Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctor 5
Smoke and Mirrors
Cast: Janet Fielding (Tegan), Tim Beckmann (Harry Houdini)
Written by: Steve Lyons
Directed by: John Ainsworth
Sound Design and Music by: Steve Foxon
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz for The Gallifrey Times
This review may contain spoilers
Smoke and Mirrors is very much a beginner's Fifth Doctor story. There's the three main companions of the era - Nyssa, Tegan and Adric, the Fifth Doctor front and centre and a typically Fifth Doctor plot. This might alienate the more hardcore Fifth Doctor fan, but as someone who's relatively unfamiliar to the era and its characters, but as Destiny of the Doctor seems far more catered to the new fan anyway, it's a pleasing attempt to incorporate newer fans, instead of crushing the story with gallons of continuity.
As for the story itself? The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric answer a distress call from Twenties England, where they end up at a fairground - greeted by none other than the legendary escapist Harry Houdini. It's made fairly clear that the two have a history together - and the concept of meeting a famous figure at multiple points in their past is used rather well (it's often skimmed over in such stories as Victory of the Daleks) - it's tricky to write a real historical figure and turn it into a character, but Houdini is one of the major successes of Smoke and Mirrors, coming across as an interesting character in his own right rather than a caricature based on accounts.
The plot itself is fairly simple - Houdini warns the Doctor that the fairground's fortune teller may be alien, the group go to visit at night, and the story generally follows a rather predictable set of events from there on. It's pure comfort zone writing - the story pans out almost as you'd expect it to - and while there's a nice twist in the middle that turns things on their head somewhat, the twist itself (while not predictable) is perhaps the most common Doctor Who twist of them all - I won't elaborate, but you might just have guessed what the twist is already.
It's a pity that the story is as predictable as it is: there's genuinely nothing new here - familiar plot elements are present and correct, characters are very much how you'd expect them to be (aside from Houdini, who gets by far the best character development of the lot, despite being shoved into a flimsy plot element later on that makes very little sense), and the story is somewhat insubstantial, aside from one, excellent scene that would probably never be shown in the TV series. It's a flash of a much more daring, braver story that is soon quashed by the familiar plot elements that feature.
Janet Fielding is decent as the main reader - her impressions of the other actors aren't particularly great (characters sound similar enough that you might get a little confused as to who's who), but it's still a confident reading. Tim Beckmann comes off a little better as Harry Houdini - it's an impressive performance from Beckmann, who manages to almost sell one of the flimsier plot elements of the play - but then again, after several similar sounding impressions of the main actors (aside from Adric), it's always a welcome relief to hear a different voice.
Good points? The story, while predictable, is quite entertaining, and the twist is genuinely unexpected (although I do feel that a more seasoned Classic Who fan wouldn't like it quite as much), even if the plot elements introduced by the twist are the weakest of the play. The over-arching theme of the series is incorporated in quite nicely - and there's some good use of the companions, putting their backstory in the TV series to good use. There's also some intriguing glimpses of adventures outside the show with the Doctor and Houdini - something that does make a good deal of sense, and makes the audio feel a little more incorporated into the general universe.
Overall, Smoke and Mirrors is a disappointingly average audio - the plot is predictable, there's a series of increasingly incoherent plot twists, and there's no real meaningful character development. Still, it's fun while it lasts, the overall plot arc continues to be intriguing, the audio performances by Janet Fielding and Tim Beckmann are also stellar - and there's an impressive, three-dimensional depiction of a historical figure.
The Gallifrey Times Rating: 6/10
Many thanks to AudioGo and Big Finish Productions for providing the audio for review.
Cover art courtesy of AudioGo