❉ “Worthy of Robert Holmes at his most cynical”, the latest Fifth Doctor audio puts a different spin on the ‘psuedo-historical’.
It’s amazing to think that the majority of actors from the original run of ‘Doctor Who’ who’ve reprised their roles for Big Finish have now appeared in more stories on audio than they ever did on TV. The most obvious exception is Matthew Waterhouse who outdid both Janet Fielding and Tom Baker by not returning to ‘Doctor Who’ on audio until 2014. When he reprised his role as Adric in Psychodrome and Iterations of I for The Fifth Doctor set, it was unclear if it would be just a one-off reunion of Davison’s original team or the first of many. The answer came last year with the announcement Waterhouse would join Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton for a trio of four part stories for Big Finish’s main ‘Doctor Who’ range.
That trilogy, which started in January with The Star Men, continues this month with The Contingency Club. Set shortly after the TV story The Visitation, it puts a different spin on the show’s pseudo-historical genre. In contrast to the reptilian Terileptils who had to hide from humans, this story features an alien menace positioned high up the social ladder.
Using a Victorian era gentlemen’s club as the base of alien operations is an excellent choice on the part of writer Phil Mulryne. It not only quickly establishes the period setting but also effectively conveys that something is amiss when the expected formality and mannered behaviour the environment implies takes an odd turn. Those odd turns are one of the key elements that distinguish The Contingency Club from the typical aliens-up-to-no-good scenario.
Neither its menacing hordes nor those controlling them quite fit the conventional mould as far as their actions or motivations. While the story is resolutely set in the context of early-80s ‘Doctor Who’, the main antagonist’s plan calls to mind nothing so much as the eccentricity of Ghost Light while their underlying motive is worthy of Robert Holmes at his most cynical. As for their many minions, in addition to adding an unnerving element throughout the proceedings, by the end they’ve provided an interesting element of pathos and humanity.
The latter point is seen in their interaction with the Doctor’s companions, particularly Nyssa and Tegan, both of whom are distinguished here by a mix of cleverness and compassion. This is certainly no surprise for Nyssa, but it can be easy to forget with Tegan whose assertive personality sometimes obscures her finer qualities. While lines like “Don’t insult my country; not while I’m holding explosives” are certainly great reminders of her brashness, there are also a lower-key moments that remind us that Tegan’s brave heart is also a very good one.
Of course, that doesn’t stop her from arguing with Adric, usually about the most trivial things. With this story being set early in Davison’s time as the Doctor, it would almost feel wrong if they didn’t bicker, but one of those arguments is actually key to the plot. This twist is a great example of Big Finish’s knack for using the trappings of the story’s TV era to add dimension in a way that exceeds simple nostalgia.
In this respect, it very much recalls some of the early Big Finish releases that were set during a specific era of TV ‘Doctor Who’. Like Whispers of Terror or The Fires of Vulcan, there’s a concerted effort to recapture the onscreen moment while also tweaking things that didn’t quite work. It helps that the regulars are joined by one of the best guest casts Big Finish has assembled, including Philip Jackson, Lorelei King and especially Clive Merrison. All in all, The Contingency Club another reminder of how lovely it is that Big Finish’s work enables us to revisit the past and find that there’s even more to it than we remembered.
❉ This title was released in February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date. The release can be bought on its own for £12.99 on Download or at £14.99 for a 2-CD version (which unlocks a digital version)