It’s hard to imagine a fan audio drama being worthy of a slot in the actual television series. This story is one of them… after a fashion.
Let me step back a moment and put things into context. Doctor Who Audio Dramas has been producing original “alternate universe” Doctor Who adventures since before the Internet… since before the tea was getting cold and someone needed saving… since before the Commodore 64. Is this context making an impact yet? How about this: if you listen to their early recordings it’s quite obvious that their top-of-the-line technology back then consisted of a cassette recorder and a star trek the motion picture soundtrack. Now jump ahead approximately 36 years and they are STILL going strong! They’ve evolved, they’ve grown, they’ve adapted and expanded. At the time I write this, Masquerade is their most recent production. I’ll post an overview of the company sometime in the future, but I wanted to get this production out while its fresh on my mind.
With the exception of the doctor being less than useful for much of the story (and resorting to a trope when he’s at his most useful), the adventure as a whole is wonderfully written. He’s still portrayed as The Doctor we know and love but he doesn’t actively figure things out so much as just let things happen around him and react to them. There’s also one other element that could have been handled with a more clever twist, but other than that I kept waiting for the ball to drop, and it never did. Much to my surprise, I was skeptical at the beginning, and by the end was loving how it all fit together. Things don’t come to a head as you think they will.
There’s lots upon lots of talking, and a share of moments where exposition is spoon-fed, but forget about that and enjoy a really good Doctor Who adventure.
Part I (33 minutes)
The Doctor attends the arranged wedding between the Night-King Orlock and Catherine, Queen of the Heradatti, who just happens to be Georgi. Ambassadors from all over the galaxy are in attendance.
A wonderfully established setting. The use of mythical creatures in a Sci-fi setting. (Could these be the creatures from the movie “Lifeforce”?) A hard open that at first seems cliché, but has a reason, and pays off later. We immediately want to know how Georgi became Queen and why she’s getting married. Good suspense.
We immediately know who the bad guy is going to be the minute we meet them (which in a way is a good thing, too). The issue with the gift could have played out better.
The writing becomes rather transparent at times, which is a little blah. However this is often intentional, as we think we know more than we do. Yet, later this is played back upon us as the writing uses what we know and twists it to the story’s advantage. Perhaps we’re not as clever as we think. That said, the “problem” should have been something, ANYTHING, other than the cliché item it was, and The Doctor figuring it out could have been done better. This is a moment when the writer could have gone back over a 2nd time and said “this is what we think, how can I do this in a Doctor Who style?” Humankind must have gotten its butt kicked.
Part II (32 minutes)
With the human delegation under investigation, The Doctor sets out to find what’s really going on. With no other choice, there’s nothing left to do but assassinate the king. It’s fight or flight. Antoinne finally shows up….sort of.
It all makes sense now. It all works…except the foolproof plan. Orlock and his brother are as mesmerizing as they should be. The TARDIS is a garden shed (doesn’t Leon have one of those?) The escape and capture scenes. Orlock is not a fool. The doctor becomes the cause of his own problems.
The prisoners are fools, doubly so for someone who is supposed to be in politics. Nobody can get Ludovic’s name right. He’s also under-utilized. Missed opportunities for sfx in place of expositional dialog. Why exactly won’t the guard remember Ludovic? Because he said so?
The prisoners simply needed to wait until the trial when they were in front of everyone and present the gun to the king. Risky, but if done right would have cleared them and exposed the entire conspiracy all at once.
Part III (31 minutes)
The doctor rushes back to the underground, by taking his time and looking around a secret base… as does everyone else. In the meantime, the treaty has been broken and conflict quickly escalates. Georgi does the unexpected. There’s lots more rescuing of prisoners, both new and old. A new foe emerges.
Some action scenes other than fighting. Then some fighting action scenes. Our villain goes from bad to mad. Lots of intrigue. Introduction of new minor characters just at the right moment to expand the story. The attack stratagem. Someone unexpected is taking advantage of the situation.
A few key moments are a little confusing (the conclusion of the sword fight, the crash). The human ambassador never evolves as a character.
The sonic screwdriver, not only a Deus ex machina for the good guys (ho hum). It’s nice to meet characters that are both intelligent and worthy of caring about.
Part IV (39 minutes)
The assault continues. The creatures are unleashed, but quickly rendered useless. The battle for the throne reaches its peak on all fronts. The stakes are through the roof and the doctor will stop at nothing to ensure that justice prevails and that both his friends and the innocent are saved, even knowing what that will mean.
This is the doctor we know and love, even though he’s been virtually sidelined much of the story. The death scene. Antoinne’s arc resolution. Georgi and the other queen have some shining moments. We feel for the villain. A beast of a cliffhanger ending. Some of the background really raise the stakes.
The Doctor decides out of nowhere to experience a living slideshow in order to understand his opponent’s psyche better. Time travel as a plot point just the way we don’t want it.
A great resolution of the whole Antoinne arc that started so many stories ago. A great tie-in to the upcoming story. Something we’ve seen [just over] a dozen times before is handled in a new and fresh manner. Parts of this story feel very Classic Who whilst others are very New Who. The Doctor is, for the 2nd time, the indirect cause of his own problems. Did what I think just happen really happen? Oh wait, no it didn’t. Oh wait, it did. No, no, it didn’t but this is much more interesting… I can’t wait to find out what’s next.
Other things I’ve listened to recently:
The Way I heard it with Mike Rowe (always enjoyable)
Doctor Who: Tin Dog Podcast (Short reviews and excellent analysis. Love it)
Tested.com This is only a Test (a staple of my week)
– But, Still, I Smile by D.A. Xiaolin Spires – Good but occasionally confusing
– Ghosts of Ganymede by Derek Kunsken – Great
– Eater of Worlds by Jamie Wahls – Very Good