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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Serpent in the Silver Mask


Starring: Peter Davison
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 821 9 (CD),
978 1 78178 822 6 (download)
Release Date: 30 April 2018

You are cordially invited to Argentia, the galaxy’s most exclusive tax haven, to attend the funeral of mining magnate Carlo Mazzini. The memorial service will be followed by music, light refreshments… and murder! Carlo’s heirs have come to say their final goodbyes (and find out how much they’ve inherited), but when a masked killer begins picking them off one by one, Argentia goes into lock-down, closed off behind its own temporal displacement field. Can the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric apprehend the murderer before Argentia – and everyone on board – is forever cut off from the rest of the universe…?

Well, this isn’t what I expected at all. From the trailer for Serpent in the Silver Mask, with its sinister voices and creepy talking dolls, I’d got the impression of something more serious than the comedy drama that unfolds during David Llewellyn’s story (the dolls aren’t actually in it for very long). Nothing about the title wording (we’ve already had an ion mask and a velvet mask in the titles of Doctor Who spin-off fiction – now it’s time for a silver one), the cover design (by Simon Holub) or the back-cover blurb gives away the fact that this is pretty much ‘Doctor Who does Kind Hearts and Coronets’. Two Hearts and Coronets, anyone?

Like Alec Guinness in the classic 1949 Ealing comedy, Samuel West takes on multiple parts as various members of the same influential family. The actor thoroughly immerses himself in the diverse roles, which include an errant offspring with a Northern accent (which brings to mind the philosophical tones of Alan Bennett), a pair of airhead twin brothers (“yeah, like, totally”) and, in one of the most amusing scenes in the play, a predatory matriarch who tries to seduce the Doctor (Peter Davison). The family member closest to West’s normal speaking voice is Joe Mazzini, who provides a bit of love interest for Tegan (Janet Fielding).

During the interviews at the end of the second disc, director Barnaby Edwards explains his reasoning behind hiring a character actor, a modern equivalent of Alec Guinness, rather than an impressionist to portray the Mazzini Family. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that there is also an impressionist among the cast – Phil Cornwell, who plays policeman Superintendent Galgo and the advertising voice Zaleb 5 – whose doubling up is far more noticeable. Perhaps this is because Cornwell’s voice is so well known and therefore recognisable in all its many guises.

This isn’t just a comedy, though. Nor is it merely a pastiche of Kind Hearts and Coronets. It’s also an effective murder mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As with the best of Christie’s plots, you really will wonder who the perpetrator could be out of the diminishing line-up of eccentric suspects. Inspired by Doyle, Llewellyn gives the Doctor some decidedly Sherlockian moments, as when he makes good use of a spell behind bars to think out a problem without the usual distractions.

The serial is curiously structured, with the packed Part One (27 minutes) introducing us to both the setting (a space station that uses time technology as a tax dodge) and the characters, as well as featuring the first two murders, while the rather short Part Two (19 minutes) includes just one killing. The material could have been spread out more evenly, but then I suppose Big Finish wanted the first episode to be as exciting as possible.

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) seems to be at her snootiest here, making disparaging remarks about the tackiness of Argentia and anyone who could be impressed by its gaudy grandeur – which, as it happens, includes Tegan.

I’m not going to turn my nose up, though. Serpent in the Silver Mask might not be what I expected, but it’s no less welcome for that.


Richard McGinlay

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