Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Writer: Alan Barnes
RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)
Release Date: May 2016
Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online
"When the TARDIS lands in Brighton the Doctor and Romana have the chance to spend some time at the seaside. But with it being too early for the opening of the Pavilion, they have to look elsewhere for their entertainment - perhaps Madame Tissot's travelling waxworks, recently arrived in town?
But they're not the only ones interested in her Exposition. When an unusual thief commits an unusual theft, the time travellers are on the case.
What exactly is the sinister secret of Goole's Gallery? Is Tissot's heading for a meltdown? And what does it all have to do with the head of Marie Antoinette?"
Continuing the fifth series of Fourth Doctor adventures with Big Finish is the penultimate tale Gallery of Ghouls featuring the iconic Tom Baker in the lead role and his companion Romana played by Lalla Ward. Writer Alan Barnes skilfully manages to deliver a story in keeping with the comedic tone synonymous with Douglas Adams’ era as script editor of Doctor Who’s television output during Season 17. For example, early exchanges between the two leads regarding the randomiser and seagulls potentially being agents of the Black Guardian are delightfully played as both actors still retain their chemistry after all these years.
The Doctor and Romana find themselves with time to kill whilst waiting for the Brighton Pavillion to open but fortunately there are not one, but two waxworks in town to pass the next 18 years. The tale includes mysterious waxworks, automatons, an android and an amorphous creature in a mixed menagerie which muddies the storytelling a tad. Similarly it is tricky for the casual listener to decipher whether this is intended as a historically accurate retelling of the rise of Madame Tussaud’s with a number of conflicting references and the backstory of Madam Tissot. However putting these quibbles aside, the strength in the adventure is found in the perfectly balanced cast.
The wonderful Celia Imrie, a talented actress well-versed in both comedy and drama and already known in the Doctor Who universe as Miss Kizlet in The Bells of St John, plays Madame Tissot a French artist who skilfully creates wax representations of significant historical moments and figures. Her French accent brings back memories of popular BBC comedy ‘Allo Allo’. This is by no means a criticism as that style complements the comedic nature of the story, helping to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining romp. Imrie is ably supported by Stephen Critchlow as Tissot’s lovable and faithful ‘Mummy’s Boy’ son Noni and fellow experienced actor Nickolas Grace playing the enigmatic Mr Goole. All of whom firmly enter the spirit of the piece, not concerned with a threat to planet Earth from a malevolent force but possessing a lighter tone, despite some grim ingredients.
It is an interesting premise to consider a time when travelling waxworks, depicting violent and gruesome scenes from history would pass for entertainment, but it is still a genre which continues to this day with the Dungeon franchises in London, York, Dublin, Amsterdam and even San Francisco. Yet despite the internal analysis of why human beings would be entertained by such grotesque fare, plenty of humour is found within Alan Barnes’ witty script and it is so expertly delivered by a great guest cast that one cannot fail but thoroughly enjoy the story.
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