Big Finish Folly, Part 55 – Year of the Pig, by Matthew Sweet
Ostend, 1913. There’s a rather strange guest hidden away in a suite at the Hotel Palace Thermae. A cultured, whimsical guest, long since retired from the world of show-business, lost in remembrances of his childhood and fearing the horrors of the war yet to come. But it seems that people will not leave him alone. And the world has gone horribly, horribly wrong… what can one pig do to put the whole of time right again?
So here we are at the end of ol’ Sixey’s first mini-season of audios, with yet another “feature-length” affair (by which I mean two hour-long episodes, rather than four shorter ones). Year of the Pig is notable for featuring Michael Keating (Vila, from Blakes 7) and Maureen O’Brien (aka Vicki from the Hartnell era of Who), but these facts aren’t even the most striking features of the play. Year of the Pig is probably the weirdest play I’ve heard yet (and I include the very cerebral and experimental Natural History of Fear² in that category), and one that demands a heck of a lot from the listener. The inclusion of Toby, the Sapient Pig, is merely the most normal part of the whole thing.
The Doctor is apparently on a “reading week”, though I remain to be convinced that anybody can actually struggle through the entirety of Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu in one mortal week. Proust plays a large part in the events that follow and if, like me, you have only the vaguest and sketchiest understanding of what Marcel was moping on about, a fair amount of the in-jokes and nods & winks will go over your head. The story itself is actually an entertaining case of mistaken identity in more ways than one, though without the heavy reliance on Toby’s reminiscences it could have been a good bit shorter. But is it any good?
It could easily have jumped the shark with the ingredients involved – a talking pig, alien technology, Proust – but despite the fact that I can see how it might be considered a Marmite story by listeners, it’s also very good fun and actually had me luaghing out loud at several points. The humour is kept just on the right side of silly, though none of the cast are truly playing a straight bat here³, and the pathos (or do I mean bathos? Or do I mean both??) of a sapient pig who yearns for the comfort of his family helps to remind us that for all the surrounding shenanigans, the play is as much about the supporting characters as it is about the Doctor himself.
Not a play I can wholeheartedly recommend, but certainly one that I’ll be returning to – if only to make more sense of the Proustian jokery…
¹Start as you mean to go on, that’s what I say.
²Yes, I’ve heard it; yes, I liked it; no, it doesn’t get reviewed until I get to the McGann era!
³One might almost accuse them of hamming it up.