Reviewed By: traves8853
Review Date: 10/16/15 7:09 pm
2 out of 2 found this review helpful.
'The Mask of Tragedy' was written by James Gross, who also wrote 'The Scorchies', 'The Time Museum' and 'Last Post'. All three of those titles are Big Finish productions that I have enjoyed immensely. So, I was excited to hear this one. Which is also directed by Ken Bentley, who has done some great work on the 'Fourth Doctor Adventures' series. In the extras it is mentioned that the real Aristophanes did have a real mysterious sponsor unknown who was a Doctor.
The Doctor decides to show Ace and Hector ancient Athens in the year 421 BC, and pays a visit to his old friend Aristophanes. Athens has become a nexus point for time travelling aliens such as Tyrgius. Whilst there our heroes encounter: a plague, an invading horde of angry Spartans and Cleon the tyrannical ruler of Athens.
Richard Fox and Lauren Yason's musical arrangement is obviously going to be more limited by the setting, but the ethnic/historical music is bright and vibrant. The sounds used are also very realistic and during the fight scenes don’t swamp out the actor's voices, meaning you can still hear the dialogue perfectly well. Ken Bentley's directing is also spot on.
Sophie Aldred's 'Ace' seems to have turned into a 'Scrappy-Doo' type character. The dialogue offered by the script is mostly very good, but I really think Big Finish need to allow Ace's character to progress and mature more and Sophie needs to realise that shouting isn't acting. At one point Cleon has Ace thrown out of the city (can't blame him to be fair), only for her to return with an army of Spartans. There are some good characters and acting in this but Cleon, although played brilliantly by Alisdair Simpson, is also a one note irritant. Philip Oliver was also very good as Hector, and perhaps had the more challenging scenes. The cliff hanger to the third episode is a case in point. I think that to get the full impact from this you should probably listen to the first in this loose trilogy of stories, 'Revenge of the Swarm'. McCoy also gives an assured performance. Aristophanes is presented as a down on his luck playwright, and portrayed superbly by Samuel West.
Throughout this there is a struggle between the Doctor and Hector, each with their own idea of what is right. The Doctor also has to explain to Tyrgius, who happens to be a healer, that healing people in the past is not a good idea because of cosmic balance or something. The Doctor tries to explain that saving lives in the past and thus changing history does more damage than good and ultimately is “irresponsible”. Which all makes sense, but the way it comes across in the story is a bit of a strange moral, especially coming from the Doctor. After the battle is won, there is a finale scene that acts as a cliff hanger for the final part of the trilogy, 'Signs and Wonders', where the Doctor and Ace argue with a jaded Hector about whether seeing history in the making is shows the grim realities, or is actually a thing of wonder. This is an interesting theme that crops up throughout the story, and just highlights what a complex story it is, but as an experience this play is totally unengaging at times.
This starts off with an upbeat feel to it and a framing device that is supposed to imitate ancient Greek plays. Both are dropped very quickly. The story isn't the most engaging but it's well directed with good pacing and dialogue. What lets it down is the writing from James Gross, this isn't his best work and I guess I just expected more. There is some really interesting stuff about whether it's right to change history, but it isn't new and just gets drowned out by Ace's shouting.