The TARDIS unceremoniously deposits the Doctor and Evelyn in Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. on the eve of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Upon being told by the theatre’s manager that one Oscar Wilde is rehearsing a performance of “The Importance Of Being Earnest” – a play that hasn’t been written since the real Wilde is still a child – the Doctor barges in on that rehearsal to find an old enemy at work. The man he and Evelyn battled in Edinborough, “Dr. Robert Knox,” is at it again, changing history to suit his own agenda – and in this case, it seems that Knox has murdered John Wilkes Booth, just hours away from Booth’s date with destiny as Lincoln’s assassin. Though the Doctor feels certain that time itself will offer a mid-course correction – as there are certainly other armed men angry enough to take a shot at the President – he leaves nothing to chance and tries to discover what Knox is doing here. He’s horrified to discover that Knox has inadvertently left Earth vulnerable to an alien invasion in the 1800s.
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Leslie Phillips (Dr. Robert Knox), Lysette Anthony (Clara Harris), Eric Loren (John Parker), Madeleine Potter (Lizzie Williams), Alan Marriott (Henry Clay Ford), Paul DuBois (John Wilkes Booth), Mikey O’Connor (Thomas Eckert)
Timeline: After 100 and before
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A direct sequel to 2004’s Medicinal Purposes, Assassin In The Limelight is actually a bit of an improvement on its inspiration, with a slightly more straightforward plot and – it’s got to be said – not one cliffhanger whose main moment of suspense is someone announcing that history has been changed.
Now, it could just be that I’m much more familiar with the assassination of President Lincoln, historically speaking, than I am with notorious Scottish grave-robbers, but I find it much easier to connect with Assassin, at least through the third episode. In the past coulpe of years, Big Finish has experimented with doing one three-parter and one single-episode adventure on a 2-CD release, with many a story’s “CD extras” interviews stating that it’s helped many a story that would’ve stretched on too long as a four-parter. And yet it seems that Assassin does just that: this story might have been better off as a three-parter, because the alien threat seems a little bit grafted-on. Granted, killing John Wilkes Booth on the eve of Lincoln’s assassination sort of guarantees that some sort of science fictional macguffin will have to come into play and set things right, but the macguffin that does appear in episode four is a bit of a letdown.
We also rather frustratingly do away with “Knox” without learning much more about him than we already knew. Knox is such a delightfully foppish foil for the sixth Doctor and Evelyn that I would’ve thought the character still had legs, at least enough for one more story. There’s a slight possibility that he could return, of course, though any explanation for that would be even more incredulous than, say, the resurrection of John Wilkes Booth. Leslie Phillips does an excellent job of Knox-posing-as-Oscar-Wilde without falling too far into the usual cliches that could come into play for Wilde. Really, the entire cast is excellent here, with American accents that don’t seem out of place for the period – I’m always worried when either Big Finish or the new TV series attempts to set an entire story in America for precisely that reason. Here, they pulled it off, and again writer Robert Ross has done impeccable historical research and has found obscure nooks and crannies in which to anchor elements of his story.
Assassin is a joy to listen to, but once it strays too far out of Ross’ historical details and character interplay, I’m left with a feeling of “…what!?”