This Big Finish Doctor Who tale kicks off a second trilogy of stories for Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in the company of both his onscreen companions; Mel having re-joined the TARDIS crew post ‘Dragonfire’ and after her (mis)adventures with Sabalom Glitz.
Written by John Dorney, the story takes place within an isolated futuristic community, with staff, both human and robotic, as well as rebel groups struggling to survive. The location is an artificial planetoid named Parking – part of a futuristic equivalent of a park and ride, created to accommodate spaceships while their occupants teleport down to the nearby intergalactic tourist attraction of Dashrah.
Like many McCoy stories, the time travellers arrive looking for the answer to a mystery that has piqued the Doctor’s interest; in this case he wants to discover the fate of Dashrah’s legendary Dreamspinners, but promptly becomes embroiled Parking’s more immediate problems.
Arrested on a technicality, the trio come under the scrutiny of the slippery Deputy Head Warden Kempton (Hywel Morgan) and soon find themselves framed as terrorists, or Free Parkers, who are accused of murder by blowing up spaceships which try to take off.
As the story develops, we dig further into this society, meeting the Tribe of the Lost who have descended from people who found themselves stranded on the planetoid. Led by their queen, Mother Regina (the hilarious Kate Duchêne), they’re an amusingly dim bunch who have adapted to survive on the edges. Then there’s the Free Parkers themselves, performing acts of civil disobedience and demanding to be recognised as citizens of the only home they know.
Blending some high stakes into the comic tone, we enjoyed the return of the Galactic Heritage organisation as tensions increase towards the end of the tale. Acting like a frighteningly well-funded, space age version of the National Trust, they are armed to the teeth and a touch trigger happy. There are also some more direct, real world parallels to radicalisation and suicide bombers for those who which to consider them.
While providing a lovely puzzle for Sylvester McCoy’s inquisitive Doctor to solve, the story plays to the strengths of both companions too. Sophie Aldred’s Ace gets to indulge in a little civil disobedience, before being forced into negotiating a peace between tribes, while Mel becomes separated from the Doctor for the greater part of the story, and paired with the Head Warden (Gabrielle Glaister). This allows her to put her prodigious computer skills to good use and demonstrates show how much she has developed since her early travels in the TARDIS.
Feeling like a story straight out of the early McCoy era, with a similar off-beat vibe to ‘Paradise Towers’ or ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’, the drama is backed by an excellent soundtrack from Jamie Robertson.
For those who adored Doctor Who’s more creative stories of the late 80s, ‘The High Price of Parking’ will be well worth paying.