The Nowhere Place by Nicholas Briggs

"Workmanlike" is a funny expression. It is without exception used as a put-down, yet it implies hard graft and an understanding of your trade. Unlike the majority of Nick Briggs' other scripts, "The Nowhere Place" is anything but workmanlike.

Which is a surprise, given its setting; Earth future in deep space is a favourite patch for Briggs; one might almost say his own. It suggested what we would get would be another "Sword of Orion" - more space lanes and murky freighters, rough-diamond male low-lifes called things like Snitch and Klatch working for ruthless, mocked female captains. You know the story. And sure enough, this is exactly what "The Nowhere Place" appears to throw up. Yet after a frankly confusing opening scene, something odd happens. The tension is jacked up. There is, perhaps explained by the authors self-acknowledged debt to Robert Shearman in the liner notes, a massive influx of "Sapphire and Steel". And, yes, a shedload of original elements and a frisson of excitement! Woo!

The centrepiece is a strange door in the side of the ship which, heralded by an odd tolling bell which only some people can hear, begins claiming them. Behind it all, suggested only by the alternative cover and release blurb, is the possibility of spooky involvement from a 1950's steam train (more "Sapphire and Steel"-ery). Such mystery is "The Nowhere Place's" best tool, and at this point, just for a moment, it seems as if Briggs' has finally done it - knocked out a classic. The magic has suddenly appeared, as it always does, from "Nowhere". It's Robert Holmes turning up with the egg of "Kroll" still on his face to write "Androzani". It's "Revelation" hoving into view from the charred ashes of the rest of Season 22. It's a "Chimes of Midnight". It is, I thought to myself as I finished Episode 3, possibly the finest Big Finish story for three years.

And then.

AND THEN.

Oh what a shame. The wretched man has thrown it all away. In hindsight, the seeds were sown during the steam train sections in Part 3, which weren't half as good as they threatened to be. Not only do the characters of Palmer and Trevor not appear to have much to do with things, but precious little actually happens on the train and on top of that we're expected to believe that someone's commute doodle on a scrap of paper will turn out to be the design for the space engine that will take mankind to the edge of the solar system hundreds of years later!

Such reckless plotting leads us to the mess that is Part 4. Oh dear. OH DEAR! I've still no real idea what on Earth was behind the door, what the creature responsible was or how on Earth a nuclear missile fired into empty space in 2197 can destroy beings at "Time's End". Worse, Episode 4 winds up being my pet hate, an episode where everyone talks for twenty minutes to explain everything, rather than letting the conclusion emerge out of drama. Yes, I'm afraid it's that bad. So bad, in fact, that I wish I'd never heard past Part 3, I am none the wiser for doing so. The cherry on the mouldy old cake is that for no reason at all, bar I presume egotism, the alien at the end of time who fails to explain everything clearly is played by Briggs as his 1950's commuter! Was writing, directing and being in one episode not enough for him?

I'd say I'm cripplingly disappointed by "The Nowhere Place" but, in fairness, was anyone expecting Big Finish to knock out a classic anyway? It seemed unlikely, though the first half of this story remains the most promising, fresh, exciting set of episodes for ages, a delightful and tense mash of "Sapphire and Steel" and the author's earlier work, somehow with all the good items in the mix ramped up and made special. By the close of Part 4 however, not only have we not even bid farewell to the neurotic Tania Oswin (who just disappears!) but there is acres of talking, a rubbish ending, and everything is explained by the fact that apparently everything happens at once at "Time's End". Time's End? Big Finish's End, more like, if this is an example of the storytelling about to be championed by the new boss.