Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Writer: Phil Mulryne
RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)
Release Date: February 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online
"London, 1864 - where any gentleman befitting the title ‘gentleman’ belongs to a gentlemen’s club: The Reform, The Athenaeum, The Carlton, The Garrick… and, of course, The Contingency. Newly established in St James’, The Contingency has quickly become the most exclusive enclave in town. A refuge for men of politics, men of science, men of letters. A place to escape. A place to think. A place to be free.
The first rule of the Contingency is to behave like a gentleman. The second is to pay no heed to its oddly identical servants. Or to the horror in its cellars. Or to the existence of the secret gallery on its upper floor… Rules that the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are all about to break."
I grew up during the era of the crowded Tardis. Admittedly I was only age 5 but I have distinctly clear memories of a beleaguered Doctor trying to keep relative peace in his time machine with an ever growing bunch of stowaways and orphans joining him for adventures...with the added factor this eclectic bunch weren’t always necessarily happy to be there! Viewing the DVD range more recently you really appreciate what a job he had on his hands at times and one wonders why he continued to journey with them all, on occasions. At times the Fifth Doctor almost adopted the role of headmaster - something which he outright claims in this story!
However, despite the family style friction, this era of the show always gives me a warm fuzzy glow and saw a return to the episodic nature of the black and white days where stories sometimes bled into each other and references were made to previous adventures. Looking back through much more mature and critical eyes you can see where stories were creaking under the pressure of trying to cater for all these different principal characters, and there was an over-reliance on somewhat one-dimensional specific character tropes.
You might be concerned from the opening scenes that this tale veers between paying homage to this era or possibly regurgitating old material. The key protagonists are easily identifiable with their TV portrayals. Adric is somewhat annoying and antagonistic of Tegan, in this case regarding the primitive nature of a cassette player (which is a crucial item in the denouement). Check. Tegan is irascible and talks about Heathrow nonstop, as well as making generic references to flying. Check. Nyssa is...well Nyssa. Pragmatic and pleasant. Check. And of course Peter Davison effortlessly injects his usual breathless energy that always made his incarnation a hero in the truest form. Check. (Thank goodness!)
All four tend to bring out the argumentative side in each other, through constant chiding and witty barbs which too often on TV appeared somewhat childish at times. However, here writer Phil Mulryne has captured the flavour of the interaction of Season 19, but is more effective with the playful banter. This interplay immediately aids in casting the listener back to that time where Doctor Who was arguably more like a soap opera until its 2005 return, but without grating on your nerves.
What of the story itself? Well it’s a bit of a curio. Centred on the titular Contingency Club; an exclusive club in Victorian London where the gentlemen of the upper social strata gather to think, talk and, of course, drink. The clubs' popularity is such that membership is swelling and their restrictive policy for new members make it more appealingly exclusive. This club is the place to be.
The Tardis team, via unorthodox means, visit the club and, very early on, it becomes patently evident that something VERY strange is going on. The members of the club refuse to acknowledge that Tegan and Nyssa are women! The valets are all called Edward and are identical! Plus absolutely no one comments on the foursomes’ strange garments or their presence there at all.
And if all that wasn’t bizarre enough we have the mysterious club owner Mr Peabody and his even more mysterious benefactor, The Red Queen, who has an insidious reason for the club existing in the first place - all centred around a seemingly futile game.
There is some good comedy to be had in this one especially around the plurality of the ‘Edwards’! And surely “we’ll break our necks on the pavements of Pall Mall” might be one of the strangest cliff hanger statements ever! Ultimately this boils down to a gothic mystery in a Victorian Steampunk environment. Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding all effortlessly slip back into their roles and, unlike on TV, they are all served pretty well without any of them really being side-lined. But it’s Peter Davison whose star shines the brightest as he drives the narrative and perfectly recaptures every trait that made him a success. Sardonic wit, bravery, vulnerability and going full tilt in every scene. It’s all here!
Arguably the story is a little light weight in places but is a genuine attempt at something different, captures the TARDIS crew perfectly from the early eighties, and is a fun romp from start to finish. Highly recommended. Want to listen? Join the club.
+ ORDER this CD via Amazon.co.uk!