Big Finish Folly, Part 141 – Crime of the Century, by Andrew Cartmel
The year is 1989. In London, safe cracker Raine Creevy breaks into a house – and finds more than the family jewels.
In the Middle East, the kingdom of Sayf Udeen is being terrorised by Soviet invaders and alien monsters.
And on the Scottish border, a highly guarded facility contains an advanced alien weapon.
These are all part of the Doctor’s masterplan. But masterplans can go awry…
Some parts of the last play, Thin Ice, made me grind my teeth with exasperation. That, unfortunately, is going to become a bit of a theme with this arc of Lost Stories. Okay, fair enough, this is a fairly faithful representation of how Doctor Who perhaps would have been had Survival not been the TV series’ last gasp back in the ’80s, but all that’s doing right now is proving to me that the show was running out of gas. It sounds sacrilegious, but Crime of the Century is a chore.
So: building on Thin Ice, which gave us a Who first in that the Doctor witnessed the birth of one of his future companions, knowing already that she would be a companion, we jump forward to meet that very same companion, as played by Beth Chalmers, who in Thin Ice played her own mother. The Doctor, having abandoned his attempt to get Ace into the Timelord Academy, has instead developed a very confusing and unexplainable plan to gain access to some sort of highly-guarded bunker in Scotland, via a race of aliens who have invaded a mountainous country somewhere in the Middle East (it makes a change from quarries in Dorset) and a wise-cracking, safe-cracking, criminal by the name of Raine Creevy. By the end of the story, we know that the Metatraxi have a distinctive weakness in their code of honour, that the banking crash of the 80s was the so-called crime of the century, and that the Doctor has set everything up so far in advance that the whole play seems to be a fait accompli.
It’s overly arch and knowing, and you can picture the characters turning to the audience and breaking the fourth wall with the heavy-handed joking. The pacing is slightly off. The Metatraxi have the rug pulled from under them and become joke aliens as well as the Doctor’s weapon of choice. When a couple of characters die late in the day, they do so almost “off-screen” in a manner completely at odds with the tone of the play so far. If all of it had been done so bluntly, with less of the Doctor’s showmanship, it might all have fitted together better than it does.
And what to make of Raine Creevy? I’m not certain yet – in her own way she seems just as manipulative as the Doctor; if the intention was to introduce her as a nimble rogue and then have the Doctor upstage and trump her to prove how much of a master manipulator he is, then it doesn’t quite come off. We’ll see over the next couple of plays if she comes to fit in better.