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Audio Drama Review
It has been a year since Philippa “Flip” Jackson found herself transported by Tube train to battle robot mosquitoes on a bizarre alien planet in the company of the Time Lord known only as the Doctor. Lightning never strikes twice, so they say... only now there’s a flying saucer whooshing over the top of the night bus taking her home. Inside it is the Doctor, with another extraterrestrial menace on his tail - the Daleks, and their twisted creator Davros! However, while Flip and the fugitive Doctor struggle to beat back the Daleks’ incursion into 21st-century London, Davros’s real plan is taking shape nearly 200 years in the past, on the other side of the English Channel - at the battle of Waterloo...
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
For the first couple of episodes of this four-part story, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) seems to behave rather strangely. He uses fewer contractions, and he’s callous even by Season 22 standards. When it is revealed that the Daleks (Nicholas Briggs) are using mind-swapping technology to control human beings, I soon realised that the Doctor and Davros must have been brain-switched too, though that doesn’t diminish the impact of the half-time cliffhanger, when Baker is finally able to unleash the unadulterated malevolence of Davros, as opposed to Davros pretending to be the Doctor. What did come as a surprise to me was that this switch was instigated not by Davros but by the Doctor.
Baker has played plenty of villains in his time, including Paul Merroney in The Brothers and Commander Maxil, who shot Peter Davison in Arc of Infinity, so it’s no wonder that he makes a good “Davros in the Doctor’s body”. I remember reading somewhere about an idea for the television show (it may have been Baker’s idea) in which the Sixth Doctor gets mind-swapped with Anthony Ainley’s Master, which would have worked well for the same reason. Ainley’s reluctance to participate in Big Finish’s productions and his death in 2004 have prevented the notion from being enacted with the Master, but with The Curse of Davros the basic premise finally comes to fruition. Terry Molloy, returning to Big Finish following a BBC-enforced Davros ban (because of the villain’s appearance in Series 4), is equally convincing as “the Doctor in Davros’s body”.
The return of the Daleks and a body-swapped Davros would be sufficient to sustain a four-parter on their own, but scribe Jonathan Morris also writes in a new companion: Philippa “Flip” Jackson (Lisa Greenwood), who previously appeared in the writer’s own The Crimes of Thomas Brewster. In contrast with the Sixth Doctor’s previous companions, primarily a botany student, a history professor and a computer programmer blessed with total recall, Flip is a plain-speaking lass who works at a supermarket checkout. There are some unfortunate similarities to Rose Tyler, especially when she ditches her boyfriend (Ashley Kumar as Jared) in favour of a life of adventure aboard the TARDIS, but the freshness and naturalness of Greenwood’s performance (which is what prompted the producers to bring her back) is irresistible.
However, this story has still more to offer, with the time-travelling Daleks aiding Napoleon (Jonathan Owen) at the Battle of Waterloo! Perhaps some of the “bonkers-ness” of The Valley of Death (which Morris adapted for audio) has rubbed off on the writer. With so much else going on in this tale, the Waterloo setting feels somewhat underused, more like a background than an actual location. The Doctor does not meet the Duke of Wellington (Granville Saxton), but perhaps that’s just as well for fans of series continuity, as he has already done so in two Terrance Dicks novels, Players and World Game, the latter of which takes place during the same battle as this audio drama.
Newcomer Wilfredo Acosta provides appropriately exciting incidental music, evoking the Bond scores of John Barry and David Arnold at certain moments, Murray Gold at others. Just over 20 minutes of this music can be heard at the end of Disc One, while there are five minutes of interviews at the end of Disc Two - all that the production team could fit in, I imagine, following the 40-minute Part Four.
The Curse of Davros could easily have been a five- or six-parter, but that’s not really a curse. As a four-parter it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome - and neither, I am sure, will Flip.