by Stephen Cole
Starring: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Masquerade is the latest audio adventure from Big Finish featuring Peter Davison as The Fifth Doctor, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and an uncredited Francesca Hunt as sometime companion Hannah Bartholemew.
Starting in the secluded, fog-bound estate of the Marquise de Rimdelle in 1770 France, Masquerade begins rather oddly as the listener seems to have been plonked in halfway through a story. Just as you sit wondering if you’ve hit the “play” button in the wrong place, The Doctor voices his concern at his surroundings. He’s confused, he doesn’t know who Hannah is and he’s wearing fancy clothes and a powdered wig. Which, let’s face it, would confuse the best of us.
The sense of oddness and wrongness continues as we meet the remainder of The Marquise’s retinue, her niece Helene, the Vicomte de Valdac and the “dead man” muttering about rats in the cellar. Meanwhile, in the fog, the eerie machine the Steamroller Man circles and watches while chanting some judder-inducing children’s rhymes.
The Masquerade of the title is particularly apt in this adventure. As well as fitting nicely with the tradition of one word Fifth Doctor story titles, in this instance it reflects the sense of nothing and no-one being quite what it seems. The wrongness behind the mask.
As the truth behind the facade is revealed, the story becomes a massive and at times confusing trip into future technology, avatars and the tale of how the human race began its colonisation of the Universe.
Stephen Cole’s script is certainly ambitious and he chuck in plenty of villains, mysteries and perils for The Doctor and his crew to face, but perhaps it would benefit from a “less is more” approach.
Masquerade is not a horrible story and there’s lots to enjoy as our favourite Gallifreyan finds himself carried along as events unfold around him. The suporting actors do a very decent job playing two (and sometimes three) versions of Rimdelle, Valdac and Helene. This is a dark tale underpinned by a suitably sinister score and even the non-happy ending seems entirely appropriate.
David Chittenden’s Valdac is a particular delight and Francesca Hunt puts in a strong turn here as we see Hannah - not always a fan favourite - as both spirited Edwardian adventuress and spiritual guide. It would be interesting to see Hannah again if only to see where else her character could go.
Director Ken Bentley grapples manfully to keep a complex and often perplexing plot on track as characters group and re-group among orangeries and down corridors. While the villains are well done and worthy - once character as a joke gone horribly wrong is a very nice touch - there are perhaps just one too many of them. In fact, there’s just a little bit too much of a lot of things to fit into a single adventure, here.
Petey D and Sarah Sutton are terrific, though, and Nyssa seems the more in control of the two as the Doctor faces defeat while in over his head. As a Fifth Doctor and Nyssa vehicle, Masquerade is dark, eerie and very complex, but worth sitting up and paying attention to.
BLOGTOR RATING 6/10
Thanks to Big Finish