Power Play

I must find the Doctor and destroy him.

Victoria Waterfield
The Big Finish cover for Power Play, showing the Sixth Doctor, Peri and Victoria Waterfield, as well as a lizard-like creature.

Synopsis

It’s been many years since Victoria Waterfield travelled through time and space fighting monsters and dictators. Now she’s back on Earth fighting for the future of the planet. But are her environmental campaigns so far removed from her former adventures in the vortex?

As trucks carrying nuclear waste start to vanish into the air, her friends are kidnapped by a dangerous alien police force and a nuclear power plant runs dangerously close to meltdown… Victoria spies a familiar blue box.

The Doctor. After all this time, the Doctor has come back.

And now… Victoria Waterfield is going to kill him.

Review

Power Play is the penultimate Lost Story that slots into this gap between the end of Revelation of the Daleks and Trial of a Time Lord, and features returning Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield.

There are some good ideas at work in Power Play. In fact, there are about three different plot strands and each is probably good enough to support an entire story by itself. You’ve got the protestors and the nuclear power plant, the intergalactic space police pursuing the Doctor through space for crimes he’s been framed for, and the returning companion in the shape of Victoria. Ultimately though, it does not feel as though any of these strands ever really come together satisfactorily. Perhaps this is because of the decades between starting and finishing the script, but it all feels a bit of a mess. This prolonged writing process might be the reason that it doesn’t entirely work, but Big Finish also seem to be on a bit of an off day when it comes to evoking the feel of an era for these lost stories. Fundamentally, this even goes all the way down to the music, which feels far too percussion driven. It works really well in the opening sequence where everything is going haywire in the TARDIS and matches that frenetic feel but when the story’s pacing slows, it feels out of place.

Perhaps what’s wrong with this story is the fact that Victoria feels so out of place as the returning companion. I can see what they were going for, the companion from the Earth’s past (the steam age, as they say) protesting against nuclear power, but there is one other companion that feels so glaringly obvious as one who would feel natural and organic in this situation: Jo Grant. Jo leaves the Third Doctor to go off and do exactly this all over the world, and you could even retcon the fact that she hasn’t seen the Doctor before Death of the Doctor by having Jo forget this encounter or believe it was all just an illusion. Regardless of who the returning companion was, there isn’t really enough for them to do to justify having an old companion back at all. I’ll admit that Victoria is not my favourite companion, but Deborah Watling’s performance does nothing to endear an older Victoria to me either. Some of her line readings come across as so forced, and when she is possessed, it is the most obvious possessed acting in the show’s history.

What would you prefer, John Smith?

Dominic

If there was one performance that really surprised me, it was that of Miles Jupp as the silky-voiced Dominic, who turns out to be the villain behind the whole thing. It perhaps surprised me most of all because of mainly being familiar with Jupp from his comedy work and seeing his name on the credits, I was expecting him to be playing a much lighter part than Dominic, or to give him his correct name, Dominicus. I loved the idea of the planetary assassin, hired to destroy planets, in his case for the Terrible Zodin, which is a really lovely diea. I wished there was more of this element, or that Dominicus would come back for another story, although he doesn’t make it out of this story alive. Jupp stands out amongst the guest cast because the rest of the characters feel so underdeveloped and generic – amongst the protestors, Marion, David and Sean don’t really feel very distinct from each other, and despite some funny moments where David rejects the reality of the aliens who have captured him and Victoria, you don’t really feel anything when he sacrifices himself to save the world.

There is certainly an argument that the Sixth Doctor is missing moments of charm that the Lost Stories tend to have as they work to soften this incarnation’s spikier side. That being said, Colin Baker does manage to bring his usual enthusiasm and his own natural charm to the role of the Doctor, but it’s harder than most of these stories to identify a truly great moment for him. I think the inclusion of Victoria means that there is less for Peri to do – I think there’s only really one companion role written into this story, which means that it almost gets split between the two, leaving both with an unsatisfactory ending. Again, though, Nicola Bryant throws her all behind a story that probably need another polish before it was recorded.

Verdict: Power Play has some good ideas, but ultimately struggles due to some poor performances, some ideas spread out a bit too thin and weird pacing. 5/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), David Warwick (Matthew Dysart), Miles Jupp (Dominic), Andrew Dickens (Leiss), Howard Gossington (Weska), Victoria Alcock (Marion Tudor), Greg Donaldson (David) & James Hayward (Sean).

Writer: Gary Hopkins

Director: Ken Bentley

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This is an adaptation of an unproduced story called Meltdown. The first episode was commissioned by Eric Saward and fully written by Gary Hopkins in the 1980s but the commission for the second episode never followed.
  • The first time that Deborah Watling reprised the role of Victoria for Big Finish outside of the Companion Chronicles.

Cast Notes

  • David Warwick also played Kimus in The Pirate Planet and a Police Commissioner in Army of Ghosts. He has also played numerous characters for Big Finish, appearing in The Harvest, Temmosus and Stolen Futures.
  • Andrew Dickens has appeared in numerous Big Finish stories, including Casualties of War, The Magic Mousetrap and The Widow’s Assassin.
  • Howard Gossington played Toby Dodds in House of Blue Fire and Gurth, Thurstan and Soltan in Leviathan.
  • Victoria Alcock appeared as Angela Whittaker in Planet of the Dead, and also played roles in Jago & Litefoot and Graceless.
  • Greg Donaldson appeared in The Game and Dalek Empire.
  • James Hayward played Wiglaf in Black and White and Hisko in Tomb Ship.

Best Quote

Mislay one of my oldest friends? The very idea.

The Sixth Doctor

Previous Sixth Doctor review: The Guardians of Prophecy

One thought on “Power Play

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