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21 July 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 30th June 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 21st July 2012

The TARDIS is hit by an errant stream of zygma energy, putting the time ship into peril and sending Nyssa and Turlough into the time stream. They arrive on a desolate snow-bound wasteland where the bodies of aged and withered people are falling out of the air, littering the landscape in a sea of corpses. Amongst this graveyard there is one survivor who is barely alive. This man claims to know who Nyssa and Turlough are and that they will both play an important part in future events.

The Doctor and Tegan, meanwhile, in a desperate search to find their missing friends trace the zygma energy to the ruined countryside of Brisbane in the 51st Century. The Doctor is anxious to find his friends and get away as soon as possible, as this war torn century holds far too many horrors. Through sinister events The Doctor is captured by the cold and ruthless alien scientist Findeker and Tegan comes under the protection of the Earth Free Media, made up of journalists investigating and reporting on the wrong-doings of Earth’s Supreme Alliance.

One of the most important events in the Alliance’s history is about to take place. The Icelandic Alliance has sent a delegation to establish a new trade accord and the Supreme Alliance representative chosen to oversee this affair is the Minister of Justice, Magnus Greel. 

As Tegan and The Doctor will discover to their horror, this historic chain of events could not have come into fruition without the help of Greel’s bride to be; Nyssa of Traken.

The Butcher of Brisbane is quite simply brilliant, which makes it incredibly difficult to review...To spoil one moment of this play is to rob the listener of one of the best Fifth Doctor Big Finish stories ever made. 

Marc Platt has pulled together the tantalising nuggets of information that were littered by Robert Holmes in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and created a more than worthy prequel to that story. How Platt makes each reference work within the confines of this play is extraordinary and Big Finish must be applauded for handing this story to him. 

Bold in its execution and unafraid to address the complex, dark and even sympathetic elements of Magnus Greel - the man, this play works not only as a brilliant time travel thriller but an excellent character study.

The main cast are the best they have ever been with everyone getting an equal amount of time to take centre stage. No one in this story feels like they have no strong contribution to make including the most minor of supporting characters. Sarah Sutton must be singled out from the main cast as she delivers an incredible performance, as Nyssa shows how even a monster can induce some sympathy in others.

Angus Wright as Greel is sensational. To take over from the late and great Michael Spice is no easy feat and Wright makes the character his own by delivering a complex yet quite clearly damaged individual. He plays Greel, like all psychopaths, as a man able to exude charm whilst hiding and sometimes unleashing a dangerous and deluded edge. The Greel in the Butcher of Brisbane is a much more human monster than the ruined creature he is destined to become. Here is a bureaucrat, abusing his position with dirty tricks and slowly giving in to his own paranoia. 

Rupert Frazer is quite brilliant as the cold Sa Yy Findecker, a scientist damaged so much by his own discovery that he becomes a grim foreshadowing of the events of Weng-Chiang . 

With so much reference to the past it was inevitable that the Peking Homunculus Mr Sin would make an appearance. Lacking the visual element of the murderous doll, Big Finish has rendered Mr Sin on audio in a simple yet effective way. By focusing on the porcine component of Sin’s cyborg brain, they bring him to life through the use of a series of grunts and pig like snorts which make the character incredibly creepy and grotesque.

The story is bold in using a cyclical storyline to satisfying yet tragic effect. There is a real sense of doom and foreboding running throughout the play, made more effective given the benefit of hindsight with the familiarity of having see Talons.

For anyone worried how a future version of The Doctor would work when up against a past version of a villain who hasn’t met him yet, I’m happy to say that Marc Platt solves this in a very simple way which does not damage the story's credibility.

Technically the play is superb, as Fool Circle Productions contribute a brilliant sound design and musical score with the play's direction being expertly handled by the great Ken Bentley.

It is difficult to find anything wrong with this release except a personal disappointment towards an only fleeting mention of the infamous Filipino army at Reykjavik, but such a criticism is only a minor thing when there is so much to enjoy here.

The Butcher of Brisbane is a superb closing to this Fifth Doctor season and one of the best Big Finish audios of the year. An essential listen.

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