‘Ah, a businessman! I should have guessed from the spouting of the nonsensical drivel.’John Dorney’s having a good time with Big Finish right now. The man charged with uniting two of the finest Masters in a single adventure also gets both the enormous privilege and, from the sound of it, the enormous fun, of bringing back Drax for a long-delayed second encounter with the Doctor.
The tone for this story is ‘caper,’ in the sense of the great sixties clever crime stories like Ocean’s Eleven and Gambit, or the great ITC TV shows like Danger Man and Man In A Suitcase – there’s a pace that suits the image of characters running while backgrounds change around them, and there are distinct musical cues that evoke the period throughout this story.
In terms of plotting, it has very much that vibe of Ocean’s Eleven, Gambit or The Thomas Crown Affair: trust nothing, trust no-one, there’s more going on than you can possibly imagine. As a vehicle for the character of Drax, it’s utterly successful, evolving the character somewhat from the slightly luckless loveable rogue played by Barry Jackson in The Armageddon Factor.
What makes the story a little bittersweet is that Jackson was enthusiastic to reprise his role as the Time Lord con-man and genius engineer, but sadly died before recording could begin.
If you were looking for a perfect replacement for the cockney-accented Time Lord though, you couldn’t do better than Ray Brooks, familiar to Brit-geeks of a certain age as the voice of Mr Benn and King Rollo, and to Brit-geeks of the same age slightly later on as poker-addict Robbie Box from Big Deal. Brooks has just the kind of cheeky chappie twinkle in his voice you need to deliver Drax, and it could have worked as a direct replacement for Barry Jackson’s original. But the joy of playing a Time Lord of course is there’s no need to disrespect the original to any degree, so Brooks plays the Third Drax in a way that’s similar to Jackson’s original, but with enough of a twist to make the character his own.
The story is very much rooted in those sixties clever crime movies – Drax is about to pull off a heist of some specialised information from Altrazar, which Romana helpfully describes as a ‘temporal Atlantis,’ a kind of mythical, and quite possibly non-existent planet which has a Douglas Adams ring about it. It’s a place that ‘literally doesn’t exist,’ which has become a dumping ground for all the secrets the ultra-rich don’t want discovered.
Ultra-rich businessman Charles Kirland, played with an upper-class heartlessness by Hugh Ross (Captain Hastings in TV’s Poirot, and more recently President of the Terran Federation in the Big Finish Blake’s 7 adventures), wants them discovered very badly, and discovered by him as a way of safeguarding his own business interests and ruining his arch-rival, Galdron Cabot (played by John ‘also the tin dog’ Leeson). Sadly, only time-sensitives can even tell that Altrazar is even there, so he hires Drax to collect the secrets for him – and Drax in turn ropes in the Doctor.
So far, so fun. But this is Drax we’re talking about – and Dorney does solid service to the character by giving the wily Time Lord a trick or two, or three, or even four up his sleeves, meaning the heist quickly becomes something else entirely, and by the end of the story has metamorphosed into something else again. It’s a clever crime caper – as committed by Time Lords. If you loved Time Heist on TV, you’ll love The Trouble With Drax. Perhaps perversely, if you hated Time Heist on TV, you’ll probably love The Trouble With Drax even more, because not to put too fine a point on it, Dorney brings more imagination to bear than Stephen Thompson did, delivering a puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle that, like those classic crime capers, continues to deliver surprises right to the end. Granted, after a while, you start to get into the groove of the storytelling, so you start to think ‘What you need now is for This to happen,’ just before it does, but in some ways, that’s part of the delight because the joy of those crime capers is that the thieves are usually clever enough to get away with it, and long before the end, we want them to, we side with them because they’re clever enough to get away with it. You certainly want Drax to get away with it by the end of this story. Whether he does or not…
Well, that would be telling, now wouldn’t it?
In addition to Tom Baker and Lalla Ward on good form, Ward’s Romana coming across early in the story as almost exhausted with the Doctor’s irresponsibility, the technical baddies include Brooks as Drax and Fraser as Kirkland, but like the sixties movies, there’s quality all the way down the cast list here, showing the serious clout of the Big Finish contact book, and the Big Finish reputation. John Challis, Scorby from The Seeds of Doom and later Boycie in Only Fools And Horses, returns to the world of Who as Rosser, Kirkland’s muscle, and Sixth Doctor companion-actress Miranda Raison here swaps Bakers to take on the role of Inspector Fleur McCormick, the force of law who’s hell bent on bringing Drax to justice. Quality, quality, quality.
Dorney’s script gives them all plenty to do, and gives each of them a twist which spins the drama, escalating what starts out as a simple heist story into something far more Time Lord and much more fun. From Dorney’s barking but glorious script to the performances by all the named actors to the sound design that evokes the period and the genre, the Trouble With Drax – like an impressive number of releases in this season of Fourth Doctor stories – will be one you’ll happily listen to time and time again, for its polished pleasures and its sheer knockabout fun. Go get into trouble with Drax today.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk