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Doctor Who Review: Big Finish’s ‘Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time’

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The 60th anniversary celebration for Doctor Who continues, with another review of one of Big Finish’s many offerings. Everyone’s waiting patiently for the three specials coming in November, which is bringing back David Tennant and Catherine Tate, which only heightens the excitement for Whovians. However, the 60th celebration train has been in full swing over at Big Finish, which is in the middle of releasing a collection of audio dramas in honor of the monumental occasion. The second chapter,  Doctor Who: Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time, brings back a few more familiar faces from the Doctor’s past, with this episode having a strong connection between the two main stars.

The Artist at the End of Time is written by James Goss, who has quite a few Doctor Who writing credits to his name, including parts of the recent Time Lord Victorious storyline, as well as stories for the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctor for Big Finish. Directing this second chapter is Ken Bentley, who also directed a plethora of stories for the Big Finish line of Doctor Who projects, featuring Doctors such as the Fourth, the Fifth, and the Sixth. 

That last bit is important for The Artist at the End of Time because this second chapter features the return of not just Peter Davison and Georgia Tennant as the Fifth Doctor and Jenny respectively. But this episode also features Colin Baker in a role that fans of the 50th anniversary should be familiar with. Continue on to discover what fun lies within Doctor Who: Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time.

[Warning: Spoilers from Doctor Who: Once and Future: The Artist at the End of Time are below!]

Looking for his daughter and some answers

In the final moments of the first chapter in Once and Future, Past Lives, The Doctor, voiced by Tom Baker, decides that the answers to his degeneration lie with his daughter, Jenny. He hopes that by finding her, he can use her DNA to help stabilize the fluctuating effects, which could result in his death. At least, that’s the thought process at least. So as he degenerates into the Fifth Doctor, voiced by Pete Davison, he flies off in his TARDIS to find her.

His search for Jenny, played by real his daughter Georgia Tennant, takes the Doctor to the edge of the galaxy to The Final Gallery, an art gallery of sorts placed in the distant future. While he’s looking for answers about his changing condition, Jenny is looking for some answers of her own. The art located in The Final Gallery all have something slightly morbid in common; they are depicting the final days of planets right before they are destroyed. Each and every painting captures the beauty of these dying planets, but The Final Gallery itself reads like a cemetery for those worlds long forgotten.

The Artist at the End of Time

The Doctor and Jenny discover something else that all the paintings have in common. Turns out they all are the work of one man. This fact tickles the brain of our two heroes, who catch on quickly that something is afoot, and only they can solve it. The Doctor drops his pursuit of knowledge about his condition and decides to work together with Jenny to get to the bottom of the mystery. However, never in my wildest dreams did I expect the Curator to be the culprit behind the entire problem.

The Curator and the possibilities that this Doctor Who adventure opens up

Perhaps my last sentence painted the Curator in too much of a negative light, however, Colin Baker’s role in The Artist at the End of Time is both the key to this adventure and also opens the door to bigger possibilities. The Doctor and Jenny track down the artist, to find that the Curator travels around time, painting the stories of these dying planets as they take their last breaths. A narrative thread that compliments The Doctor’s thoughts in this chapter. The Doctor contemplates his own time and where his journey is headed, feeling much like the dying planets that the Curator is capturing.

The rest of The Artist at the End of Time becomes a character-driven think piece, between these three characters as they travel around and figure out the ethical solution for these planets and The Final Gallery. To me, the most exciting aspect of Baker’s involvement is the continued exploration of the Curator and what it means for the future. Is the Curator a different individual from the Doctor? Is he a future version of the Doctor who now has a different mission in life? Why does he have the same face as past Doctors? There are so many implications and I hope beyond hope that he’s a character we continue to see more of, as his origins are intriguing and leaving me wanting more.

The Artist at the End of Time, similar to Past Lives, manages to wrap up the story in a neat little bow, while also pushing the overall narrative towards its next chapter. What’s next for The Doctor as he gets to the bottom of his degeneration cycle? Who knows, but I’m excited to see where he’s headed.

Positives and negatives of The Artist at the End of Time

Personally, I loved The Artist at the End of Time more than Past Lives for a multitude of reasons. The story being more character-driven instead of action-driven seemed to fit the audio drama format much better. I loved that for once in Doctor Who, we were able to sit with this fantastic character and explore the anxieties of legacy that this man struggles with. James Goss does a fantastic job of mirroring the moral dilemma in The Doctor with the journey of the Curator and the dying planets. I applaud Goss for a job well done balancing the story and the emotional journey.

I also loved that The Artist at the End of Time brought together real-life father and daughter as fictional father and daughter. There’s a level of meta and realism that Davison and Tennant bring to the dynamic between the Doctor and Jenny. The ease of their banter gives a snapshot into their relationship outside of their profession. I loved every moment and every line between the two of them, with their banter similar to that of the Doctor and Donna.

Those looking for an epic flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure, which is rather typical for Doctor Who might be disappointed with The Artist at the End of Time. With a narrative that is focused on character development more so than wacky adventures, the story is more of a slow burn. For me, that was what made the episode exceptional, however, I can’t fault others if this chapter isn’t their specific cup of tea.

Having listened to many other collections from Big Finish, the way that Once and Future is being rolled out doesn’t exactly jive with me. I love the collections that bring together four stories, which tend to have some form of narrative connective tissue. The monthly rollout of single episodes for Once and Future makes the collection feel slightly disjointed. I think it would have benefitted from dropping a few episodes together at a time, giving fans a bit more to mull over. That being said, I still tune in every month to hear the next episode, so something is working.

Overall, The Artist at the End of Time is a fantastic second entry in the Doctor Who: Once and Future series. If this is any indicator of the trajectory that Big Finish is taking this story, fans are definitely in for a treat.

Doctor Who: Once and Future: Artist at the End of Time is available now! Will you be checking this chapter out? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord.

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

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