2 October 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Steve Lyons

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The world is at war, and Harry Houdini wants to fight for his adoptive country. He might get the chance, when an old friend crashes his New York show.

The Doctor is on the trail of a Central Powers spy ring, which has somehow acquired unearthly technology. But he is also keeping a dangerous secret...

Finding himself on the run behind enemy lines, the world’s greatest escape artist has to work out who he can trust – and fast."

Harry Houdini’s War is the final play in the latest Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy. Despite being pushed as pre-Trial tales, the use of Dominic Glynn’s theme tune arrangement quickly suggests things aren’t all they appear with this play (either that or someone in post-production has dropped the ball), which is either a clever clue or a bit of a twist killer. The jury is undecided.

We start off slightly on the back foot then, and pre-publicity highlighting that Harry Houdini and the Doctor have met before in Smoke and Mirrors (a play that was one of the better parts of the Destiny of the Doctor series from 2013) it may seem a little off-putting: does one need to know that to enjoy this? Thankfully not, and indeed the relationship between the two men is the most enjoyable aspect of this release.

The combination of Houdini and the Doctor is a rather neat one: the illusionist who wowed the world with the person who saves it. As celebrity and Time Lord duos go, it certainly makes for an easier pairing than the ‘Doctor and Churchill’ one which has to skirt around and turn a blind eye to numerous issues and (ironically) politics to really work, and in the case of the two Big Finish series, also decent scripts and a full cast. I just hope Big Finish resist a trilogy with this pair or an ‘enhanced audiobook’ set: there’s a fine line between being intrigued to see more and seeing far too much. Even Houdini couldn’t work his magic on this.

Aside from the Houdini/Doctor partnership, there is some nice colour to this play. Educational titbits and facts concerning Houdini are dropped in neatly in a way that would make Sydney Newman happy, and I rather like the reason that’s given for why the Doctor seems to be fighting for the opposition. All this said, the script itself feels rather flabby at times, which makes the episodes’ running times feel lengthier than they are in actuality. There is also a strange thing in the first two parts where you reach a cliffhanger... and then it goes on for another scene or two before wrapping things up with a far less effective ending.

More bizarrely, the sound design for Harry Houdini’s War lacks the usual polish which Big Finish brings to the party. There is a scene that especially stood out which cuts from people in an aeroplane to people watching the aeroplane, with what is essentially a fading down of an aeroplane sound effect to denote the transition. I can see what they’re going for here, suggesting more of a pull-back shot than a hard cut between scenes, but it’s too subtle, lacking the visual immediacy audio needs to really sell the moment and creating a slower and messier picture in the mind accordingly.

In the end, perhaps that sums the play up: good ideas and nice intentions, but the finished product is lacking. As mentioned before though, there is mileage to be had with Houdini as an occasional guest star in these main range plays, certainly more than some returning elements or partnerships we’ve seen Big Finish delve into in the past. This particular play may not have the magic one wishes, but perhaps an encore can do it justice.


+ Harry Houdini's War is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
General
The New Series
The Classic Series
Spinoffs
Merchandise
Site
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Audio
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Search
Ray Bayly