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Audio Drama Review
Future Britain is bankrupt, its corporate owners facing financial ruin. Fortunately, the Universal Monetary Fund, and its slimy representative Sil, are willing to give its President a multi-billion credit bail-out... but terms and conditions apply, and Sil’s proposed austerity measures go far beyond mere benefit cuts. Responding to a distress call, the Doctor and Flip land in a London whose pacified population has been driven largely underground. But the horrors down there in the dark are as nothing compared to the horrors that await them at ConCorp HQ, where a young biochemist in Sil’s employ is working on a permanent solution to the nation’s terminal unprofitability. Because in the final account, Sil plans to make a killing...
Listening to this rematch between the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Sil (Nabil Shaban), it’s hard to credit (pun intended) that this didn’t happen sooner. We already knew, from the audio production of the unmade television story Mission to Magnus, that Shaban was up for it, and he clearly relishes the role (like a tasty marsh minnow) as much on audio as he ever did on screen. We know that the character’s originator, Philip Martin, is not averse to working with Big Finish either, having also written The Creed of the Kromon. However, this is the first time that we have ever had a Sil story that takes place after Mindwarp.
Perhaps one reason why Sil has been away for so long is because the political climate was not right. He was created at the height of 1980s consumerism, a satire of corporate greed who beat the Ferengi and Gordon Gekko on to the scene by a good couple of years. The slug-like capitalist might not have fitted in quite so well during the Nineties or Noughties, but with the Conservatives back in power, and following the bailouts of reckless banks and bankrupt nations, the austerity measures, the cutting of benefits to the poorest in our society, and the rapacious terms of high-interest loans, characters like Sil are relevant once again. Philip Martin’s sardonic script is hardly subtle (Universal Monetary Fund, eh? Hmm, what could that be sending up?) but it fits right in with the style of Sil’s earlier stories, and recaptures the flavour of the Colin Baker era in an entertaining way.
Antidote to Oblivion follows up in various ways on aspects from all three previous Sil stories. As in Vengeance on Varos, we have topicality, grotesque human experimentation, and the views of common people – though Pan (David Dobson) and Cerise (Mary-Ann Cafferkey) have more active roles than Arak and Etta did. From Mission to Magnus we have another cry for help from the TARDIS of the bullying Time Lord Anzor. As for Mindwarp, at first it seems as though the confusing ending to that serial is going to be swept under the carpet, with the Doctor vaguely referring to Sil’s last venture having ended disastrously. Ultimately, however, we do get more answers than ever before about precisely what happened to Sil, Kiv and Crozier.
Various accounts already exist as to what became of Peri, including two on television (killed in Mindwarp but alive and married in The Ultimate Foe) and at least three more in prose (the novelisation of Mindwarp, the short story Reunion and the novel Bad Therapy). Here the Doctor admits that his memories of that point in his life are hazy, and time has been destabilised by temporal interference. He resolves to get to the bottom of the matter soon – though actually Peri’s disparate fate has already been addressed in Peri and the Piscon Paradox. Perhaps Antidote to Oblivion is a precursor to the Piscon piece...
The plot is rather uneven and overstuffed. Sil as an interplanetary loan shark would have been enough. We don’t really need the microbial menace as well – but then the story would have needed a different title... maybe one that mirrors the planetary alliteration of Vengeance on Varos and Mission to Magnus... Economics of Earth, perhaps? Terror on Terra? Hmm, perhaps not! Lisa Greenwood doesn’t get an awful lot to do as companion Flip Jackson except to be in peril, though she does trade some good insults with Sil.
There’s still plenty of fun to be had – so much, in fact, that there’s only room for 5 minutes of interviews at the end of Disc 2. There are a further 6 minutes of behind-the-scenes coverage in the Big Finish podcast – though it is a little disappointing and strange that we don’t get to hear from Philip Martin, either on audio or among the CD liner notes.
I do hope that it won’t be another four years before we get to hear from Sil again. Come on, Big Finish, there’s a gap in the market ripe for exploitation – fulfil this economic need!
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