Constance Clarke, the Sixth Doctor’s current travelling companion, is a cryptographer trained at Bletchley Park, and so it was inevitable that the time travelling pair would encounter a mysterious alien language for her to decipher sooner or later.
This opportunity comes early in Jamie Anderson’s Absolute Power; the Doctor and Constance join an archaeological expedition on the planet Teymah, funded by the galactic entrepreneur Lyam Yce (pronounced ‘ice’ – it seems like the i key was broken on Anderson’s keyboard), who hopes to discover what happened to the planet’s native species. As anyone who’s seen an Indiana Jones movie knows, archaeology is a dangerous business, and our heroes soon find themselves facing walking corpses, electroparasitic aliens, double-crossing spies, and more.
The first two chapters of this four-part story get quite a pace going, with a tense atmosphere and a carefully unraveling mystery. However, part three could benefit from a little less exposition and a little more action, and the twists are predictable – if you don’t guess who’s secretly evil and who’s not at all who they claim, then you’ve probably never seen a movie or read a book before. Nevertheless, the story picks up again in part four, with the Doctor’s wits tested as he must find a way out of their predicament while facing some tough moral questions.
Colin Baker, as in several of his recent audios, gives an energetic and enthusiastic performance, and his Doctor’s chemistry with Constance continues to grow both characters – he’s more respectful of the assertive ‘Miss Clarke’ than some of his other cohorts. For Constance, the story doesn’t test her as much as it perhaps could, telling us several times she’s a master cryptographer but lacking the commitment to go in depth with the translation aspect (well, it was never going to be Arrival). Nevertheless, some plot elements do set up for the next audio to delve deeper into her backstory.
Out of the supporting characters, Big Finish newcomer Arian Nik stands out as pragmatic Yce employee Ammar, who gains an affection for Constance, while Jenny Bede is entertaining if a little overplayed as Yce’s under-appreciated wife Florrie. Yce himself borders on the cliché, with Paul Reynolds’ American accent being distractingly hokey.
Big Finish’s production values are as excellent as ever, particularly Joe Kraemer’s music; when the stakes rise at the end of part two, Kraemer’s dramatic score is reminiscent of Murray Gold’s work on the revived TV Who’s best cliffhangers.
Though Absolute Power sags at times and does use some familiar tropes, when it works it’s an electrifying piece of entertainment. The Sixth Doctor and Constance continue to be an entertaining and well-developed pairing – though it looks like that will soon be put to the test!
DOCTOR WHO – ABSOLUTE POWER / AUTHOR & DIRECTOR: JAMIE ANDERSON / STARRING: COLIN BAKER, MIRANDA RAISON, PAUL REYNOLDS, JENNY BEDE, ARIAN NIK / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW