Bletchley Park, 1941. Britain’s greatest mathematicians oversee the cracking of Nazi codes, an effort that will turn the tide of the war. These mathematicians include the genius Alan Turing and the odd new guy, Doctor John Smith – a curly-haired man with a mysterious blue box in his office.
It’s a perfect setting for a Doctor Who historical, one in which Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor fits particularly well (especially once he’s toned down his clothes to blend in), and one which the franchise hasn’t visited before. With Turing’s story having been brought to popular attention in last year’s biopic The Imitation Game, it was about time the Doctor paid his own visit to Bletchley Park.
But Turing himself is only mentioned in passing here; rather, writer Matt Fitton concentrates on his own group of characters – Constance Clarke and Sylvia Wimpole of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, along with a shady double agent, a British major, and even a German spymaster who somehow gets mixed up in the action.
Having found himself stranded at this point in history, the Doctor’s attempts to get his TARDIS working again bring all these characters into conflict with a very peculiar alien – a creature composed of radio waves. It’s one of Doctor Who’s more unusual concepts, and seems very fitting for both the setting and the audio medium.
How much you get out of the story will depend on your interest in and knowledge of the period, as the use of codebreaking machines in the fight against this alien does get rather complex towards the end, in a way that may confuse some listeners or require a second listening. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Fitton has done his research into the era, and all the tropes familiar to fans of Second World War intrigue are present – double-crossing, code-cracking, and even a trip to a Nazi submarine.
This story is also notable for introducing a new companion (despite us already having met her in The Last Adventure – it’s Mel all over again!). Miranda Raison gives Constance a steely, professional demeanour, making her stand out as a companion who’ll be able to stand up to the Doctor when necessary – indeed, their first scene together features her telling him off for overworking the Wrens. And yet we also get mentions of a missing husband, setting up intrigue for an emotional arc to come.
After last month’s The Last Adventure powerfully filled in an important gap in the Sixth Doctor’s life, Criss-Cross is a lower key adventure for Old Sixie. And yet it’s solid Doctor Who – an intriguing alien, a fitting setting, and the debut adventure of a strong new companion.
CRISS-CROSS (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: MATT FITTON / STARRING: COLIN BAKER, MIRANDA RAISON, HUGH FRASER, ALISTAIR PETRIE, PAUL THORNLEY / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW