There’s always something creepy about clubs. It’s that sense of elitism, of not quite knowing what goes on behind the doors. Nowadays, these are pretty few and far between, and being a member isn’t particularly thought of as something to be openly proud about. This is in direct contrast with the 1800s, where all proper “gentlemen” were part of a wider body, which denotes them as of a certain class.
This is where The Contingency Club finds us: after once again failing to get Tegan (Janet Fielding) to Heathrow, the TARDIS touches down, chaotically as ever, in 1864 in the titular club. Except all its inhabitants seem to not recognise women (an allusion that writer, Phil Mulryne should be applauded for) and don’t find anything strange in the fact that all the butlers are called Edward (Olly McCauley) and look exactly the same.
What is the collective noun for Edwards anyway…?
It’s a great premise, and it’s with some glee that we find the Red Queen (Lorelei King) sits at the top of the club’s hierarchy. She’s playing a game of her own, with a plan that is both ridiculous and wonderful. It’s very convoluted, but that’s fitting, and somehow strangely believable. It’s not simply to overthrow or destroy the planet: there’s a twisted fun and logic there.
That’s The Contingency Club to a tee, though: full of frivolity and clever lines, while also being smart with an excellent resolution.
Admittedly, the sense of fun largely comes from Tegan. It’s nice to hear this TARDIS team kicking back and having a laugh – gelling together better than they did on TV. Indeed, in the interviews after the main adventure, Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) rather unexpectedly enthuses about the dynamic between the quartet.
Perhaps this is because Mulryne actually gives Adric more to do than just whinging and eating. Here, he displays hidden depths and ingenuity. His mathematical expertise is set to “real world” tasks, so those same skills, for instance, help him remember the way around labyrinthine hallways.
Meanwhile, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) – or “Miss Oftraken”, if you will – stands out as the heart of the crew once more, her empathy especially shining in the concluding fourth episode. Actually, it’s a surprisingly emotional ending, and Olly McCauley gives a brilliantly tragic performance. A special word, also, for the layering of Edwards’ speech, which really works well to add a sense of being overwhelmed by gentry and buttle.
Of course, you can’t go too far without mentioning Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. It should come as no surprise that he’s as fantastic as ever. He manages to become the Doctor again so easily, throwing you back to the early 1980s, when everything was cricket. A wonderful time.
This audio tale is set shortly after The Visitation, and it captures the essence of the era well – but this isn’t all about the past. There’s a lot more to the alien menace in The Contingency Club than what meets the eye. For one, they know about the Time Lords. And due to a slightly open-ended finale, they could – and should – come back sometime. I bet there are plans afoot. I hope so, at least.
They’re an effective threat because their raison d’être is unusual and interesting. It suits this story ideally, and makes for an entertaining listen. The audio might not stray too far from the structures of the Fifth Doctor TV era, but there’s nonetheless plenty to enjoy and enthrall. That Phil Mulryne is eminently clubbable, you know.
The Contingency Club is available now from Big Finish, for £14.99 on CD or £12.99 as a download.