Steve Lyons, an old hand at writing cracking Doctor Who stories, offers something rather special in the Destiny of the Doctor series with the Fifth Doctor adventure Smoke and Mirrors.
Answering a distress call in England in the 1920’s, we finally get to hear the Doctor and his old friend Houdini meet. Not that this is their first meeting mind you, far from it, but after all the years of name dropping by the Doctor in various incarnations it’s satisfying to have these 2 mighty characters interact together. The Doctor and Houdini have clearly learnt a lot from each other judging on their relationship in this story; they’re comfortable around each other and have a healthy admiration from both sides. But where this story differs from your usual ‘Doctor meets historical figure’ script, is that Houdini isn’t quite the man that the Doctor remembers, or to be more accurate, chooses to remember. The Harry Houdini that the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric meet is a more selfish and arrogant man then the listener would initially have thought him to be. It’s not all Houdini’s fault; he’s being teased and prompted by a mysterious and very familiar enemy who has done what he does best and corrupted the poor escapologist.
As the spoiler alert before this review might have given you a big clue already let’s cut straight to the chase, the enemy in question is the Master. But this isn’t the irrelevant buffoon that we remember from some of the Fifth Doctor stories such as Time-Flight or The King’s Demons; this is Steve Lyon’s version of the Master: vicious, nasty, insidious and very, very clever. It’s fitting that the writer should made the renegade Time Lord’s base of operations a fairground; the Master’s taste in the extreme, the gimmicky, the bright and bold and the over-the-top reflect well in this setting, offering a chance for the rather zany Ainley incarnation of the Master to be taken all the more seriously in Smoke and Mirrors.
Smoke and Mirrors takes elements from all of the stories that make up Peter Davison’s first season as the Fifth Doctor. The seriousness of Kinda, the whacky elements from Castrovalva and Time-Flight, the drama of Earthshock and Four To Doomsday and the fun of Black Orchid and The Visitation. A romp around the fairground for Nyssa, Tegan and Adric, this is a tale of passion for the Doctor as he’s betrayed by an old friend; it’s a tale of loss for Houdini and a self-reflective and sombre affair as the deaths of Tegan’s Aunt Vanessa and Nyssa’s father Tremas are also addressed.
On paper, it seems like there’s a lot to take in with Smoke and Mirrors but the piece flows wonderfully thanks to well paced storytelling and top narration by Janet Fielding and co-star Tim Beckmann as Houdini. This story is nostalgia, it’s longing for the days of the past, it’s redemption and it’s moving forward all at the same time.
What a splendid way to celebrate the era of the Fifth Doctor!
Smoke and Mirrors is available from www.bigfinish.com on CD for £10.20 or via download for only £3.99.