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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
1963: The Assassination Games


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 080 0
Release Date: 30 November 2013

London, the end of November, 1963. It is a time of change. The old guard are being swept away by the white heat of technology. Political scandals are the talk of the town. Britain tries to maintain its international role. Fanatics assassinate charismatic politicians. Group Captain Ian Gilmore is trying to get his fledgling Counter-Measures unit off the ground. When his life is saved by a familiar umbrella-bearing figure, he knows something terrible is going on. Whilst Rachel investigates an enigmatic millionaire and Allison goes undercover in an extremist organisation, Gilmore discovers a sinister plot with roots a century old. The Doctor and Ace are back in town. A new dawn is coming. It’s time for everyone to see the Light...

From the title of this, the last in a trilogy of 1963-themed releases, one might have expected some connection with the Kennedy assassination – as indeed I did until I heard the previous month’s 1963: The Space Race, which has already covered such territory. Instead, 1963: The Assassination Games writer John Dorney turns his attention to other political upheavals of the time, including the Profumo affair, which is symbolised by the indiscretion of fictional Minister of Defence Stephen Mulryne (Gerald Kyd), Britain’s beleaguered missile defence programme, which looks set to be saved by the Starfire project of millionaire Sir Gideon Vale (Oliver Cotton), and soviet spies.

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who also marks a quarter-century since Remembrance of the Daleks was on the telly. In other words, it’s the 25th anniversary of that 25th-anniversary show! In a nifty bit of karma, that serial was itself set in 1963, and so a return visit feels entirely appropriate. The Intrusion Counter-Measures team of Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) and Allison Williams (Karen Gledhill) are all present and correct, though Gilmore doesn’t seem to get as much to do as the others, apart from be perplexed for much of the time. This group, together with the silky voice of Hugh Ross as Sir Toby Kinsella, has enjoyed its own audio spin-off series since 2012, though you don’t need to have heard it in order to follow this story – which is lucky for me, because I haven’t. On the strength of this, though, I would be interested in hearing more. The Assassination Games takes place before the spin-offs, not long after Remembrance.

The opening episode is very much a Counter-Measures story, with the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) working deep undercover and appearing only fleetingly. This is in keeping with the arch manipulator that is the Seventh Doctor, particularly during his later television stories and the New Adventures novels. Gradually he steps out of the shadows, explains what is going on, and the plot takes a more sci-fi turn.

With so much good stuff to enjoy, why then is this my least favourite of the 1963 stories? Well, I’m not a huge fan of political thrillers. I tend to find their shady subterfuge and doublespeak difficult to follow, and this instance was no exception. The Assassination Games feels like a very talky piece – which I know is a strange criticism to level at an audio play! Sound designer Wilfredo Acosta does a lot to heighten the drama with his strident music, though to my ear his very modern score evokes neither the Sixties of the setting nor the late Eighties of the McCoy era (between Seasons 25 and 26 to be precise), sounding more like something from Spooks or a recent Bond film. The name of the Doctor’s foe is also an unfortunate choice, since he and Ace have faced an entirely unrelated adversary called Light in Ghost Light.

But that’s enough character assassination from me. If you like political thrillers more than I do, then this could be for you (though even I got the House of Cards reference). And if you yearn for a reunion of the heroes from Remembrance (which is certainly true for me), then so much the better.


Richard McGinlay

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