The last Doctor Who ‘Short Trip’ to be released by Big Finish in 2018 was ‘The Devil’s Footprints’ by Penelope Faith. The story concerns the Seventh Doctor and Mel meeting up with an old friend; HT Ellacombe. But there is trouble afoot…
Mysterious cloven footprints have appeared in the snow overnight and the villagers are saying that the devil is walking amongst them. HT Ellacombe is too distracted to help and the Doctor is too distracted trying to reach his old friend to notice that anything is really wrong. This time Mel has no choice but to solve the mystery of ‘The Devil’s Footprints‘ by herself.
Penelope Faith and Real Life History
One of the things Doctor Who has always been able to do very well is take real-life mysteries and provide a unique spin on it. This is exactly what author Penelope Faith has decided to do here. The mysterious footprints in question were a real-life event in a small Devonshire village in 1850. People of the time were baffled, believing that the Devil had come to Earth and it was the end of days, because, what else could it be?
Faith takes the same route as the story ‘The Dæmons’ and gives it an alien twist, whilst still presenting something completely new and fresh. The whole piece is excellent and on more than one occasion, Faith throws in some surprises. While I don’t think anyone will be surprised by who the villain turns out to be, it is still a great moment in the story, injecting some genuine threat to the proceedings, especially in a story that takes a lighter tone in keeping with the Season 24 format.
The Seventh Doctor and Mel
This is the first Seventh Doctor and Mel story we’ve had for a long time. In the main range we’ve had the duo of Ace and Mel but not a Mel story on her own with the Doctor. ‘The Devil’s Footprints’ reminds us why they are such a great team on audio. The pair challenge one another and occasionally rub each other up the wrong way. But they are friends and will go to the ends of the earth for one another.
Penelope Faith has an excellent handle on the characters. The Seventh Doctor is still the slightly more impish version of McCoy that we had in his debut season and while Faith has a great handle on that, never taking the silliness of his character too far, she also injects his character with some of the darker nature his character would take in his final televised series. His treatment of the villain at the end is both nice but cruel and it is an action that wouldn’t be out of place on screen.
Mel is handled excellently too. Faith keeps her the same Mel we saw on television, even going so far as to go into her thought processes about the strange costumes she always wore. But it is a story that allows us to see how much she has learnt from her time with the Doctor. The Big Finish element of her character comes into play here as she doesn’t wait around to investigate. It is an excellent handling of her character, made even better by the fantastic performance from Bonnie Langford.
Bonnie Langford is always a welcome presence to these audios. She is just as excellent in the role of narrator, effortlessly bringing the story to life. Like writer Faith, Langford too has an excellent handle on the characters here, the benefit being that she actually was there. While her impersonation of McCoy is a little strange and does take a little getting used too, it is still enjoyable. She captures the impish qualities of the early Seventh Doctor and the darker elements just as fantastically as Faith achieved with her writing.
Of course, Langford’s handle on Mel is as excellent as expected. She seems to relish these Big Finish audios, where Mel has been developed to something more than just someone who screamed at extremely high pitches. It is glorious to hear and fantastic that Bonnie Langford is happy to continue playing this character. Long may she continue.
Overall, ‘The Devil’s Footprints’ is an excellent way to spend forty-minutes. Helen Goldwyn handles the direction fantastically, keeping the story rattling along at a great pace. In all the audios Goldwyn has directed, she manages to get the best out of her actors and that trend continues here. Here’s hoping Goldwyn has much more contributions in 2019. The script from Penelope Faith is just excellent. Her handle on the main cast is first-class and her secondary characters are brilliant too. Hopefully she and Bonnie Langford, who is amazing as usual, will be back with more Big Finish material in the future.
The Doctor’s old friend, the reverend H.T. Ellacombe, has been out of touch for too long. But when the Doctor goes to find him, he and Mel discover something else entirely: unidentifiable footprints in the snow around the Victorian village where he lives.
The villagers are terrified that the very Devil walks their lands in the wintry nights, but with the Doctor distracted by finding his friend, it seems it’s up to Mel to do the snooping around in attempt to uncover the truth…
Producer: Ian Atkins.
Script Editor: Ian Atkins.
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs.
Written By: Penelope Faith.
Directed By: Helen Goldwyn.
Bonnie Langford (Narrator)