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Audio Drama Review
France, 1770: by special invitation, the famous “Doctor”, friend of Voltaire, arrives at the lonely estate of the lovely Marquise de Rimdelle – once a hostess to the highest of high society, now isolated by the strange, pernicious mist that lingers round the countryside. But there’s more in that fog than mere vapour, confesses the Marquise’s strange niece to the Doctor’s ward, Nyssa. She senses some uncanny machine circling the fringes of the estate, in the space between the shadows – watching, always watching. She’s given it a name: the Steamroller Man. Meanwhile, the man in the cellar talks to the Doctor; a dead man, trapped behind the cellar walls. The Steamroller Man is coming, he says, coming to smash the place down. It seems the Doctor has been drawn into a very dangerous liaison...
As writer Stephen Cole observes in his sleeve note, it’s not giving too much away to say that Masquerade is one of those “things are not what they seem” stories. The presence of a raving Dead Man (Sean Brosnan) and the sinister Steamroller Man (Andrew Dickens) are clear indications that this is no straightforward historical tale, while mention of a strange mist brings to mind the illusory period settings of The War Games. This is not unfamiliar territory for Doctor Who, but Cole prevents his story from becoming too predictable.
One of the ways in which he achieves this is by not using the most obvious dramatic highs or reveals as his cliffhangers. For example, the point at which the TARDIS travellers see through the illusion does not take place at the end of an episode. Nor does the moment in which Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) succumbs to the mechanical menace of the Steamroller Man. The latter is a splendid creation, who quite rightly does get a cliffhanger to himself, as every monster should. His storybook chants (which are not dissimilar to the giant’s “Fee-fi-fo-fum” in Jack and the Beanstalk) are eerily voiced by Andrew Dickens.
However, the writer could have done with defying the four-part episodic structure a little more. I would have liked to spend more time in the 18th-century scenario, which is pretty much dispensed with after Part One. The cast (including Rebecca Night, Victoria Hamilton and David Chittenden) do well in their dual roles – perhaps too well, in fact, because they are so convincing that I found it hard to envisage these disparate characters as actually being the same people. A longer duration spent establishing their earlier personae might have been helpful. At the opposite end of the narrative, Part Four feels overwhelmed with complex explanations – some of this material could have replaced the somewhat repetitious peril that takes place in Parts Two and Three.
In keeping with the Peter Davison era, the Doctor gets flustered as he finds himself out of his depth, Nyssa has a wonderful moment of empowerment, and the ending is suitably downbeat. There’s also an amusing reference to the Time Lord’s “pleasant open face”, a nod to Terrance Dicks’s standard description of the Fifth Doctor.
Despite some structural imperfections, there’s no disguising the fact that Masquerade has plenty of entertainment to offer.
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