Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/25/17 12:52 pm
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In the second Monthly Range release of this year, the Doctor (Peter Davison) and his TARDIS crew have landed in Victorian London, in a time when no self-respecting gentleman was without membership at one of London's many prestigious Gentleman's Clubs. But a new club has arrived in town, the Contingency Club. Extremely exclusive, with a curious set of both members and staff, there are strange things happening at the Contingency Club. A dangerous game is being played, and it's up to the Doctor and his companions to put a stop to this. The Contingency Club is a decidedly subpar addition to the Fifth Doctor's canon of work, which makes coming off of last month's excellent The Star Men all the worse. Writer Mulryne struggled to find a main character to rally around this story, leading to an overstuffed story with a bog standard plot.
The performances of the main cast, writing aside, was pretty strong. Peter Davison is more at the front of this story, getting a lot more to do here compared to last month, and Davison obliges by delivering a fine performance. It's not particularly standout, but he does do a fine job taking the lead; I particularly liked the kind of reluctant leadership quality that he portrayed with the character. Taking a back seat compared to last month's story, Matthew Waterhouse has a much smaller role, teamed up with Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) for most of the story, which is never really a good thing from a writing standpoint. However, he has a couple of good moments, like his early interaction with Tegan (Janet Fielding), which is fine considering the strong leading role he took last month. Surprisingly, I personally found Sarah Sutton to be a highlight of this story, having some excellent emotional moments towards the end in her interactions with Edward (Olly McCauley). However, she languished alongside Waterhouse in the early parts of the story, a poor match due to their similarly written characters and not due to their chemistry, and as such, it was a case of too little, too late. Last but certainly not least, Janet Fielding did a fine job as "mouth on legs" Tegan, delivering one-liners and getting a nice bit of fun when she goes to defuse the dynamite sticks in the final part of the story. Fielding did great with the material she was given, even if the material seemed like the writer had never seen a Tegan story before and just took the first line of her Wikipedia page's "Personality" section.
The rest of the guest cast served the story well. The main baddie here, the Red Queen, was played well by Lorelei King, who was given a standard villain character but really made it her own. She did a really great job in her staredown with the Doctor towards the end of the story, giving a sort of sadistic, wise depth to her character. It's a testament to both her direction and her performance. I also found newcomer Olly McCauley's performance as Edward to be surprisingly enjoyable. In what seems more like a cameo role at first, McCauley gives a strong, earnest performance as the Edward clones, which is validated given his role in the final parts of the story. He's particularly strong towards the end in his scenes with Sarah Sutton, no small feat for a newcomer to Big Finish.
As I alluded to above, the weakest part of this story was Phil Mulryne's script, which made the other parts of the story suffer. His characterization of the main characters felt poorly researched as well as like it lacked focus. Most Fifth Doctor trilogies starring three companions tend to focus on one companion per story, highlighting Tegan in one story, Nyssa in another, and Turlough in the last one (or whatever order they go in). However, Mulryne couldn't decide who to focus on in this story, focusing on Waterhouse one second, then Fielding, then Davison, and then Nyssa. It felt like the story was trying to be a "jack-of-all-trades" esque story, and instead felt like a "too many cooks" situation. In addition to the poor characterization, I felt that Mulryne also delivered a pretty boring plot here, repackaging the standard "alien menace using Earth and its resources for its own purposes" story with a slightly different setting. I do give him credit for his villain, the Red Queen, an enjoyable villain who had a surprising amount of depth to her. I quite liked that her character wasn't in it for nefarious purposes but simply to win a bet, as it added a layer to the character that I quite enjoyed. At the same time, while he nailed the villain in my opinion, that came at the expense of the rest of the story.
One final thing to note before I wrap this review up is the soundscape of the story. Most of the times when Big Finish does period pieces, they craft their soundtracks with an older sounding vibe, trying to evoke the Victorian era or the like. But here, the soundtrack was a fairly bog standard affair, sounding like a standard, bland Fifth Doctor soundtrack. I wish Big Finish had been a little more inspired with their music here.
Overall, The Contingency Club is a bland mess of a story. Apart from a few strong performances from the cast, and an interesting villain, Mulryne delivered a bog standard, boring story that I personally felt mis-characterized the main characters. It didn't try to do anything terribly exciting with the story, and made for a rather dull end result. Which is too bad, because it was a rare story where Nyssa had a great moment, but even that couldn't save the story in the end.