nicely between explanation and emotion. It's obvious to the ear that Hines is relishing the material that he has been provided with, and he rises to the occasion admirably. Due to the set-up of the drama, he is very conversational in his approach, and thanks to the careful direction of Sam Stone, you have a genuine impression of sitting with him in a corner of a pub, listening to him telling you his story.

The script itself is gorgeous, too. Essentially designed to give the character of Jamie a proper moment of rediscovery, it manages to be far, far more than just a string of fan-pleasing references. As fun as a full 60-minutes of references to Ice Warriors, Cybermen, and giant crabs would be, Howe instead focusses on Jamie's pre-and post- TARDIS life. Without giving too much away, it's these parts of the story that genuinely break your heart, without needing to rely on anything we might have seen on television. Combining a beautiful script with an understated reading from Hines, we are made to care about the characters Howe himself has created, and there are a few death scenes that are genuinely striking and shocking. They linger in the memory long after, just like the gentle, melancholy score of haunting bagpipes lamenting throughout. These moments are peppered very nicely with touches of warmth and humour, that do nothing to disturb the atmosphere created by Stone's direction.

Of course, this being a play about a nameless piper remembering his past, there are plenty of extremely fan-pleasing sequences that will have lovers of the Troughton era squealing with delight. They are used sparingly, adding to their impact, and they help reinforce the fact that the piper is our Jamie McCrimmon, still battling on after all these years...

'The Piper's Lament' reaches a touching, heartfelt conclusion, that ties up the story of Jamie, and at the same time points us to the future. It is, absolutely, a love-letter to the character of Jamie McCrimmon, and perhaps to Frazer Hines himself, but a carefully constructed letter that manages not to gush. It's a celebration of Jamie, not just of his TARDIS adventures, but of his character, and of his own personal history.

Listen to 'The Piper's Lament' by a crackling fire, with a bowl of hot soup and glass of whisky. Now that winter is here, what more could you possibly want? Put your feet up, close your eyes, and catch up with an old, old friend....

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