Urgent Calls by Eddie Robson

It's good to hear your voice, you know it's been so long
If I don't get your call then everything goes wrong
I want to tell you something you've known all along
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone

So sang Blondie during one of their busy periods. It says a little about "Urgent Calls", the telephone based Doctor Who mini adventure which launched the new 3+1 format for Big Finish. The change from the traditional 4 parter to something more flexible was greeted with a certain amount of head scratching when it was announced but once people heard Urgent Calls I think there was an almost immediate accepting that it was a Good Idea.

Urgent Calls couldn’t work as a fully fledged story and even attempting to stretch it to the now fashionable 45 minute format would be too much. It is perfectly suited to twenty five minutes – long enough to establish the character of Lauren and make us like her but not long enough for us to become bored with a duologue (and one with the added distraction of one half being heard via the telephone). Urgent Calls is charming, it is sweet, it is fun and it never outstays its welcome.

I had to interrupt and stop this conversation
Your voice across the line gives me a strange sensation

The plot may be nonsense – a serendipitous virus which is transmitted form person to person and which makes them subconsciously dial a wrong number that leads to good things happening sounds absurd. Absurd in a bad way rather than absurd in a good way. "Bang Bang a Boom" sounds absurd but in that way that draws you to it rather than turning you away in disgust. It doesn’t matter that Urgent Calls has at its heart a piece of gobbledygook. That’s just the last couple of minutes. By the time the explanation comes we’re too drawn into this sweet little relationship to care why it is happening. It is nice that it is happening and that’s all that matters. We might feel a little ripped- and/or cheesed-off if there was no explanation forthcoming, for that would imply luck – which is little more than magic or superstition – and that would never do. The explanation makes a weird sort of sense and that is enough.

The 3+1 format thus got off to the best possible start. The 3-parter I’m sure I’ll address in detail at some point but suffice it to say it was fine. An extra episode wouldn’t have improved it and may have made it worse. By becoming more flexible, it can only help Big Finish to tell better stories. I wouldn’t be opposed to 2+2 if that is what the writer could do best. Though I feel 1+3 might be taking things a little too far.

Nick Briggs has courageously addressed one of the problems with the Big Finish audio series – the perceived need to offer "value for money" by making the stories as long as possible. The 78 minutes you can fit on a CD represented the only limit on the episodes and on more than one occasion they took it to the wire. One only has to look at Minuet in Hell to know what a self-defeating thing that is. Briggs was brave enough to go against the perceived wisdom that four episodes is the perfect length for a Doctor Who story and, by adding the one part short stories and the behind the scenes interviews, has made the Big Finish monthly CDs better value despite technically giving less minutes for your money.

"Don't leave me hanging on the CD player" would be how Blondie might’ve expressed their feelings about the previous Big Finish regime. Debbie can now, although I suspect she always did where Doctor Who audio plays were concerned, stop worrying.