What a week it was for Big Finish’s Monthly Adventures! Not only did they release the exciting ‘Harry Houdini’s War‘ but they also let loose ‘Tartarus‘. The former is a Sixth Doctor story and the latter a Fifth Doctor. Both stories feel like crossovers of sorts but ‘Tartarus‘ definitely is.
‘Tartarus‘ is an exceptionally well-written event story. It may not be the crossover you were waiting for but it’s one that makes perfect sense. David Llewellyn has provided a healthy dose of comedy with just enough mythology and some heavy dashes of drama, concocting a deliciously well prepared high-stakes tale.
It’s how it’s said
As good as the script is, it really hangs on the exceptional chemistry and delivery of lines from each and every cast member. Our regular Fifth Doctor TARDIS team consisting of Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa are all on point. This is amongst some of their best work. Fielding‘s zingers are so well placed and delivered that it’s the icing on top that she also has so much to do here.
The Fifth Doctor’s adoration for Cicero is endearing. You can understand why the Doctor would appreciate such a figure. An individual capable of using words as a weapon. Samuel Barnett as Cicero (if you haven’t heard the ‘Cicero’ stories you really ought to), is always spot on. We don’t have the Barnett one might expect from Torchwood or Dirk Gently. There’s a strong sense of the character and even when the plot takes liberties and reaches to the absurd, Barnett never breaks character.
One might expect the Sixth Doctor, to be the best Doctor to pair up with such a verbose man as Cicero but it wouldn’t work in a story like this. It’s the chemistry and respect the Doctor has for Cicero that allows the plot to evolve nicely. Two wordsmiths might compete with one another bur here the Doctor has his strengths and Cicero has his. That said, I wouldn’t mind having Cicero return to go Tete a tete with Sixie.
Continuing with the terrific performances, Tracy-Ann Oberman as Tartarus is simply perfect casting. She’s the right level of predictable villain but because of that voice and her love for this sort of thing, it’s just pure joy. Taking performances in the other direction, George Watkins does a stellar job as Marc, a slave who knows his role. By the end of this story the listener is fully invested. Kudos to director Scott Handcock for balancing everything so exquisitely.
Despite great performances, a strong script full of humour and genuine drama, none of it could be as powerful as it is if it weren’t for some outstanding music and sound design by Robert Harvey. Harvey doesn’t go for the obvious cues or play to jokes. It’s all well balanced and compliments the drama.
All the ingredients that go into making an audio drama work effectively are present but there’s something ever so extra special about this release. If this were the Great British Bake Off ‘Tartarus‘ would be this week’s winner. The Fifth Doctor isn’t this reviewers go to Doctor but this will certainly be a go to audio.
63BC. Following the overthrow of Catiline, Cicero and his wife retire to the coastal town of Cumae, safe from the threats of Rome.
But when a stranger and his companions arrive at Cicero’s villa, new dangers lie in wait and Cicero finds himself plunged into a realm of gods and monsters.
His only hope of returning home lies with a man known as the Doctor. But can Cicero trust him?
- Peter Davison (The Doctor)
- Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
- Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)
- Samuel Barnett (Cicero)
- Tracy-Ann Oberman (Tartarus)
- Laura Riseborough (Terentia)
- Joe Shire (Septus)
- George Watkins (Marc)