I’m a simple woman. I saw Ace with swords on the cover and was instantly sold.
Really, though, it wasn’t only the cover that swayed my decision to pick up this discounted boxset from Big Finish in November. I’m a sucker for Doctor Who pirate stories because there are, in my opinion, far too few of them. And this TARDIS team is one of my favourites; Hex is a gentle, compassionate soul, which perfectly counteracts both the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s personalities (a fact that’s used quite effectively in Displaced). I was shocked to see a newer story with the three of them, though, since Hex’s stories petered out in the early 2010s.
So, was I right to be convinced by Ace with swords? …sort of. Whether you’re a Doctor Who fan or not, I hope you’ll dive in with me as I talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly in this boxset.
The Flying Dutchman by Gemma Arrowsmith
There’s one thing you can’t deny about this first story: the setting is incredibly fun.
I love the sound effects that completely immerse you in the story: the waves splashing against the ship, the creaking boards, the grumbling crewmen. I could picture myself in the middle of the ocean, watching The Flying Dutchman glow in the distance.
But, unfortunately…I have to say that was probably my favourite thing about the whole story.
I wouldn’t call The Flying Dutchman “bad” by any means, but the story was, overall, just bland. There was a solid plot. Everyone was in character. There were some interesting side characters. But none of those things stood out, and in fact, the plot itself was actually pretty disappointing and anticlimactic.
Now, I’m all in favour of a simple plot that allows the characters to shine, but in this case, I think the plot was too simple, too slow, and too easily solved. Additionally, the characters didn’t really do much. One side character kind of went through some growth, but I didn’t find him or his journey all that interesting. The plot would have been more tolerable if ample time had been spent on exploring and developing the characters, but that wasn’t the case here. With neither plot nor characters taking the front seat, the whole story just came off as pretty lacklustre. Rather unfortunate for a pirate story!
So, overall, The Flying Dutchman only earned 2/5 stars from me. I would have really liked to see a much more interesting plot crafted around this concept.
Displaced by Katharine Armitage
In an odd contrast that I rarely see in a Big Finish boxset, Displaced was the exact opposite of The Flying Dutchman in just about every way.
Funnily enough, I found myself instantly captivated by Displaced, even though The Flying Dutchman was the whole reason why I bought the boxset. I noticed right from the start that the dialogue was so much more more vibrant. The single setting of an old house, while seemingly more mundane than a ship on the high seas, came to life (kind of literally) throughout the carefully crafted plot. The mystery started off chilling and suspenseful and never let up
And as for the character work? Exquisite. With such an enclosed story, the script allowed the Doctor, Ace, and Hex to shine, showing both how well the trio works together and how easily they can descend into conflict. It was really a character study for Ace and Hex and a wonderful “whodunnit” plot at the same time.
The story was, honestly, a relief. I’ll admit to being pretty disappointed by a lot of the newer stories that Big Finish has been putting out in the past few years as they’ve slowly been prioritising flashy plots over characters and relationships, even in stories where the relationships are the whole point (*cough cough* Gallifrey). But Displaced felt like a good ol’ 2000s Big Finish story, a sort of cross between The Chimes of Midnight and Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains.”
With a plot that kept me guessing, character work that tugged on my emotions all the way through, and a little hint of aliens that should always be present in a Doctor Who story, Displaced was everything I could want from a short Big Finish story like this. 5/5 for me!
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