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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Butcher of Brisbane


Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 629 4
Available 30 June 2012

Adopting the alias of Weng-Chiang, the 51st-century war criminal Magnus Greel will one day arrive in Victorian London by Time Cabinet - only to meet his doom, his plans undone by the Time Lord known as the Doctor. The Doctor never believed he would meet Greel again, but when a TARDIS trip to his companion Tegan’s home town of Brisbane goes wrong, the Doctor ends up in the younger Greel’s heyday - in a world on the brink of all-out war. With the Doctor at the mercy of Greel’s alien associate Findecker and his army of mutations, Tegan is about to learn just why they called Greel “The Butcher of Brisbane”...

A couple of years ago, I allowed myself to get very excited about the return of the Mara in The Cradle of the Snake, so much so that I was ever-so-slightly disappointed by the result. Now, once again, writer Marc Platt is bringing back an old enemy to finish off the latest trilogy of adventures for the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Turlough (Mark Strickson) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). This time I kept my excitement in check, and this time I was not disappointed.

This time the old enemy in question is Magnus Greel, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang - except that he’s not an old enemy because he’s a younger version. Angus Wright (who played Mr Dread in The Vault of Secrets) portrays Greel as a handsome, charismatic and cunning politician, not yet distorted by Zygma radiation, but nevertheless betraying signs of insanity, especially when things don’t go according to plan. Wright doesn’t sound much like Michael Spice in Talons, but then Zygma mutation will do that to a chap’s larynx!

Talons has already yielded more than its fair share of spin-offs, including a couple of novels and Big Finish’s Jago & Litefoot series, but The Butcher of Brisbane is something quite different. Instead of the 19th century, Platt has set his story in the 51st, tying together the various casual references made to this future period by Robert Holmes in his 1977 script, including an ice age, Findecker’s discovery of the double nexus particle, and the advance of the Filipino army upon Reykjavik. Factoring in “the Great Breakout” mentioned in The Invisible Enemy, Earth is now pretty much a factory planet, mostly abandoned by its human population. Platt’s eccentric style fits right into this world. In realising an age in which a pig-brained child’s doll might be considered a pretty neat idea, the writer also gives us dingo-brained cyborg soldiers, including the wonderful Sgt Chops (John Banks), and buffalo-hybrid guards.

As has been the case throughout this trilogy, The Butcher of Brisbane also convincingly re-creates the era of the Fifth Doctor. There’s an element of the past, of course, which was customary during Season 20. Tegan’s excitement at the prospect of returning home in her introductory scene is a delight to hear, and the TARDIS’s temporal disintegration is markedly similar to the opening of Terminus. Fool Circle’s incidental music is heavily reminiscent of Roger Limb’s later work for the show, so much so that I can easily imagine this story being directed on screen by his collaborator Graeme Harper.

Things go a bit Enemy of the World in Part Two, but in such a way as to allow Strickson and Sutton to shine.

The fourth and final episode comes apart slightly, as, despite the threat of history being altered, events march inexorably (like an army upon Reykjavik) towards Greel and Mr Sin taking their trip in the Time Cabinet to the 19th century...

Ultimately The Butcher of Brisbane has a circular relationship with The Talons of Weng-Chiang, such that the two stories can be experienced in either order. Despite his best efforts not to interfere in events, the Doctor indirectly inspires Greel’s fear of Time Agents in Talons (a reference that new series showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have also picked up and run with). Despite his foreknowledge of what lies in Earth’s past and in Greel’s future, the Doctor remains sufficiently tight-lipped about the villain’s fate that you could listen to this audio drama before watching Talons.

The Talon-ted Mr Platt certainly hasn’t butchered this bit of Who history.


Richard McGinlay

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