|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.
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