The Emerald Tiger, by Barnaby Edwards
Sometimes, to coin a phrase, Big Finish throw a leg-spinner at you. Along with sheer pace, they can really go to town and evoke a sense of place. The Emerald Tiger, set in India in 1926, does exactly that, and a great amount of that is down to Howard Carter’s magnificently epic score and sound design. If Carter cannot transport you into Calcutta’s turbulent streets and bustling railway platforms instantly, then your imagination is clearly at fault.
Rant over, let’s look at the play itself. The accompanying interviews note that Doctor Who has never gone into that great sub-continent, and it’s fitting that Peter Davison’s Doctor is the one who gets this honour – with his cream blazer and cricket shirt, he looks the very part; somehow even Tom Baker would be lost here (he certainly wouldn’t need his scarf). The setting and time period is perfectly judged to draw from a multitude of sources (just look at the names of the characters for the references – Haggard, Edgar, Forster, Burrows (sic)) and writer/director Barnaby Edwards certainly has great fun piling in both quotes and quips alike (“Easy, tiger”???!). What’s more, this is an action story: there’s narrative drive from the start, with steam trains, hot air balloons, elephants and raging torrents all employed to carry the team through to the end of the tiger’s tale.
On top of all that, the casting is superb – Cherie Lunghi is never less than brilliant as Lady Adela, by way of example, and Neil Stacy ought to have a moustache to twirl in villainous fashion. The plot is quite linear, with very few surprises, but the story itself is cleverly constructed and makes full use of the episode breaks. Actually I said there were no surprises, but I was wrong – the standard “Nyssa gets infected with something dreadful and lethal” subplot develops an unexpected side-effect. I’ll have some of that myself, if you don’t mind.
Looking at my rankings, it seems that the last “main range” stories to get five stars were The Game and Circular Time (The Elite also got five, but that’s from the Lost Stories line). I’m happy to say that The Emerald Tiger gets five too.