2. Phantasmagoria, part 1


Phantasmagoria is the second Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish, released in 1999, after their initial outing with The Sirens of Time.  Written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Nicholas Briggs, and starring Peter Davison (the 5th Doctor), Mark Strickson (Turlough), with David Walliams, Nicholas Briggs, Mark Gatiss, and others.

Having listened to several Big Finish audios that have been released over the last 20 or so years, it’s always with some trepidation that I delve into their earliest archives.  I do so with some willingness to accept that these were early days and so it shouldn’t be expected that they’re of the same high quality as more recent adventures.  Nevertheless, I try to not listen to them with rose-tinted ear mufflers.

The first episode of Phantasmagoria suffers to some extent from the limitation of the audio medium in that it’s often difficult to make sense of what’s going on in a scene.  You spend more time listening for little hints dropped into the dialogue than you do actually enjoying the adventure.  It’s a bit of a distraction that we need to accept because only rarely does an audio adventure flow in such a way that it’s natural.

As a consequence, I’ve taken to checking out episode summaries after I’ve listened to them so that I can fill in some of the blanks left by the audio limitation.

What doesn’t help either is that, in this first episode, scenes are often quite short and cut from one to another fairly sharply, making it all the more difficult to get caught up in the scene before it’s curtailed.


Phantasmagoria is set in 1702, London, and involves the “Diabola Club” – a kind of gambling ale house that borrows ideas from the “Hellfire Club” principle.  The story opens with friends playing cards, and one of their number getting bored with the whole thing before he encounters the mysterious, and somewhat sinister “Sir” Nicholas Valentine (David Ryall).  After playing cards with Valentine, Edmund Carteret (Jonathan Rigby) is later seen acting odd whilst Valentine himself, on the following morning, remarks that he had good luck at cards.

Interspersed between those events are scenes of the 5th Doctor and Turlough as they enter the adventure.  This begins with “inside the TARDIS” scenes of the Doctor trying to explain the rules of cricket to an increasingly befuddled and bemused Turlough, who apparently didn’t learn much about it at that school.

The TARDIS lands in the home of Dr Samuel Holywell (Steven Wickham), an antiquity collector of some note.  When discovered, the Doctor pretends that they’re there to deliver a curious large blue box to the famed collector.

Out on the roads, the carriage carrying Carteret’s fellow card players, Jasper Jeake (Mark Gatiss) and Quincy Flowers (David Walliams), is stopped and robbed by famed highwayman Major Billy Lovemore (Jez Fielder).

Meanwhile, whilst the Doctor ingratiates himself with Holywell, Turlough peruses some of the antique books to discover that Holywell has an interest in necromancy.  Before he can learn much more, he’s distracted by cries from Holywell’s maid, Hannah Fry (Julia Dalkin), who is being accosted outside by a drunken watchman.  Against his better nature, Turlough heroically intercedes.

Ready to fight to save the girl’s honour, Turlough’s heroics are interrupted by a man running towards them, as if chased by ghosts.


Writing the events of the episode down as I have just done, with some assistance from other reviews, reveals a pretty good start to a “typically rising drama” adventure with some intriguing characters and a villain of some menace.

The trouble is that, on listening to the episode, I didn’t come away with the same feelings.  It all felt a little disjointed, difficult to understand what was going on, and not very self-explanatory.

The highlights of the adventure are Peter Davison and Mark Strickson.  Of all of the Big Finish Doctor Who audios I’ve listened to, very few of them have involved Turlough.  I recall remarking that I’d like to hear something new with Turlough in and, as luck would have it, here he is.

As is typical of these adventures, the actors sound a little different to their TV counterparts, due mostly to the years that have passed.  We’re kind of used to Peter Davison not sounding as fresh nor as youthful as his brash young TV self of the early-80s, so that’s something we have to accept as the “norm” for his Doctor now.  Mark Strickson’s voice doesn’t quite have the bite of his TV Turlough, but there’s enough in his voice and in the character to be assured that he’s the same person.  The writing helps, with the inserts about him not wanting to be the heroic hero saving the maid, and such like.

The “cricket” scene, whilst a little obvious, is a great way to introduce the two regular stars – reminding those who have forgotten that this is the Doctor that spent his incarnation dressed as a cricketer.


Having written this post, I feel more positive towards the adventure than I did after finishing listening to the first episode.  I don’t know that it’ll be a classic, but it offers a lot of promise.