We leap ahead a bit now, past Mel’s onscreen exit and Ace’s onscreen introduction (which were the same story, if I remember correctly) and take on Sophie Aldred’s very long run for Big Finish in the role of the Nitro Nine loving lightning rod. There’s a case for heading straight into the Lost Stories that would have followed Survival, but I’m putting the last part of the 50th anniversary trilogy right here first…
Big Finish Folly, Part 139 – 1963: The Assassination Games, by John Dorney
London. The end of November, 1963. A time of change. The old guard are being swept away by the white heat of technology. Political scandals are the talk of the town. Britain tries to maintain its international role; fanatics assassinate charismatic politicians and Group Captain Ian Gilmore is trying to get his fledgling Counter-Measures unit off the ground.
When his life is saved by a familiar umbrella-bearing figure, he knows something terrible is going on. Whilst Rachel investigates an enigmatic millionaire and Allison goes undercover in an extremist organisation, Gilmore discovers a sinister plot with roots a century old.
The Doctor and Ace are back in town. A new dawn is coming. It’s time for everyone… to see the Light.
The nature of this blog means that though this part of the 50th anniversary trilogy followed hard on the heels of Fanfare for the Common Men and The Space Race when released, it’s been a good couple of years since I listened to either of those. What strikes me immediately is how well the production team have carried off the feel of a 1960s-set cold war spy drama. This doesn’t have the claustrophobic, grey patina of Revelation of the Daleks; more the widescreen impossibility of The Avengers or The Champions, before their time. As The Assassination Games can also serve as a linking story and jumping-on point for the Countermeasures spin-off series, the very particular tone of that series feeds back through along the link.
Hugh Ross is, of course, wonderfully unctuous as Sir Toby Kinsella, and Dorney’s script tickles the character’s slight resemblance to Francis Urquhart (House of Cards) by having the Doctor quote Urquhart during one of the scenes set in the Houses of Parliament. The layers of meta-reference are thick indeed. Group Captain Gilmore seems perpetually out of his depth, and at one point I fully expected him to shout something about “five rounds, rapid!” as Countermeasures gets all UNITish. Sylvester McCoy is in his element, manipulating and plotting gleefully, though even the Doctor struggles to keep on top of the action this time around. Ace’s perpetual need to throw explosives at everything is contrasted very well against Pamela Salem’s calmer, more rational Rachel Jensen.
With the CM team included, there are six lead characters to follow, so it’s no surprise that the plot is complicated enough to split the crew into three strands. It’s this slightly over-complex knotting that proves to be the play’s downfall in the end. As much as it’s a brilliantly written script, filled with clever nods and winks and bravura action set pieces, the speed and the sound and fury needed to condense everything into the running time means that when the villain’s mask is ripped off for the reveal it’s all a bit of an underwhelming blur. The Light? Intergalactic Illuminati? Um… wait, isn’t that what the Timelords do? Something a bit more restrained in that department might actually have helped make the threat to Earth more believably real. And it might just be me (it usually is – I listened to this while trying to find my way through and out of Rawmarsh), but the villains of this piece have voices that are tonally too close to each other for easy distinction.
I liked it, let’s be clear on that, but it’s not the stone cold classic that the 50th anniversary might really have deserved.