To kick of a new trilogy of stories for the Fifth Doctor, Robert Kahn and Tom Salinsky, the writers of last year’s entertaining Hartnell pure-historical ‘The Ravelli Conspiracy’ bring their comic touch to the busy Season 18 line-up of Adric, Nyssa and Tegan.
An entertaining pre-credits sequence snaps us right back to character dynamics of the era; Adric wants to learn how to pilot the TARDIS while the Doctor is a little reluctant, and Tegan whining loudly in the background about his inability to steer it.
An emergency landing brings them to Cicero Prime and the literally divided Kingdom of Cardenas, where the out of touch Duke Sebastian (Jonathan Firth) and his recent bride, the media savvy Duchess Miranda (Charlotte Lucas), vie for the people’s affections.
The warring rulers have spilt the kingdom between them and our four regulars are soon split also. Teamed with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa “the destroyer” gets to have some fun pretending to be an assassin and cajoling a reluctant Doctor into doing the same, while Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) do the same, albeit on the side of the Duchess.
Kakn and Sakinsky provide comic political intrigue as plot and counter-plot unfold between the warring royals who wish to kill each other and play the grieving spouse. While the story holds the tone of a comic farce, it is augmented with laser rifles, improvised drone warfare and holograms as befits the futuristic setting. Matters come to a head with the battle of the Equinoids, robotic horses which are a national obsession.
There is satire aplenty here, with some not so subtle allusions to the modern British royal family and their difficult relationship with the press. To be fair, the targets are wide-ranging so no-one’s getting sent to the Tower for this, but Kahn and Salinsky might not want to bank on getting an invite to the upcoming royal wedding.
In terms of the guest cast, the big name here is Patsy Kensit; possibly best known these days for her television roles on Emmerdale and Holby City, she holds a certain place in our affections for her early roles as a child star and late 80’s pop star, as well as her numerous film roles. Her turn here is brief, if full on, with some scene chewing confrontations and a few terrific one liners – it is a big performance, but tremendously fun and totally in keeping with the theatrical tone of the story.
In the wider supporting cast, Tim Bentnick and Richenda Carey are highly entertaining as Lord and Lady Crozion, the parents of the Duchess, and there is some classic misdirection in the cast list which seems utterly era-appropriate too.
After last month’s terrifying ‘Static’, and as a new year of monthly releases begins, it is good to see Big Finish demonstrating the diversity of what Doctor Who can be.