When we find ourselves in an unfortunate position – say, we’ve locked ourselves out of the house, or couldn’t get on a bus because it was full and we’ll be late for work again – some of us will look for someone, anyone to blame. Rather than accept that maybe we should keep better track of our keys or aim to get an earlier bus, some of us will blame the kids for distracting us on our way out or the bus companies for not making the buses bigger. Of course, others will blame themselves for absolutely everything, thinking that they are the cause of every misfortune that comes their way. All of us, to some degree or other, find ourselves playing the blame game and our favourite Time Lord is no exception.
At the start of The Blame Game by Ian Atkins, another in the Short Trips series from Big Finish, the Doctor, now in his third incarnation, is in the early days of his exile on Earth.
The Doctor is frustrated – irritably trying to repair his TARDIS, seemingly prepared to do anything to leave. Hope arrives in the form another of his race, The Monk. On their first meeting the Doctor had left the Monk stranded on 11th Century Earth, so he can appreciate how he must be feeling now. The Monk offers the Doctor the chance to leave with him in his TARDIS with the promise of taking him to 50th Century Earth where he can use Time Agent technology to once again travel in the 4th Dimension.
Naturally things don’t quite work out as planned and the Doctor and The Monk get stranded on a deserted Delphon demolition ship alongside Liz Shaw who smuggled herself aboard the Monk’s TARDIS.
Liz is very much at the centre of this story as she watches the Doctor and the Monk bicker over who is to blame for their current predicament. The Monk is keen to absolve himself of any responsibility, while the Doctor at first blames the Monk but soon comes to doubt his own innocence in the matter.
Atkins, the range’s creative driving force, evokes the early Third Doctor character wonderfully. You can feel his annoyance at being stuck on Earth and his excitement and hope at the Monk’s offer. The inclusion of the Delphons (a race famous for communicating with their eyebrows) allows him to include some trademark Jon Pertwee gurning which left this listener almost wishing it had been televised.
Reading Atkins’ words is the comedian Rufus Hound whose Doctor Who credentials include playing highwayman Sam Swift in last year’s The Woman Who Lived and of course his appearance alongside Zoë Ball when Peter Capaldi was announced to the world as the Twelfth Doctor. Hound’s performance is full of energy and engaging, carrying the story well. While there is no attempt at recreating the voices of Pertwee or Caroline John, the text does such a good job at evoking the characters, it doesn’t matter. Where Hound comes into his own though is with the Meddling Monk, a role he played in a previous Big Finish production in 2015, The Black Hole. At times during the performance the listener is reminded of Frank Gorshin’s performance of the Riddler from the 1960s Batman TV show or even John Simm’s Master from the late 2000s’ series of Doctor Who. He brings pathos to the character, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the Monk; all he wants to do is help the human race evolve and can’t see the difference between his actions and the Doctor’s.
With the production quality and sound effects to enhance the atmosphere that we’ve come to expect from Big Finish, this is great addition to the Short Trips range and a great way to spend 40 minutes.
Short Trips: The Blame Game is out now, exclusively from Big Finish, as a download-only tale for £2.99.