Doctor Who – both old and new – sometimes has a tendency to go for the bigger pictures, universal conquest or (galaxy scale) carnage often being the order of the day. Sometimes it’s nice to just kick back with something relatively inconsequential, something to amuse rather than amaze.
David Llewellyn’s Serpent in the Silver Mask is, as Barnaby Edwards expands upon in the interviews at the end, Doctor Who’s take on Kind Hearts and Coronets as an Agatha Christie-style (black comedy) thriller as if being investigated by Sherlock Holmes, and it’s tremendous fun right up to a resolution that includes a reveal which is as neat and amusing as everything that leads up to it. This isn’t belly-laugh out loud stuff, and that wouldn’t befit Big Finish, bit this is probably as witty and as funny as the company’s output gets and it’s a play, containing the kinds of clues that it does, which will benefit from repeated listening perhaps more heir usual output will.
The fifth Doctor and his full Season Nineteen crew land on Argentia, a massive space station that doubles as a tax haven given that it’s set just a few seconds displaced in time, on the hunt for a crystal unique to such places in order that the Doctor might build himself a new sonic screwdriver to replace the one he just lost in The Visitation. Once there, our regulars find themselves at the funeral of Carlo Mazzini, a mining magnate with a massive fortune to bequeath and an extended, dysfunctional family all too eager to find out who gets it…
The TARDIS crew are on fine form here, not one of them sound a day older than they did thirty-six years ago – there must be something in the Argentian waters; either that or having the four of them together again somehow brings it out of them all. But it’s not Davison and co. that Serpent in the Silver Mask exists to spotlight, because in true Kind Hearts and Coronets form this is a story all about a family being picked off one by one, and all played by the same actor: Sam West has probably never had so much fun as he did at the Moat Studios the day they recorded this, his collection of corny accents and characterisations an absolute delight to sit through – and yet each containing just enough reality and verisimilitude to convince that neither West nor Llewellyn are taking the proverbial out of the listener. Rather, between such a tremendous guest actor and his support – the formidable Phil Cornwell and Sophie Winkleman – this is a play that will leave any receptive listener beaming from ear to ear. Terrific, if ultimately lightweight, stuff!
DOCTOR WHO: SERPENT IN THE SILVER MASK / DIRECTOR: BARNABY EDWARDS / WRITER: DAVID LLEWELLYN / STARRING: PETER DAVISON, JANET FIELDING, SARAH SUTTON, MATTHEW WATERHOUSE, SAMUEL WEST, PHIL CORNWELL, SOPHIE WINKLEMAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (BIG FINISH), APRIL 30TH (ELSEWHERE)