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6 February 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online

"A stunning new star act is wowing the audiences of the New Regency Theatre. The modern mechanical marvel of canny canine charisma - the automated dog that can answer any question - the incomparable - the unbeatable - K9!

The Doctor and Romana have returned to Victorian London and been reunited with their old friends Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago. However this is not merely a social visit. A terrifying crime spree is sweeping the capital, and the burglaries of 'The Knave' defy all logic.

Something impossibly dangerous is taking place amid the fog. Only the time travellers and their friends can stop it... but can they be sure they're all on the same side?

Cards on the table from the outset. I absolutely love Season 18; the complete shift in tone, the morose Doctor, the much discussed ‘funereal’ atmosphere that permeates throughout the season and the steady build to the demise of that most celebrated of Doctors. Plus I love the humour. Yes humour in Season 18! It is subtle for sure but a blessed relief after the over the top slapstick of the previous season which frequently flew wide of the mark with the notable exception of that wonderful escapade in Paris.

So I was somewhat surprised to hear this story supposedly takes place around Season 18, or perhaps just before JNT [1980's Producer, John Nathan-Turner] was handed the keys to the kingdom according to Director Nicholas Briggs on the CD extras. It definitely does not belong in Tom’s final season, his Doctor is far too jovial and having way too much fun for that. Nor does it belong in Season 17. Sure the Tardis team is the Fourth Doctor, Romana 2 and K-9 but with the exception of K9 becoming a comedic turn for Jagos’ New Regency Theatre there is none of the silliness of that season either. 

The plot is very simplistic but this is not a negative by any stretch. Not only is there danger roaming the street as a brutal murder by a savage creature has occurred but that cunningly criminal conniving cove The Knave is managing to obtain his quarry from inside locked rooms! There is a threat to defeat and a puzzle to solve. Doctor Holmes from Baker St is on the case!

For me this could be a direct sequel to The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the tone sits comfortably in that late Hinchcliffe and Holmes era albeit with different regulars. There are gothic undertones, body horror (the soundtrack conjuring up more imaginative pictures than television could ever be able to match) and a strong Jekyll and Hyde influence. There are also early hours visits to mortuary’s, travelling in black cabs, and trips to the theatre and opium dens. All that is missing is the great Li H’sen Chang himself!!

However the story stands on its own two feet perfectly well. To listen to the Doctor team with Jago and Litefoot is like lightening in a bottle has been captured once again. It is incredible to think that 40 years have passed since these gentleman helped create a classic and yet here are Messrs Baker, Benjamin and Baxter recreating the same repartee and genuine affection that ensured this ensemble captured our hearts so long ago. Justin Richards replicates Jago and Lightfoots language so perfectly and the interplay between them and the Tardis team further cements the lasting legacy of this greatest of Holmesian double acts. It is perhaps the fact that these two interact so well with the Fourth Doctor that leads me to feel Lalla Ward's Romana is a little side-lined in this tale. However her aloof and intellectual portrayal of the Time Lady gives an interesting contrast for Jago and Litefoot to interact with compared to the savage turned ladylike Eliza Doolittle character of Leela. 

John Leeson is superb as always as K-9 and the idea of him as one of Jagos acts is funny even if some of the gags fall a little flat. And the ‘electric current’ joke is so dreadful you have to laugh anyway.  The cast certainly do! The overall comedy however is a resounding success with laugh out loads moments such as a reference to K-9 and the butcher’s boy, Romana reading next week’s papers or Jago requesting a stiff drink at the end of the tale. Wonderful. 

The story is effectively two distinct parts with a whodunit style thriller framing the first instalment and a lengthy game of cat and mouse forming the second. For me the first half works better and there is much more of an aura of threat and mystery. The reveal of the Knave is not remotely surprising and the denouement of the whole story feels quite abrupt and a little anti-climactic- with effectively all the main cast sat around talking about it for a bit before we cut to the incidental sting. 

However these aspects cannot detract from a story which is such romping good fun. Tom Baker is absolutely throwing everything into this and his enjoyment of Big Finish shines through. To team him again with Jago and Litefoot is an absolute joy and everything you enjoyed about them the first time around is present once more. 

As Henry Gordon Jago himself might say; A delightful and disturbing dish of delectable drama for you to devour. 

this CD via Amazon.co.uk!

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