Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Black Thursday / Power Game
The second release in Big Finish's Kamelion trilogy follows two different two-part stories. Once again Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor is joined by Janet Fielding' s Tegan, Mark Strickson's Turlough, and Jon Culshaw as robotic companion Kamelion.
Written by Jamie Anderson and Eddie Robson and directed by Ken Bentley, Black Thursday / Power Game is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st March. Here are the synopses...
Black Thursday by Jamie Anderson
1902. Deep beneath the Welsh village of Abertysswg, men have worked the black seam for generations. Until the day of the disaster. The day that a blue box from the future materialised inside the mine.... and things would never be the same again.
Power Game by Eddie Robson
Welcome to the Incredible Power Game, in which three brave Earthlings enter the Void Pit in search of strange gems to help return the alien Hostess to her home dimension. Today's contestants include Graham, Sadia... and Tegan, an air stewardess from Brisbane!
As usual, I'll be joined by my son Ben, the biggest Doctor Who fan this side of galaxy. Spoilers of course, for those who haven't listened to it yet...
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
The second Doctor Who main range release from Big Finish offers two contrasting stories in the vein of last year's set of split stories featuring the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. This set continues to explore the dynamic of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion that was never fleshed out on television and is a stronger release than January's solid The Devil in The Mist with its mix of tragic history and comedic 'contemporary' drama.
Black Thursday is a simple but heart-breaking affair, writer Jamie Anderson setting the story amid the very real and harrowing coal mine explosion in the Welsh village of Abertysswg. Anyone with a knowledge of Wales' mining history will likely be familiar with some of the terrible accidents that happened in the past and this one is treated with respect and brutal honesty. The presence of the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS aside, this is a simple, grim pure historical and a powerful one at that.
Opening with mother Eira Hughes (Lizzie Roper) sending her husband John (Tim Treloar) and son Gwyn (Matthew Aubrey) off to a night in the mine, the listener is quickly pulled into the explosion that devastates the mine and sees Gwyn and John amid the dead as the fight to escape the suffocating tunnels ensues. The TARDIS arriving in the mine sees Turlough, Tegan and the Doctor leading an escape attempt. It's not always easy listening but the direction is vivid and pulls you into the drama.
Of course, being Doctor Who, there is some added drama, in the guise of mill owner who is more concerned with impact the accident has on the mine's productivity than the dead while Kamelion finds himself influenced once more by the powerful emotions at play, transforming into the dead John as he attempts to understand human grief. The reflection on class and power fits the time period well, though the added story with his illegitimate daughter feels unnecessary. However there is some engaging content with Kamelion's own struggles and the impact it has on poor Eira.
The epilogue with the memorial was reminiscent of the end of Doctor Who's The Family of Blood and a powerful reflection on the lives lost. And the 'contemporary setting' of 1983 leads into the second tale Power Game, which is an altogether different tale, that acts as a palate cleanser after the grim nature of Black Thursday.
The influences of 80's adventure game shows like The Crystal Maze and The Krypton Factor are apparent as Tegan finding herself in a game show with no memory of how she got there. It's rather OTT fun, with contestants disappearing and a charismatic female host played by Harriet Kershaw that leads to a fantastic reveal at the end of the first part.
It's big, bold and altogether different and while Power Game doesn't have the simple, elegant drama of Black Thursday it makes up for it in enthusiasm. There's plenty of mystery, action, a trip to another dimension and cool aliens. Kamelion's journey is an interesting one, though I hope next month's final does something a little different; there's only so many times he can get influenced before that story gets dull. I'm also enjoying his connection with Tegan, another element that was never explored on television.
From harrowing historical tale to a fun, mysterious and often comic adventure, Black Thursday / Power Game are the ying and yang of Doctor Who stories but compliment each other nicely. There is certainly a sense that they fit their two-part lengths well too; the first may have been too much as a four-part story and there probably wasn't enough meat to the alien mystery to keep the latter going much further. But together, they produce one of the most vibrant main range releases in a while.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
The one off return to the duo of two part stories is a very nice thing; I began listening to the main range with Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, and here we have Black Thursday / Power Game. Black Thursday is a very different kind of story from Devil in the Mist, a historical dealing with a famous welsh mining accident. Part one is the stronger half for me, with the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion landing in the mines as a gas leak occurs killing and injuring many. No questions are asked and it's assumed the travellers are the emergency services, forcing Kamelion to take human form.
Kamelion witnesses the death of a father and son, before becoming overcome by Eira's grief, which leads him to kill the owner of the mines for letting it stay open. Part two is a generic 'find him before he kills someone setup' which leads to Kamelion wanting to leave. That does feel like the reaction a robot would give after what they just experienced, nearly killing an innocent. The story has a sense of grim reality to it, that makes you think about how horrific it was in those mines.
The next story, Power Game is a much more fun adventure; Kamelion vanishes while the Doctor and Turlough search for him and Tegan appears on a game show. The story is full of twists that are slowly revealed as it goes on, giving an air of mystery to it that adds to the fun vibe the story gives off. The reveal of where Kamelion is, is the best of these twists, taking the story in a new direction. It does feel like a slight cheat to once again use the 'you aren't supposed to do this, lets call your species to arrest you' get out, but it feels deserved. This is definitely the stronger of the two entries and I look forward to one last adventure with Kamelion.
There's a breath-taking music suite for Black Thursday; at nearly twenty minutes long it explores the intensity and beauty of the emotional tale, with the odd sci-fi synth reflecting the impact of Kamelion's own journey in this tale.
A trailer for March's The Kamelion Empire looks to take the robotic companion's story to another level with a thrilling trip to his home world.
Finally, the release is capped with the usual good standard of behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew; of particular notice are the insights of both writers, Jamie Anderson exploring the past event he had previously been unfamiliar with and Eddie Robson drawing on his own love of 80's action game shows.