The Game, by Darin Henry
Here’s a name I haven’t come across before. Darin Henry has writing credits that include episodes of Seinfeld, Not Going Out, and Futurama. Perhaps not the most obvious choice to write a Doctor Who script? Maybe not, but The Game is a rip-roaring, fast-paced, entertaining play nonetheless and makes full use of the audio format.
Autograph-hunting, the Doctor goes to visit the famed peace negotiator Lord Carlisle at the scene of his final triumph on the planet Cray. But he has seriously misjudged his moment – Lord Carlisle has an awful secret, and the Doctor himself is caught up in the ultra-competitive war between the Gora and the Lineen. To plunder Bill Shankly for a moment, the game of Naxy isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that…
Everything in this play is meant to sound like a big adrenalin rush. You can hear it in the insistent background chants, in the clash of steel and the hubbub of the arena, and in the brevity of each episode (there are six, rather than four – the pacing is deliberately fast). The Doctor doesn’t have a moment to relax; he is kept perpetually off-balance and out of breath, the game of Naxy appalling and alien to him. For the listener, Naxy sounds like a cross between football and the film 300 – and is commentated over by none other than Match of the Day’s very own Jonathan Pearce. A chucklesome and very apposite piece of casting there, worthy of a star in itself!
When the plot finally breaks free from the course you think it is taking (somewhere around part 4, further discombobulating my sense of the story) and brings in Christopher Ellison’s tone-perfect snarky crime boss Morian, Darin Henry also brings in a few deserved moments of pathos to balance out the sport and testosterone. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that Morian lives to fight another day – but for some reason Big Finish haven’t seen fit to use him again yet. Personally I reckon the master plotter would meet his match in the Doctor’s seventh incarnation….
Bonus review: Bernice Summerfield – Birthright, by Nigel Robinson
The second part of the “Time Ring Trilogy” fares much better than its predecessor. Despite a couple of comedy accents (I’m looking at you, Colin Baker) and Jason Kane’s annoying tendency to be placatory and punch-worthy at the same time, the story holds together nicely over the length of the play. The adaptation (again, of a 7th Doctor New Adventure) stands up in its own right and the tone is pretty even all the way through. A whole series of such timey-wimey trickery could be rather unhelpful however, since unfavourable comparisons to the main range would undoubtedly be made, so it is just as well that after these adventures Bernice begins to get custom-written adventures instead.