Now seems as good as place as any – whilst the Sixth Doctor is “between companions,” so to speak – to jump back in time once more to the excellent Five/Nyssa partnership, last seen of course in the 50th Anniversary festivities. I’m placing this latest trilogy of plays right after 1001 Nights in the chronology, which means that I’m probably going to have to break that very long “Season 3” up into two parts rather soon… but enough of my wittering. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Big Finish Folly, Part 15b – Moonflesh, by Mark Morris
Suffolk, 1911. Home of… well, whatever lives in Suffolk. And elephants, tigers, gorillas and lions, oh my. The Tardis tips up at the grand estate of Nathaniel Whitlock, noted explorer and big game hunter, just as the man himself is welcoming guests to his next fund-raising shoot. But there’s more than one big game afoot, and the Doctor is drawn to the stone known as the Moonflesh, discovered by Whitlock’s retainer Silver Crow. And somebody else in the party covets the Moonflesh for their own purposes…
Safari, so goody. A set-up that certainly wouldn’t have been out of place in the TV series itself – though with the 80s budget I reckon they’d have struggled to fit in the wildlife. Andy Hardwick’s sound design and music stand out immediately, sweeping across the audio landscape and filling the story with an epic grandeur that stock footage from Knowsley Safari Park just would not have managed. And while this is certainly not a locked-room tale like Fang Rock, you still get the sense that the characters are all in this together. The storytelling is tight, even when it veers off into bodysnatching aliens territory.
The guest cast are almost uniformly brilliant too. Francesca Hunt’s clipped and affected accent consistently brought a grin to my face, her character leaping through the speakers as aggressively as Tim Bentinck’s Whitlock. It’s always a pleasure to find Hugh Fraser in the cast – he’ll always be associated with the Poirot TV series, but here Edwin Tremayne is an effective foil for both the Doctor and Whitlock. The interviews note that he’s almost the villain of the piece; in some respects he’s the guy who tries to escape from the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park more than a real villain, though he certainly treats everybody else around him with absolute contempt.
The more I listen to Colin Baker’s tenure, the more I realise that Davison was far more my Doctor – the familiar pauses, uncertainties and passive-aggressive politeness that he brings to the role never fail to cheer me up, and this kind of story perfectly suits the Fifth Doctor. Five/Nyssa is pretty much Big Finish’s A-class partnership (with apologies to Six/Peri!), and the clincher for me is that you really don’t need any knowledge of prior stories & arcs to enjoy this tale – no Forge continuity, no time-displaced companions or heavy nods to Who canon.
The only thing that doesn’t quite make it, in my opinion, is John Banks playing a Native American Indian. As much as I rate him as a versatile player – and he’s been in more audio dramas than I’ve had hot dinners – somehow he isn’t quite right as Silver Crow. Your mileage, of course, may vary.