Michael Maloney has always been a favourite actor of mine. A board walker from the same tradition as Ken Branagh, you probably remember him as the bloke who isn’t Alan Rickman in Truly Madly Deeply. Maloney’s never out of work, on stage, screen, radio and television, but like the best character actors he’s never become a household name or even been ‘that guy’ despite turning up in everything. Look at his CV. Everything. Even Robin Hood. And Rosemary & Thyme. I think he even audition for the TV movie and he would have been equally as good as Paul. Watch In The Bleak Midwinter as he works the one liners and pathos, with his long hair and jacket and you’ll see what a tragedy it is that we’ll never see him stepping out of the TARDIS.
It’s worth speculating whether, if he’d been ten years younger, he’d be on the ever growing list of successor to the television part. Surprisingly, having been in everything, he hadn’t been in Doctor Who until Grand Theft Cosmos and as ever he’s reliably good in pretty thankless role of Simonsson, a one man Jago and Litefoot, full of pride and bluster. Lately he’s been stuck playing creeps but here we got to hear the lighter side of his abilities and he was clearly enjoying himself, bouncing off McGann, his accent dripping with the period. At least if he isn’t offered a supporting role in the television series at some time in the future, we can knock him off the list of timelord potentials who’s at least turned up in the franchise somewhere.
a one man Jago and Litefoot
My enthusiasm at this bit of casting transfers to the whole of the episode. It was a riot and probably the best of this series so far. Both of Eddie Robson’s plays last year were a bit lopsided, entertaining without being completely satisfying. None of that here. Splicing Doctor Who with the heist and hustle genres with the Doctor expending his powers to grand larceny is a great idea and then injecting the Headhunter into the mix completes the package, contrasting the timelord’s utilitarianism with good old fashioned profit. I’ve thrown the word ‘romp’ around a bit lately but again there’s no other way to describe this but unlike Dead London which I grouched about being an essentially empty experience thematically, this has something to say about the responsibility of creation and what you do having consequences.
With its quasi-historical eurosoup setting a lazy comparison would be City of Death with its reliance on the affairs of artists, potential fun with temporal anomalies, breaking in and out of chateaus and people hitting each other over the head. It’s not quite as good or timeless as that (obviously) but Robson does have fun with etiquette and people’s inability to focus on anything that doesn’t specifically affect them. Never mind the great living statue knocking holes in the roof of the dining car, what about the bits of masonry falling in my soup? That’s actually a very clever piece of audio writing because it gives the necessary exposition to the ‘background’ characters leaving the stars to deal with the problem at hand.
a very clever piece of audio writing
It’s basically the first episode I wouldn’t mind listening to again. Like the Gilmore Girls or The West Wing during the Sorkin era, this burns through dialogue and most of it very amusing and at times laugh out loud funny. There’s a wink in Robson’s writing as he underscores the ludicrousness of the re-appearance of Karen, understand that our reaction to her reappearance would be general bewilderment and putting our words into the Doctor’s mouth so that Lucie can offer a none too stealthy explanation. It’s pacey without ever feeling rushed, rarely committing the crime of many of these audios of belabouring incidents which are essentially visual – the sword fight between the Doctor and a guardsman quickly dispensed with as Lucie heads off after the black item that isn’t a proper diamond (which brought to mind the jewel from Men in Black -- I do like my pocket universes).
But the biggest surprise arrived in Beyond The Vortex which revealed that Paul and Sheridan recorded their parts on different days (a frequent situation at Big Finish apparently). I’d all planned to write about how good their chemistry was in this bouncing off one another, but turns out they were bouncing off Katerina Olsson and Nick Briggs respectively, which actually makes their performances even more impressive, especially on hearing that Smith did hers within forty-five minutes, the hilariously hoity-toity guise of Palmer-Tompkinson included. It’s a pity we’ll never hear Olsson’s version of the character though – did she attempt the accent or play it straight? Either way, she’s just perfect in her signature role of the Headhunter, not particularly evil, just the kind of person who, like the nerks in the train car, can’t understand why the universe doesn’t realise that she’s the most important thing in it.
Though aren’t we all like that sometimes?
Next week: Goodie, goodie, yum, yum.