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“I really must have a word with the Brigadier about your education.  There seems to have been very little emphasis placed on sport and altogether too much prominence given to sarcasm.”

As we eagerly await the next round of releases from the fine folks at Big Finish, the reader is invited to join us as we indulge in a bit of catch up on some worthy releases of recent vintage, still available for download or CD purchase at their rather comprehensive homepage.

Today, we’ll jump back a year or two for release #159 in the main monthly Doctor Who range, the “full Tardis” adventure The Emerald Tiger.

The most important revelation the tale provides us occurs fairly early on in the proceedings, in fact shortly after the Tardis arrives in Jazz Age Calcutta.  Forget anything else you’ve heard or seen about his respective qualities, because this is the adventure where we learn that the Doctor is cheap!

When Turlough dons a three piece suit which the ladies compliment him on, we get this exchange:

Tegan – “…It makes you look more…mature.”
Turlough – “Is that a good thing?”
The Doctor – “Not as far as the tickets are concerned. Children get in half price.”

Perhaps it’s getting a bit cliche, but once again, the apparent impetus for the company’s arrival is the Doctor’s desire to attend a cricket match.  Yeah, I know, we’ve heard this how many times?  Nonetheless, it’s a comfortably predictable character touch quite apropos to the John Nathan Turner era Doctors, all uniforms and standardized costuming to encourage easy identification of persona and role.

Is Major Haggard a sly reference to the great H. Rider Haggard, of King Solomon’s Mines and She fame?  Regardless, he bears quite a similar tonality to the late Nicholas Courtney, best known to Whovians as the much beloved Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (though he was no less notable as Inspector Lionheart in Big Finish’s highly entertaining Scarifyers line, a comedically Lovecraftian by way of Holmesiana concern that features Aleister Crowley himself as a running bit player (!)

“Here you are…a bug in a box.”
“Thank you.”

While there’s a bit of confusing continuity going on (this is the Nyssa of Cobwebs, an older one who’d married and even had a boy she named Adric(!), but by the end of the story, she’s been restored to youth…at least apparently.  Don’t ask me.), this is a doozy of a tale, with were-tigers, gentleman thieves, archaeological expeditions, adventures by train, a kidnapped Tardis, psychic powers, quotes from both Wilde and Shakespeare and more.

If anything, The Emerald Tiger reminds one of Nico Mastorakis’ Bloodstone, itself a more entertaining take on Romancing the Stone, whose lineage wends its way back through the Richard Chamberlain King Solomon’s Mines and eventually to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

There are spy-like antics via steam train, comic relief professors, and a considerable degree more hands-on action/adventure, comedy and derring-do than one expects of a classic Who Doctor not going by the name of Jon Pertwee.

The next most important thing we learn from this tale?  The Doctor is “an excellent driver” (in his own estimation, though the sound of burning rubber and eventual messy crash would seem to put lie to said assertion)!

Killer ruby beetles and diamonds from space, a Burroughs by way of Haggard hidden “lost world”, and myth and legend “explained” in a sci-fi milieu – this is both stock Who and quite outside it, tapping equally into early 30’s Tarzan OTR like the Fires of Tohr or Diamonds of Ashur and Haggard’s aforementioned magna opera, and all the more entertaining for it.

The Indian setting provides the requisite exotica, and the deft scripting and usual top notch voice acting give body and thrust to the piece, resulting in a nigh-perfect mix of action and atmosphere, matinee serial fantasy adventure and the more expected sci fi trappings Who bears as its stock in trade.  When even Tegan and Turlough get to pull off a bit of physicality and swashbuckling for themselves, you know we’re breaking new ground just a tad…

There are certainly a few nigh-cliches here, from the recurrent cricket motif to Nyssa’s psychic contact with outside forces to one of the characters getting effectively possessed, and even a bit of a misstep in taking a kitchen sink approach (the minor character serving as a direct Tarzan analogue is a bit much, really), but overall, it’s more than sufficiently well done to overlook a bit of indulgence in the “oldies but goodies” motif.

The music too (by one Howard Carter, doubtless fresh off his excavations with Lord Carnavaron!) manages to pull in some of the expected sitar, tabla and chimes without being overbearing about it – it’s a welcome presence, but never gets to the level of becoming overly unsubtle or tacky.

A minor sticking point for some may be the use of, to go by the actors’ names at least, mainly non-Indian actors for Indian roles.  That being duly noted and speaking as someone who works with a large number of desi, the accents and cadences are for the most part well done, if not reasonably authentic.

In an increasingly cross-pollinated world, I may in fact be dead wrong here – like Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, some of these folks may indeed show some measure of heritage from Southeast Asia – but the more Anglicized names on display from many of them make this worthy of note for the overly sensitive.

“The past isn’t a separate part of us, a photograph album we can leave in a drawer and forget about.  Every decision we take, every thrill we experience, every disappointment we face, they make up who we are.  Lose the past, and you lose yourself.”

A relatively recent and quite welcome recurrent happenstance, Big Finish has once again managed to pull together pretty much the entire “full Tardis” of the Peter Davison era: regular audio companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), occasional one Turlough (New Zealand based Mark Strickson, who spends the better part of a day in flight to take part in these!) and in a surprise bit of business, even convention-shy Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka.  Beginning with the excellent Cobwebs back in 2010, each year we’ve been treated to a trilogy of tales reuniting the quartet, replete with all the bickering and vibrant character interaction fans have come to know and love.

As usual with Big Finish productions, many of these are actually quite superior to the original televised serials, and I admit to growing some affection towards the crew over the last few years (Fielding’s Tegan, being the most recent participant, becomes notable therefore as one of the latest in a long line of characters I never quite took a shine to in their original run, but whom I’ve come to appreciate now in our respective dotage, as it were (I admit to being a bit wry with that last line).

I’m unsure as to whether time and distance have softened the actors’ takes on the characters, or whether it’s just the caliber of the writing and performance here bringing out the best in everyone, but it’s a notable trend, and a point which I’ve been hammering home throughout in regards to the across the board quality of the Big Finish line.  Old school Whovians, take note*.

* If you’re on the fence about dipping your toes into such a large backlog of releases, you can find my own personal recommendations here.

Next year’s offerings should take a different tack, or at least tap into a different era and incarnation of the “full Tardis”, as the folks at Big Finish managed to recruit none other than Matthew (“Adric”) Waterhouse himself to travel once again alongside Davision, Sutton and Fielding.

While I for one will certainly miss Strickson and the opposing magnetic pole dynamic between Turlough and Tegan (the whole New South Wales routine in the story under discussion presently is priceless), it will be interesting to see whether Big Finish manages to pull off the unthinkable and actually rehabilitates Adric as well…!

Time, to coin a hoary and pun-intentional phrase, will tell.