Rat Trap, by Tony Lee
Back to Earth once more, in the “last episode” of this fifth season of Big Finish Folly, and we find ourselves at Cadogan Castle, in the late 11th Century, watching the jousting… or we would be, if the Tardis’s finely-tuned navigational equipment ever actually worked. Instead, the Doctor has landed inside the old army installation at Cadogan, deep in the bunker’s tunnels.
It’s 1983, the Milksnatcher is 24 hours from a second term, and there are rats in this abandoned bunker. Big rats. This is gonna be messy…
In fact, this is what would happen if James Herbert wrote for Doctor Who. Cue up the treacherous civil servants, the aggressive military types, the red-shirted civilians caught in something they can’t understand, and of course the morally ambiguous scientists who caused the whole mess to begin with. The Doctor and his companions have to contend with all of them – along with the Rat King itself (and the cover picture should give you some idea of what that looks like
Like all the best Big Finish adventures, this one moves at such a pace that there’s no time to dwell on the inconsistencies, incongruities and loopy coincidences built into the plot. Every member of the crew has something to do here, separated from each other and struggling with their own narratives. Tegan gets to discover why the rats are down here to begin with, Turlough is trapped inside the Tardis along with a young civil servant who might not be all she seems, Nyssa gets to play with a chemistry set, and the Doctor himself has to try to keep everybody safe. No easy task.
The main problem is that with everybody in separate locations, they all need somebody else to interact with. That means the cast is a bit larger than some other recent plays, and it’s no big shock when some of the characters get trimmed back (um…they die) in the second episode for clarity’s sake. On the other hand, Tony Lee makes good use of the opportunity to explore the three companions, giving each of them a few choice moments to shine and develop their characters. Without spoilering too much, Tegan’s use of her Mara memories is pretty nifty, as is the way that Turlough’s natural sense of self-preservation is used against the rats. Terry Molloy’s performance is also well-judged, though ironically quite close to that other mad scientist he portrays so well…
In summation? A good show, once again, from a cast that clearly enjoys returning to these roles. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the story arc that brought Nyssa back into the Tardis (back in Cobwebs) seems to have been set aside during these last few stories. It makes a welcome reappearance here, but never gets any resolution – in fact the story itself halts as though it has run into a brick wall with neither a cliff-hanger nor a hook. Slightly frustrating after all that build-up, but it would be churlish to mark it down for that.