Featuring the classic 80s TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), DOCTOR WHO: THE CONTINGENCY CLUB sees our heroes drawn to an exclusive nineteenth century London gentlemen’s club with dark secrets, including a big one quite literally at its heart.
Grabbing the attention with a curious and rather comic induction into the club, The Contigency Club sets its tone from the off. As Matthew Waterhouse notes in the accompanying behind-the-scenes content, this is a buoyant and airy piece. Not to say it’s throwaway, but writer Phil Mulryne is more concerned with witty wordplay and conversational villains than any exploration of the darker side of the alien shenanigans going on in the Contingency Club. This deft lightness of touch is a particular bonus with this TARDIS team. The rather dry material this bunch had in their television stories all-too-often meant that they ended up arguing and moaning, but here they get to sparkle with wit and humour.
Appropriately, given the men-only setting, this play is all about the women. Sarah Sutton comes across best here, bringing some real emotion to Nyssa, while Janet Fielding is a close second, Tegan getting hilariously bolshy in the face of all the misogyny. The exchange about men being ‘clubbable’ is the high point of the piece. Alison Thea-Skot is very engaging as Marjorie, a strong woman who is still, crucially, believably Victorian. Villain-wise we are well-served with Lorelei King’s Red Queen. Though the character is perhaps a little too close to a number of previous villains, King gives her a subtle authority which commands the attention – it is just a pity she doesn’t get slightly more development. As it is, the Doctor describing her plan as ‘the same old story; tiresomely predictable’ is a bit too close to the mark! That said, there is a hugely enjoyable moment where she shoots down the Doctor’s grand speech by revealing her rather prosaic motivation, and King and Davison have great chemistry. The men are not bad either – posh Clive Merrison and slightly-less-than-posh Philip Jackson are effective as a sort of villainous double act, and Olly McCauley is great as many versions of the cloned Edward.
Director Barnaby Edwards keeps everything moving at a great pace, which helps no end to gloss over the fairly flimsy plot. Andy Hardwick pulls double duty providing both sound design and music, and scores highly on both counts. The interior of the club, its cellars and the alien inner sanctum are clearly defined spaces, and the contrast with the dig site of the District Line works brilliantly. The music is never overblown, emphasising the action rather than drowning it out.
This is by no means a ground-breaking audio drama, but it is a fun and engaging way to spend a couple of hours. Preferably in a Chesterfield chair with a glass of brandy!
DOCTOR WHO: THE CONTINGENCY CLUB will be available to buy exclusively from Big Finish until April 30th 2017, after which date it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.