The Doctor brings the TARDIS to the planet Cray, at a point in history where one of his heroes, famed peace negotiator Lord Darzil Carlisle, is about to broker peace talks between the Gora and Lineen nations. But before the Doctor can watch Carlisle in action, he’s drafted into playing a hockey-like game called Naxy. The training is exhaustive, but once the Doctor is out on the field for his first real game, he discovers the true nature of Naxy – it’s close-quarters combat to the death, with thousands of lives hanging in the balance. Nyssa, forced to watch the Doctor compete as the Naxy match is broadcast live across Cray, discovers the horrible truth: Naxy has evolved from a popular sport into Cray’s form of warfare – and the Doctor, who hoped to witness the peace process without having to participate in it, has now unwittingly taken sides as a combatant. And Carlisle is powerless to stop it.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), William Russell (Lord Darzil Carlisle), Ursula Burton (Ambassador Faye Davis), Robert Curbishley (Ockie Dirr), Gregory Donaldon (Coach Bela Destry), Christopher Ellison (Morian), Andrew Lothian (Hollis Az), Jonathan Pearce (Garny Diblick), Dickon Tolson (Coach Sharz Sevix)
Timeline: after Creatures Of Beauty and before Time-Flight
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: An interesting allegorical tale, The Game takes on two targets at once: hero worship and the increasing passion that fans invest in their hobbies – in this case, sports, though one could easily apply it to almost any other kind of fandom. The sports analogy works, though – sometimes completely by coincidence (maybe it’s a uniquely American perspective, but for some reason I thought about a certain infamous NBA game, and countless news reports about little league sports spoiled by squabbling parents). The appearance of a rather obvious villain figure about two-thirds of the way through the story throws things off track just a little bit, however – it’s as if the listener’s being primed for a message that never arrives.
Darin Henry, a newcomer to Big Finish’s range of Doctor Who audio plays, gives us some sparkling dialogue in The Game, as well as an extremely unusual format: the story is divided into six episodes of roughly 20 minutes’ duration. I’ve gotten used to Big Finish pushing the opposite extreme – making audio Doctor Who that runs much longer than the traditional 25-minute episodes of all but one of the show’s first 26 years on the air – so it’s odd to see the opposite extreme. The cliffhangers are good ones, at least. From a production standpoint, The Game is a real treat – the bladed weapons used as Naxy sporting equipment sound truly nasty, the crowds sound like real crowds on game day (as I once lived a mere few blocks away from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, I know of what I speak here!), and the music veers from standard underscore material to pulsating techno music that wouldn’t be out of place going into an ESPN commercial break. Perfect.
William Russell, better known to longtime Doctor Who fans as the actor who played Ian Chesterson – one of the first Doctor’s original companions during the first two seasons of the series – turns in an impressive performance as an aged diplomat who is apparently an old friend of the Doctor – or, at least, a future Doctor. The rest of the cast delivers admirably – really, the only questionable “performance” is from the growling, grunting sound effects representing a non-human threat that appears alongside the villain of the piece.
Some interesting groundwork is laid for Nyssa’s later departure as depicted in the television series, and in fact she intends to leave him in The Game, though she has to rethink her plans later. And of course, we never learn which future Doctor helped Darzil Carlisle earlier in his diplomatic career…and the fun part is that, by now, we now have two more Doctors than we used to have to imagine fulfilling that role.