26 September 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The year is 2085, and planet Earth remains on the edge of a nuclear precipice. At any moment, either of two vast rival power blocs, to the West and the East, might unleash a torrent of missiles, bringing about the terrible certainty of Mutual Assured Destruction.

But there is another way - or so Professor Ruth Drexler believes. Hence her secret mission deep in Eastern bloc territory, to uncover a hidden city, never before glimpsed by human eyes: the Parliament of the Silurians, the lizard people who ruled the Earth before humankind.

There, she’ll encounter a time-travelling Doctor, who knows the Silurians well. A Doctor on a secret mission of his own."

Once a year, as part of Big Finish's main/monthly range (the name of which seems to differ depending on who you ask), two plays are released at the same time. I always feel a bit sorry for these plays as one inevitably ends up overshadowing the other for various reasons. It may be that one of them is that year's "4x1" release, or the end of an ongoing arc. Here, this month, a standalone by a highly popular writer with a very interesting premise... and this play.

Pity The Silurian Candidate.

The premise is very simple: The Doctor is clearly up to something but not letting on to either Ace or Mel, which worries the former and intrigues the latter. Ace has seen him like this before and knows that it rarely ends well; Mel is not used to this darker persona and is uncertain as to what should be expected. The good ship TARDIS lands on Earth in the future, where a party of two others have also arrived complete with an army of robot guards, and they are there to seek out the same goal: Silurians.

Only the play is not just about all this. Oh no.  It’s also very much a full-blown sequel to Warriors of the Deep and, as the admittedly very good title suggests, a nod and wink to The Manchurian Candidate, complete with dinosaurs, a dodgy French accent from Nicholas Briggs, and an Australian politician that is in no way meant to be a parody of Donald Trump. (Nope. Definitely not. Nuh-huh. Move along.)

The play is very much a story of two halves, with the first rather slow and the second not quite breakneck with its speed but far quicker in comparison, as the stakes grow higher and necessity to act heightens.  There are some good gags in there throughout (the one concerning the Doctor and broken toasters genuinely made me laugh aloud) and a few nice moments of reflection upon the nature of this incarnation of The Doctor.

But...

But as with Matthew J. Elliott’s earlier main range play, Zaltys, there are moments that fail to land as well (though thankfully none as bad as the start of that play mentioning vampires and then vampires co-incidentally turning up) and whole parts where people conveniently spell out the plot to let you catch up, speaking in a way that you only ever get in plays or stories with a relatively small cast. There is a fair whack of “let me say what I see”-style dialogue to compensate for the audio medium, too, which never helps matters, and neither Ace nor Mel feel entirely in character.  Indeed, Ace seems positively grumpy and angry and distrusting of The Doctor throughout, and the CD extras have Sophie Aldred unsure where in Ace’s timeline this play is set, which is slightly concerning as you would think someone would say so the writing and performance can be adjusted. When your lead actors are unsure, something is not right.

(To maintain the usual gripe, once again no extended extras were present with the play upon release, nor had they surfaced a fortnight afterwards.)

It’s not all bad though. As The Silurian Candidate moves along, so too does it improve, and I want to quickly highlight the musical score from Howard Carter which is the best any play has had for a long while now. Points must go to the Silurian voices, too, which are dead ringers for the Pertwee era tones, and it was genuinely interesting to hear Briggs’s rationalization for using these ones as opposed to the Davison-era tones (and I agree with his reasoning) and his efforts to get them just right.  I have an image of him hunched over his ring modulator for over an hour tweaking and speaking in a bid to nail it, which is rather endearing.

In the end, The Silurian Candidate is overall fairly average Doctor Who fare with some moments that elevate it beyond, and music and voice artistry which give it a shine it would otherwise lack.  It does not make for an especially triumphant ending to this latest run of Seventh Doctor/Ace/Mel plays, but it’s not a write-off either, nor is it Who by numbers by any stretch. There are enough glimmers of light in there to merit attention and make me curious to see what Elliott comes up with next, but enough bumps in the road to exercise caution, too.



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