Doctor Who: Phantasmagoria (BF 002)

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The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Turlough to the London of 1702 where a mysterious highwayman roams the streets, a local occultist has made contact with the dead and gentlemen of fashion are disappearing, only to find themselves in a chamber whose walls weep blood…

The time travellers become enmeshed in the hideous plans of Sir Nikolas Valentine, a gambler at the mysterious Diabola Club who always seems to have a winning hand…

Written by Mark Gatiss, yes the Brigadiers daddy, Phantasmagoria is the first “real” adventure in the series if you’re not counting the big crossover that launched the whole thing. What I mean is that this is where you go if you want to see what these are going to be like episode to episode and we start with the fifth Doctor and Turlough working their way through Georgian England on the trail of a disappearing gentry, in a standard historical setting, making this, somewhat fittingly, a fairly standard adventure of classic Who. Had this been filmed you know which sets the BBC would have dragged out of moth balls. The fact that the story is equally as predictable and pedestrian could be a sign of Big Finish just getting into the swing of things, trying to establish themselves before coming out guns swinging or something else.

Now for those who don’t know who Turlough is then I wouldn’t worry too much as for the sake of this story there is some of his personality present but none of his history leaving this a nice story to dive into even if you haven’t explored much of classic Who. What you need to know will be slipped into conversation in that Big Finish way of unloading exposition while doing their best to make it sound casual and normal. There is an infamous bandit on the king’s highway, a mysterious stranger in the gentleman’s club, and a maid with surprisingly muddy boots.

Now as for the review itself well I can honestly say, as you may have picked up before, that this tale is a little run of the mill and that could be the case due to looking at this from our modern, more enlightened times, rather than those long lost days of 1999. That’s not to say that it’s bad and I enjoyed each episode as they came but looking back I’d struggle to pick out any key parts or players for you now. Gatiss and Walliams, yes that Walliams, play a pair of foppish toffs that you are either going to enjoy or find grating after a while. Both seem to be having great fun playing the part and while they are part of the story they do seem more like they were written in for Gatiss and chum to have some fun rather than because they were needed for the story.

Valentine is a decent villain but one you’re not going to be screaming to see more of once the end credits roll. He’s played well, smarmy and slimy as needed not so much chewing the scenery as finding a way to twirl his gigantic moustache for the listeners at home. The rest of the cast do well though Mark Strickson seems to struggle as Turlough. A decent character form the show who was never really given much to do and it’s a shame he doesn’t get to shine through here as the actor is decent and Big Finish will create a bit of a reputation for itself as dusting old characters off before elevating them far higher than the show could apparently allow. Just ask the sixth Doctor. Though this is still early in their run so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much just yet. His part and the episode as a whole is still better than some episodes of televised Who. Speaking of the Doctor, the fifth is here more evocative of his later episodes with a bit more stiff upper lip and take charge attitude rather than the more wishy, washy, earlier depiction. Though if overall you found the fifth Doctor to be a litle too white bread for your tastes I don’t think this is going to win anyone around. Davison does well with the part given to him but again nothing that will stand out to anyone once the tape has stopped rolling. The music and sound effects are probably what anyone will talk about coming out of this as they help to set the mood to the point where you could close your eyes and imagine you are there, or at least the telly is playing some forgotten episode from the eighties.

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