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“If you lived on a planet where it rains heavily all of the time, why would you build an open air theatre?”

The Sylvester McCoy Doctor, Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) pay a visit to Menaxus, where they discover an ancient Greco-Roman style theatre populated by statues…statues that blink.

Why do our heroes appear to be caught up in the middle of a stage production of Hamlet?  What is the secret of the living statues?  And how does the Braxatiel  Collection factor into all of this?

“Professor Summerfield.  I remember you.  I remember that you called me an officious old fool who would have difficulty putting…”
“er…I was a bit upset.  Sorry about that…”

As The Doctor and Ace investigate the mystery of “the dream machine” (shades of Byron Gysin!), Benny pays a visit to some old haunts and runs into some old acquaintances.  Fortunately nor no, she also runs into a certain party for the very first time…

“The whole place is modeled on Versailles, probably as a result of a massive inferiority complex.”
“Irving Braxiatel, at your service.  As in the Braxiatel Collection.  The name is no doubt something to do with my massive inferiority complex.”

Miles Richardson makes a welcome return to the role he made famous, though of course, this is the less warm and fuzzy version than the one listeners to such seasons as New Frontiers and Missing Persons have become accustomed…

“The whole history of Menaxus, over 500 years of civilization…from all that time, there isn’t a single surviving document that isn’t to do with the theatre.  On the whole planet, it’s as if the theatre was the only thing that was there…it’s as if all the documents from the planet’s whole history were written by the same person.”

It’s typical, isn’t it?  While The Doctor is off puttering about with murderous statues, dodging mortar shells on alien battlefields and whatnot, it’s up to Benny to do the actual heavy lifting and come to the heart of the mystery…

To be quite honest, I zoned out during all the wartime schmutters – really not my thing I’m not sorry to say.  But the more cerebral and comic Benny end of the affair holds up what would otherwise have been another plotting and scheming cum dry military exercise in print.

And certainly, folks seem to love that sort of thing – look at how popular certain pseudo-Medieval television shows and their stylistic copycats have become these past few years, and what is all of that but the courtroom intrigue and backstabbing in the “corridors of power” that stands behind every uncomprehending pawn’s battlefield experience: the backdrop to and impetus towards the wars that shape and bring down nations, dragging civilization back to the atavism of barbarism time and time again?

Quite frankly, the human element of characterization aside, it’s crap. And those who cause and celebrate mass murder in the (ostensible) name of jingoism (and the actual cause of lining the pockets and increasing the position of those behind it all) are easily divided into two groups.  On the one hand, the abject fools: easily manipulated pawns on the streets and theatres of action in the name of some imaginary manufactured “ideal” or other.  On the other, reprehensible Machiavellian madmen at the helm.

War is nothing to be celebrated, and nothing to be forced to live through. We’re supposed to be better than this as a species and as a civilized, metacognitive, empathetic thinking/feeling culture.  So pardon me, Call of Duty and Halo fans, if the very concept leaves me flat, each and every time.

Thankfully, this is Big Finish, and those who’ve spent time with even a few of their offerings over the years should know exactly where they stand ideologically, so that’s not an issue…just don’t mind when the omnipresent Dalek tale or alien war rears its ugly head for The Doctor to sort out and put right.  Again, people love ’em.

Pardon me for wishing this tale were all about Benny and Brax, and the mystery of Menaxus.  Speaking for myself, as much as I love ’em both (and Third Eye regulars know that I do), the Doctor/Ace battlefield business herein, I could do without.