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18 February 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jamie Anderson & Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Black Thursday - By Jamie Anderson

"1902. Deep beneath the Welsh village of Abertysswg, men have worked the black seam for generations. Until the day of the disaster. The day that a blue box from the future materialised inside the mine.... and things would never be the same again."

Power Game - By Eddie Robson

"Welcome to the Incredible Power Game, in which three brave Earthlings enter the Void Pit in search of strange gems to help return the alien Hostess to her home dimension. Today's contestants include Graham, Sadia... and Tegan, an air stewardess from Brisbane!"

It's funny how history can impact upon the present in unexpected ways. Despite an audibly older cast, stories which deal with concepts the 1980s run of TV episodes would never have done, and episode running times that often far outrun the original format’s restrictions, give me a Big Finish Peter Davison story which is but two episodes in length and I find myself nodding: “Yes. This feels right.”

The presence of two-episode-long stories in this era's original run lend the format here an air of authenticity that would be absent for, say, Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. Here though, it fits well and whilst I think the ‘pure historical’ label sometimes ascribed to Black Orchid is wildly misleading, its existence lends the opening story in this release, Black Thursday, extra weight.

Written by semi-regular Big Finish director and sometimes-writer Jamie Anderson, Black Thursday takes us to Wales in the early 20th Century where a mining disaster strikes and the TARDIS crew soon find themselves in the middle of it all, helping save lives where they can, comfort the grieving where they cannot, and, naturally, winding up in trouble.

Kamelion and human emotion are the main focus points in this story, leading to a masterclass performance by Jon Culshaw. This is a script which gives us a man having to perform as a robot speaking in a slightly-off Welsh accent that's still recognisably robotic. It's incredibly impressive: to make his accent here authentically Welsh enough while holding back a little but in a way that doesn't distract is one hell of a task but he pulls it off superbly.

Much of the rest of the cast bring a similar level of depth and skill to their performances, too, with Tim Treloar turning in his strongest outing for Big Finish yet and Lizzie Roper giving an equally impressive showing. Add to this the best script Anderson has written so far and you've a recipe for success.

Oddly enough, its weakest element is also its strongest: Kamelion. His plight is heartfelt and understandable and Anderson writes it well with sympathetic strokes, but it undoubtedly feels rather familiar, being yet another case of ‘Kamelion is overwhelmed by another's emotions / mind and changes as a result’. Coming so soon after the exact same plot point being a fairly big hunk of Devil In The Mist, it really does show up limitations with the robot's plot potential, even if it's executed well as is the case here.

That it pops up again in the very next story only further this sense of familiarity, though writer Eddie Robson keeps it on the back burner and lets the rest of his story do the talking.

If Black Thursday was an intelligent and weighty slice of education that effectively grabbed the heartstrings, then Power Game is an intelligent and light slice of adventure that effectively tickles the funnybone.

Set in York in the 1980s, Power Game tells of a television series that mysteriously appears in the middle of scheduled transmissions, much to the bemusement and confusion of the TV schedulers but the joy of a local Science Fiction and Fantasy group. Anyone who has watched television shows such as The Adventure Game or, to a certain extent, Knightmare will recognise this story's use of early computerised effects, contestant interaction and gameplay, and come away smiling. It uses nostalgia well, but better still it doesn't just rely on that to woo the audience but has a strong script with well-realised characters to back it up: Ready Player One this (thank god) is not.

As before, the cast are more than up to matching the high quality with Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson in particular turning in fantastic performances. Match this with a delightfully amusing script (Robson writes for the regular cast brilliantly) and you've one of the most enjoyable hours Big Finish have given us for a while now.

Kamelion may be at once the weak link and focal point / highlight of a good portion of this release (a contradiction I'm still wrapping my head around) but this release of two halves does not waiver in quality.

A story featuring the prominent use of early BBC Micro computer graphics? One about miners? This release has “The Eighties” tattooed upon its chest and it's only a surprise that Big Finish have not gone down this road before.

How utterly delightful that they have done now with such a strong release.

+ Black Thursday / Power Game is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

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