As The Syndicate Master Plan enters its final phase, the Doctor and Ann ally themselves with the Space Security Service. But for how much longer can Ann conceal her license to kill from the Time Lord?
This season has seen The Fourth Doctor Adventures embrace the boxset approach, although it has led to some oddities. All of the stories this year have been available collectively as either part of the Volume 1 or Volume 2 boxsets, or as individual downloads. But in the case of four part finale The Perfect Prisoners, this means the story is actually split in two. Despite the name, The Perfect Prisoners Part One contains parts one and two of the adventure. While The Perfect Prisoners Part Two comprises parts three and four. Following so far?
It’s an appropriate element of confusion to add to a story that, in the first half at least, is best listened to leaning hard towards your player of choice, brow furrowed in concentration. In retrospect, the stylistic choices of the earlier ‘return to Kembel’ story The False Guardian/Time’s Assassin makes perfect sense. Playing up to the audacity of a return for Zephon, Son of Zephon, was perfectly judged. It both acknowledged and side-stepped the idea’s ridiculousness. For here we get the rest of the delegates from The Daleks’ Master Plan played very, very straight indeed. And, frankly, it’s hard work.
The Syndicate re-imagined as Space SPECTRE is an appealing idea, though it makes for a confusing array of voices.
Blogtor Who would like to think they’ve a fair knowledge of Doctor Who. But keeping the names of all the delegates straight; remembering whether Malpha was the one with crazy paving skin, or Tantris the tentacle faced one, or vice versa requires some effort. Let alone The Space Helmeted One with a Spike on Top versus The Space Helmeted One without a Spike. By the time you add in the main way of telling them apart on audio, based on the particular flavour of electronic filtering placed over the actors’ voices as they all play multiple delegates, and the sweat truly starts to form on the listener’s brow.
There’s an awful lot of sitting around in virtual conference rooms discussing evil plans. These run in a manner familiar to those classic SPECTRE get-togethers. Delegates are killed off to prove the Syndicate ‘does not tolerate failure’. Even essentially forgetting to include a couple of numbers and non-alphanumeric characters in their password can be lethal. Clearly, though, Big Finish have their finger on a rather improbable pulse here. After all, this epic return for this motley crew comes the same month that the students of UCLAN are remaking the lost episode Mission to the Unknown. It does make one feel for Perfect Prisoners cover artist, Anthony Lamb. His art is gorgeous as ever, but what were the odds that as soon as he’d completed making half century old photos presentable, brand new versions of those costumes would be made?
Standard Doctor Who formulae are upended by casting the Doctor in the role of plucky assistant to the deadly agent on a mission.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ann are cast in the opposing role of James Bond and his Girl du Jour. The two flip that dynamic, with Ann the steely eyed woman on a mission, and the Doctor the handy subject matter expert being dragged along. Nevertheless there are enough doomsday devices, ticking countdowns, and bad guys falling from heights to fill one of 007’s adventures. Even delegate Sentreal (y’know, the Satanic Christmas Tree one) is re-cast as a massively powerful and fearsome henchman in the manner of a Jaws or an Oddjob (“Is that… wise?” one of his fellow delegates asks when sending Sentreal in to kill everyone in sight is suggested).
While this first half treats the Doctor as a passenger in his own series, it sets up a more central role for the finale.
The path into the story is appropriately Bondian too. Take a large, powerful company that would appear initially to have only the standard amount of corporate amorality. Bring the focus onto some new seemingly innocent product about to be rolled out. Reveal it is actually part of a plot to take over the world. (Add a sprinkling of “BWA-HA-HA!” for garnish.)
It’s appropriate that this follows on from previous story Fever Island. That inserted a James Bond type fantasy into a Doctor Who story. But this is very much the Doctor trapped in a James Bond world. Well, a 41st century James Bond world, at least. The Doctor himself is left being dragged along by the packed plot, with little room for his own character to show through. However, that’s more of a feature than a bug, the story depending on not giving the Doctor time to consider the bigger picture.
Ultimately, the final moments may be more soap opera than spy caper. (In fact it’s only short of replacing the regular cliffhanger scream with the EastEnders doof doofs.) But it appears to be all in the service of clearing the decks to allow the Doctor to retake control of the situation.
We’re intrigued to see what happens next in Part Two (Episodes 3 and 4)…
Written By: John Dorney.
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs.
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (WPC Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Ronan Vibert (Zaal), Simon Bubb (Jodor Colwyn), Christopher Naylor (Malpha/Sentreal/Trooper), Timothy Speyer (Trantis /Beaus), Francesca Hunt (Celation/Gearon/Drarn), Other parts played by members of the cast.