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Audio Drama Review
Bletchley Park: Britain’s most secret weapon in the Second World War. Inside draughty huts, the earliest computers clatter day and night, decoding enemy transmissions and revealing intelligence crucial to the country’s defence. Leading Wren Mrs Constance Clarke directs her charges to provide vital assistance to the boffins stationed in the Manor House. But a recent arrival among the code-breakers, the mysterious Dr Smith, has attracted the attention of MI5’s spy-catchers… Over in mainland Europe, Nazi agents are briefed, covert operations are planned, and a German submarine embarks on a very secret mission. As encrypted radio waves criss-cross the planet, unearthly forces stir. And when certain ciphers are cracked, something will emerge to threaten all humanity, regardless of allegiance…
The first time Miranda Raison was in Doctor Who, in Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks, I managed to overlook her, because the British actress, then best known for her portrayal of Jo Portman in Spooks, was unrecognisable as the American showgirl Tallulah. This time around she is easier to spot, though still a far cry from her Spooks role, despite all the covert skulduggery that goes on in this story. The stiff-upper-lipped Mrs Constance Clarke, chief Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Service) at Bletchley Park, is a force to be reckoned with, getting into the thick of the action alongside the chaps, and taking to task anyone who dares to misuse the highly skilled women under her command.
The character actually made her debut in an earlier release, The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure, in which she was already established as a travelling companion of the Doctor (shades of Mel’s confusing criss-crossing timeline!), but Criss-Cross represents her introduction proper.
This tale ties in well with the appeal of the feature film The Imitation Game and the television series The Bletchley Circle – and for me there was also some nostalgia for The Curse of Fenric to be had from the clackety-clack of the decoding machines. Alan Turing is only mentioned in passing – which is perhaps just as well, as the Doctor has already met him (or rather will do) in the Eighth Doctor novel The Turing Test. Unusually for a Sixth Doctor story, Criss-Cross begins with the Time Lord already in situ, his TARDIS out of action, thus throwing the listener straight into the heart of the adventure without preamble.
It’s an adventure that involves a devious double agent (played to perfection by Paul Thornley and inspired by a real-life criminal turned spy known as Agent Zigzag) and a fascinating frequency-based alien race.
There is some impressive doubling up in this production. In fact, “doubling up” doesn’t quite cover it when it comes to the actors who voice the aliens: Charlotte Salt also plays Wren Wimpole and Effy, while Robbie Stevens quadruples up as the German Captain Unger, Dutch and a British Captain.
The level of betrayal of one particular character is a little hard to believe (potentially sacrificing his entire species), but that’s the only flaw I can think of in Matt Fitton’s finely crafted narrative. It may at first appear that the Nazi Dr Schwartzmann (Hugh Fraser) has got off lightly, but there’s a suitable sting at the end of the tale…
Also benefiting from slick direction by Ken Bentley and exciting music by Steve Foxon, Criss-Cross is a force to be reckoned with.
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