If you don’t have loads of free time to lounge around listening to Big Finish audios, the Short Trips range are a great place to get your Doctor Who fix; likewise if you’re on a tight budget, at just £2.99 it’s hard to go wrong. This months Short Trip, The Blame Game features the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and the Meddling Monk (Yippee!)
To escape his Earth exile, the Doctor is prepared to make any bargain, come to any arrangement, or to do any deal with any devil – even if in this case the Devil wears a monk’s robes. But when past misdeeds start catching up with both the Doctor and the Monk, who can Liz Shaw trust when time is running out and death is rapidly approaching?
I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer; if you’re familiar with my previous Short Trip reviews, you will have noticed that I like to do them in haikus, as it’s a concise way of conveying my thoughts and opinions; however, with this being one of my favourite Doctors in an adventure with my favourite other Time Lord, I didn’t feel like multiple stanzas consisting of five syllables followed by seven syllables and then a final five would do it justice. So Ian Atkins if you’re reading this; well done, you made me change styles just so I could do this review justice.
I’ve not yet had the pleasure of listening to the Second Doctor story The Black Hole from the Early Adventures range from Big Finish, which (spoilers) introduced Rufus Hound as the Meddling Monk; however I think that he’s a superb choice for the role, and it’s a shame that he was seemingly wasted in The Woman Who Lived last year.
We start the story with Liz asking the Doctor a question that I think everybody has wondered; does the Doctor actually ever go to sleep? The only times we really see him get some shuteye is after a regeneration whilst he recovers, so if we’re going by that principal, the Doctor has only properly slept twelve times. I can do that in a day.
It’s not long before the Doctor and Liz meet the Monk; a dashing young fellow who, by the narrators own account, is devilishly handsome. (I saw Rufus Hound in One Man, Two Guvnors and I must say he was an absolute ray of sunshine.) The Monk claims to forgive the Doctor and offers him a way off of Earth; a way to bypass his exile from the Time Lords.
One thing that I absolutely love about the dialogue between the Monk and the Third Doctor; it was so boisterous and banter-filled that you really do get the sense that these two Time Lords both like to try and one-up the other. The Monk examines the Doctor’s attempt to make his TARDIS operate properly again and does nothing but correct him where the Doctor has gone awry. Whereas if these remarks were made by a different Time Lord, I’m sure the Doctor would have been thankful for the help; but the Doctor quite rightly doesn’t trust the Monk, and so the whole game of oneupmanship really begins.
I must give it to Ian Atkins with his little references to the 51st Century Earth with all of the Time Agents and Vortex Manipulators; as it really does give the impression that the Time Agency have always been a part of the universe that Doctor Who exists in, even if we as viewers didn’t get to learn about it until 2005.
Whilst the Doctor and the Monk are busy getting reacquainted, Liz seizes the opportunity to sneak inside of the Monk’s TARDIS and see what a working TARDIS actually looks like. Once a scientist, always a scientist. I must say though, I’m surprised just how much the Monk’s TARDIS reminded me of a bachelor pad crossed with your grandma’s kitchen.
It’s not long before the Doctor agrees to travel with the Monk to the 51st Century to seemingly start again, away from the watchful eyes of the Time Lords, and neither the Doctor nor the Monk knows that they’re also travelling with a stowaway. Of course, with the Time Lords being involved, this plan is bound to be flawed; and it was. The Doctor, the Monk and Liz are stranded in the Monk’s TARDIS with no way of escape. At least they have cake.
Considering that Liz Shaw never had an opportunity to travel in time and space in the Doctor’s TARDIS, it’s nice that, after all these years; she finally gets to see space. Even if it is under less than ideal circumstances.
The meat of this story reminded me of the basic premise of Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS, mixed with The Doctor’s Wife. It’s a story about salvaging, reusing, repairing and reformatting to make a TARDIS operate to it’s full capacity once again. The idea of the Doctor travelling with the Monk on a fairly regular occurrence is one that I absolutely adore, especially after listening to The Blame Game. Their ideologies and mannerisms perfectly compliment one another; arguably even more so than the Doctor and the Master.
Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor was one of the most facially expressive incarnations of the Time Lord, and I’m glad that this facet has been put to a really interesting narrative use in this story; using his facial expressions to communicate with the ship that he’s stranded on. Even though all you get is a description of how the Doctor is moving his face; if you’ve seen any Third Doctor televised story, it’s really easy to imagine Jon Petwee’s face contorting into these shapes and positions.
Whilst the Monk in this story has acted more or less as an escape for the Doctor; it’s in the last ten minutes that we get to see the Monk’s true colours and intentions. Sometimes you can’t trust anyone. Ever. One thing I’ll give Rufus Hound’s Monk is he is so incredibly sporting and filled with showmanship, camp-ness and pomposity. Like if you were to give a naughty eight year old a West End stage to himself. The Monk wants to impress. Unlike the Master though, the Monk isn’t all bad; as he promises to take Liz home, and not let her die due to the Doctor’s negligence.
The Monk gives Liz a powerful speech about how the Doctor isn’t loyal to her or humanity at all; and the only reason he’s been helping to save the Earth from the constant bombardment of alien invasions was because he needed somewhere to live. Personally, even though I like to think I know the character of the Doctor very well, I must say that there was something in Rufus Hound’s performance in that monologue that really made me question whether that was solely the Doctor’s motives, especially in his exiled third incarnation.
The conclusion to The Blame Game is rather poignant and beautiful, even if it appears to be ever so slightly rushed; other than that, the conclusion was extremely well crafted, and Ian Atkins deserves a medal.
Overall, it’s safe to say that The Blame Game is my favourite Short Trip from Big Finish ever; and it’s quickly ascended into my Top 5 Big Finish stories ever, next to The Two Masters. If you know anyone who is saying that 2016 isn’t a year for Doctor Who; I implore you to make them listen to this release, you’ll soon change their mind.
Should you want to purchase The Blame Game, it’s currently available as a download from Big Finish for £2.99 which you can purchase here.