Despite reaching its 236th release, the Big Finish Doctor Who main range is as vibrant as ever. In this latest release, David Llewellyn’s Serpent in the Silver Mask, elements of comedy are effortlessly blended with the sinister and a detective mystery, one which the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and companions must solve, and quickly, before they are trapped for eternity.
The setting is suitably quirky: Argentia, an exclusive tax haven, a funeral, a fortune and the inevitable temporal displacement field. As the TARDIS team arrives and explores, they soon find the powerful and rich Mazzini family has a lot to hide and someone seems intent upon killing them all. There’s plenty of motive, but not enough means as investigations lead the Doctor and his companions into the murky underside of Argentia. And there are ventilation tunnels to explore as well!
As director Barnaby Edwards summarises in the extras, this story is very much Agatha Christie meets Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Samuel West playing the entire Mazzini family, and he does this well, with the plethora of characters adding to the interactions with the regulars. In terms of balance, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) has a bit less to do than previous stories of the recent trilogy, and Tegan (Janet Fielding) gets a nicely nuanced quasi-romantic story line, while Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) has his own strange encounters. The Doctor even gets to spend some quality time in prison, though don’t think this story is just a series of tropes – it may be tiny a bit tongue in cheek in places, but the threat is real and the characters very well realised.
Something that also lifts the quality is attention to detail. The murders are investigated by a straightforward policeman, Superintendent Galgo, but actor Phil Cornwell also creates the supervising AI of Argentia, Zaleb 5. It’s not at all vital to the story, but Zaleb 5 has a well-written presence and adds a richness to the setting. There’s plenty more to enjoy, from Sophia Winkleman’s Sofia and Andy Hardwick’s sound design. It’s all highly entertaining, and highly recommended.