Doctor Who
The Veiled Leopard

Starring: Nicola Bryant, Caroline Morris, Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier
Big Finish Productions
RRP: free with Doctor Who Magazine #367 (RRP: 3.99)
Available 02 March 2006

Monte Carlo, 1966. The Doctor has sent Peri and Erimem to a costumed ball to prevent the theft of the fabulous Veiled Leopard diamond. Which is odd, since the Doctor has assigned Ace and Hex to steal the jewel. How will the two teams cope with this contradictory task? Will Peri's asp slip? Why must Ace pretend to be a French maid? And can Hex "do posh"...?

Big Finish has provided some good fun over the years with its Doctor Who Magazine freebie CDs, such as The Ratings War and No Place Like Home, so I thought it was about time that Review Graveyard reviewed one of them.

This one is fun too, with the name of the jewel, the story's setting and David Darlington's incidental music all evoking the Pink Panther movies. As it happens, Steve Martin's remake of The Pink Panther has just hit UK cinemas at the time of writing, which may just be a happy coincidence or a cunning marketing ploy on the part of Big Finish and DWM. There are also a few brief allusions to Mission: Impossible in Darlington's score and in Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett's story.

The Veiled Leopard is also reminiscent of Lance Parkin's Missing Adventures novel Cold Fusion, in that the TARDIS crews of the Fifth and Seventh Doctors cross paths but pursue different goals. Unlike Cold Fusion, the two sets of companions never actually meet one another face to face, though the two Doctors are described as doing so (and have a blazing row, perhaps about the very events in Parkin's novel, which ended with the Fifth Doctor being knocked out by the Seventh Doctor's companion Chris!). This meeting is observed and recounted by Peri (Nicola Bryant) and Erimem (Caroline Morris), since neither Peter Davison nor Sylvester McCoy star in this production.

The Seventh Doctor's presence is also felt in Ace's (Sophie Aldred's) rather poor impersonation of McCoy, which brings back amusing memories of the actress's reading of Robert Perry and Mike Tucker's short story Stop the Pigeon in the Short Trips and Tales from the TARDIS audio books.

However, this is very much the assistants' story, and it provides a good opportunity to compare and contrast. Each team consists of a companion inherited from the television series - Peri and Ace respectively - and one created by Big Finish - Erimem and Hex (Philip Olivier). McLaughlin and Bartlett allow us to appraise how each duo works together. While Peri and Erimem are very chummy and contribute to the mission as equals, Ace takes advantage of her extra time-travelling experience, places herself very much in command of Hex and enjoys bossing him around, foreshadowing her military training in the New Adventures novels.

The writers and director Gary Russell make good use of the story's two-part structure, devoting one episode to either TARDIS team. The title music varies accordingly.

It's well worth tracking down a copy of DWM #367 in order to get your hands on this gem. (The magazine's worth reading too!) Bargain.

Richard McGinlay