The old friend in question turns out to be Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist and someone who the television series has referenced on occasion but never actually seen. Much as with Churchill’s appearance in ‘Victory of the Daleks’, the story does not tie itself up with introductions but rather barrels into the tale with their friendship taken as read. Indeed, we hear of previous adventures with Houdini encountering both the First and the Third Doctors.
Houdini’s summons comes as he hopes to enlist the Time Lord’s help with an investigation, seeking to eliminate either alien or future technology from the mystery of an otherwise apparently credible fortuneteller. However, there seems to be an ulterior motive too as Houdini needles the Doctor about the TARDIS and elements of his own personal future.
Season 19 saw the Fifth Doctor travelling with a crew of three, adenoidal teenage genius Adric, brash Australian air hostess Tegan and the placid Nyssa of Traken. To his credit, writer Steve Lyons manages to balance this large roster of regulars, playing to their strengths and capturing the interplay of their different personalities, sometimes a failing of the television series at the time.
With a spooky post-Edwardian funfair, wild animals and frightening fairground folk, the time travellers encounter an entertaining level of threat. I suspect a level of wish fulfilment on the part of the author having Adric chased by a tiger, and there are some great one-liners; both Adric and Nyssa’s bewilderment at what passes for entertainment on planet Earth is a rich vein of humour that feels consistent with the television show at the time.
The now obligatory appearance of the Eleventh Doctor comes halfway though the piece and, as well as enthusing about his fifth incarnation much as the Tenth did in ‘Time Crash’, he reveals the villain’s identity. Not that there is any great surprise given the era of the show, but the presentation of the character is intriguing and cleverly done.
Reader Janet Fielding throws herself into the role, convincingly capturing the rhythms of her fellow cast members as well as returning again to the role of Tegan. She clearly relishes the villain’s part too and, though that particularly resonant and silky voice might be impossible to mimic, she imbues her take with charm and menace in equal measure. For his part, Tim Beckman gives us a strong Houdini whose outward demeanour conceals a tragic past and desperation to locate proof that there is more to the world than meets the eye.
With another nod to the overall arc of the ‘Destiny of the Doctor’ series, the mind begins to boggle as to how all the pieces, such as the Ovid sphere from this adventure, will come together. Regardless, this instalment stands on its own two feet and is another entertaining slice of period Who clearly evoking the atmosphere of its time.
Released on Thursday 2 May 2013 by AudioGO.
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