Yes, I’ve skipped one. Sorry, I was more excited by the prospect of another Charley story, this time with the sixth Doctor, than I was about finding out how Erimem gets thrown overboard through the help of a giant penis in a cape (Pertwee fans will know what I’m on about. Maybe). I’ll get round to Bride of Peladon some time in the next fortnight, I reckon.
Now the thing about most Doctor Who stories is they’re inherently crime stories. They may be set in outer space or the future, but nine times out of ten, someone’s been killed, the Doctor investigates, unmasks the evil-doer and puts a stop to their plans. The end.
Of course, the real world isn’t a detective novel and when a crime gets committed, particularly a murder, usually the police will be involved – and they’re not as cack-handed in real-life as they are in Sherlock Holmes stories. So The Condemned‘s quite an interesting idea. What if the Doctor landed at a crime scene in 2008 and got arrested by the police? Proper, Manchester police at that.
“Dr John Smith – you’re under arrest. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court…”
Manchester, 2008. The TARDIS lands inside a run-down tower block, beside a dead body – which leads to some awkward questions when the Doctor is found there by the police. Made the prime suspect, how can the Doctor prove to the no-nonsense DI Patricia Menzies that this is not the open-and-shut case it seems, and that she’s actually investigating the death of an alien?
Higher up in Ackley House, a girl named Maxine watches the Doctor being taken away in a squad car. Someone wants her to find out what happened in that room, and isn’t going to be happy if she doesn’t come up with the goods. But she’s got hold of someone who knows – someone very important to the Doctor.
A deadly conspiracy is at work – one whose effects will be felt far beyond the walls of Ackley House…
Is it any good?
The first two parts are really good; the third’s a little saggy and the fourth is a tad disappointing. But it was good enough that after listening to the first two parts on a train journey, I stayed up late last night to listen to the final two.
It starts where The Girl Who Never Was leaves off with Charley coming on board the TARDIS, and much of the interest to be gleaned from the story is working out exactly how they’re going to crowbar the eighth Doctor’s former companion on board.
The rest is a murder-mystery: who killed the man the intrepid duo discover and why? While this is initially promising, with the Doctor being arrested by armed police and then questioned by a DI, as the sci-fi comes out, it does feel as though the story is skipping over quite necessary narrative chunks so that it can fit into its allotted running time. DI Menzies, played by that Anna Hope who’s played a cat nun a couple of times on the TV show, is too accepting and too willing to throw aside normal procedure, simply because the plot demands it.
But it’s spooky – helped in part by the music by David Darlington – and there’s a good sense of place, even if some of the accents are a bit less Manchester than Lancastrian as times. The explanation for the murder when it arrives is a little daft, but not that daft by Doctor Who standards, and the villains a little moustache-twirly, but it is mercifully comprehensible.
Unfortunately, the Doctor and Charley are separated for much of the play so we don’t get to see much of a relationship build up. But when they are together, you do feel India Fisher’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting, while Colin Baker doesn’t seem to be bothering that much. There’s also more of that narrative jumping and character fudging: Charley drops so many blatant hints that she’s been in the TARDIS before that the Doctor would have to be a complete idiot not to pick up on them, even though he can easily deduce she’s from the first half of the 20th century. He’s suspicious but not suspicious enough and far too willing to take Charley on board for further travels without a decent explanation for her mysteriousness.
All the same, both Doctor and companion are drawn very well. The sixth Doctor is effectively being introduced to Charley, so we get probably his first ever cat-scene. He seems to be post-Evelyn at this stage, so he’s not quite his snidey Peri-era self. And, as ever, Colin Baker’s need to put on silly voices is indulged.
If you ever wanted to know why Charley is such a fan favourite, have a listen to this story: she’s fun-loving, clever (usually), adventurous, actually wants to travel and is more than capable of putting up a fight and coming up with her own plans. There are some lovely nods to historicity as well, with Charley’s “Indian takeaway scene” a delight to listen to. It’s also a nice touch on the part of the Big Finish producers to have matured her enough that having gone through the whole Zagreus mess thanks to the various tinkerings with the “web of time”, she’s the one who avoids immediately telling the Doctor about his own future because of its possible disastrous effects. And India Fisher plays Charley’s sadness well – she does, after all, think her Doctor’s dead, since he would have rescued her otherwise, wouldn’t he?
Compared to other Big Finish plays, there’s not much of a stellar cast here: a cat nun and someone who was on 42. But they are, for the most part, good actors, particularly James George who sounds like he should be more famous (but isn’t). India Fisher is a little try hard at times, and Colin Baker a little too subdued. But a good start for the sixth Doctor and Charley.
How much should you have to pay for it?
Actual price: £14.99; download price: £12.99
Actual worth: £10.99/£8.99
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard)
Anna Hope (D.I. Patricia Menzies)
Will Ash (Sam)
Sara De Freitas (Maxine)
Lennox Greaves (Dr Joseph Aldrich)
James George (Slater)
Diana Morrison (Antonia Bailey / Jane)
Sephen Aintree (D.C.I. Turnbull / Goon / Police Officer / Guy in Gym)
Steve Hansell (P.C. Blackstock / Police Officer / Guy in Gym)
Writer: Eddie Robson
Director: Nicholas Briggs