The Butcher of Brisbane, by Marc Platt
I think I’ve said before that Doctor Who works best when it borrows liberally from other sources (cf The Emerald Tiger, or Ben Aaronovitch’s The Also People). This play riffs cleverly on Blade Runner, Mad Max, Tank Girl, and DW’s own illustrious history to produce a tense and rather clever tale that threatens dire repercussions further down the line.
Sounds ominous, eh? Oh yes. After an accident in the vortex pulls Nyssa and Turlough from the Tardis, the Doctor and Tegan chase after them only to find themselves on 51st Century Earth, where the ambitious Minister of Justice Magnus Greel is plotting a coup while funding secretive time travel experiments. Wait: Greel? Magnus Greel? The same man who…?
Uh-oh. Immediately, there’s a problem. The Doctor knows exactly what has to happen here; he knows he has to let Greel escape, no matter what else happens. He can’t do anything else. This leads to some fantasic tension between the Doctor and Tegan, with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in quite some time.
Will you stop holding Time’s hand for just one minute? It’s bigger than you are. It can look after itself. We’re talking about people here with hopes and rights. Maybe, left alone, they can change it for the better by themselves!
In the TV story Resurrection of the Daleks, Tegan decides to leave the Tardis, unwilling to face any more violence and death; cleverly, this play is sowing the seeds for her future departure. Here, she sees Brisbane levelled, humans drained for their energy, and yet the Doctor cannot – or will not – do anything to prevent these things happening, and Tegan cannot understand why. Far from being the Annoying Aussie, Tegan is rightfully frustrated and angry, and Janet Fielding’s performance is a standout.
And what of the others? Turlough is perhaps the least affected by events, despite such an enforced absence from the Tardis. He’s in his element, sliding between layers of bureaucracy with the finesse of a knife, unctuous gameplayer, yet still loyal to Nyssa and their mission. Nyssa herself meanwhile, has taken her mission brief seriously. Very seriously. So much so in fact that she’s practically lost her scientific detachment, a fact that bodes ill for future plays.
The Doctor himself is caught in amber. He wants to retrieve his companions and leave, but it just isn’t as simple as that. He has to engage a sly, manipulative side of his personality that we’re not used to seeing from this incarnation – it’s something we’ll see much more frequently from the 7th Doctor, both in the New Adventures books and in the Big Finish range itself, and so in this play the Doctor’s agenda is far more morally ambiguous than anything we’ve had before (except perhaps Spare Parts, but even then the Doctor was hopeful that history could be changed for the better).
This, alongside the Emerald Tiger, is one of the best Fifth Doctor plays since the aforementioned Spare Parts and right now it’s difficult to see how Big Finish can possibly top this epic. Top marks, no messing.