There’s something to be said for the staff at Big Finish productions and their powers of persuasion. Janet Fielding was an actor whom we all assumed was never going to recreate her role as feisty air stewardess Tegan Jovanka but here we are, 2011 and already we’re at the end of her second Fifth Doctor trilogy and it’s as if she’s been in the mix the whole time.
The reason for bringing this up so far into the latest run of Fifth Doctor Adventures is that whilst listening to Rat Trap, things feel very familiar as we’re hurtled into the story. As the listener starts the adventure submerged in dark underground tunnels and is left with a sense of some foreboding enemy lurking in the shadows, instantly memories of Earthshock and, to an extent, Tegan’s dream sequences in Kinda are resurrected. As the plot unfolds, we’re introduced to a group of almost naive explorers; some with their (shock, horror!) own game plan. By the time we meet the foe of the piece, intelligent rats with a dastardly plan, it just feels like icing on the cake.
The rodents are part of a long forgotten experiment by the British government, sealed off from the world in an underground tomb. But they’ve had years to plot and plan and now the King Rat has a virus that will wipe out mankind and let all his ratty subjects take their place as rulers of the Earth. That’s right; this is another story with echoes of Silurians and Sea Devils. “We deserve the planet”, “you can’t have it-it’s ours”, “but…that’s not fair, kill them all”. And, even though it’s similar to past plots, it actually works quite well. As Nyssa befriends a Scientist Rat, they start to work on a less aggressive plan for the rats to work with rather than just killing everyone. You see, there’s always one creature in these stories that’s nice and they always end up dead. When this particular rat meets his maker, it’s rather a moving moment-his fate is almost worse than death and it shows just how vicious this species has grown to be through their own intelligence.
That’s not to say that this piece doesn’t have its flaws. At some points, dialogue from the guest characters can be a little stilted and predictable but that can be forgiven as each member of the TARDIS crew has been split up and placed with said characters to a) keep things interesting and b) actually give them all something to do. This is one of Rat Trap writer’s greatest strengths in his take on the famous 80’s TARDIS team, each main character has something interesting and substantial to do. The Doctor, as ever, is trying to save the day, Nyssa has her work cut out to come up with an alternative to the plague that the rats have created, Turlough is trapped in the TARDS with several of the creatures and needs to find a way around them and Tegan deals with the rats creator, the man who started it all. This adds to the general pace of the story and really keeps you listening to the end, as the time does seem to fly by with it. And as for the final five minutes of Rat Trap? It’s a superbly written ending. Emotional, bittersweet and full of retribution and heartache, right up there with anything that it’s television counterpart has produced in the last six years.
Rat Trap may not be essential Doctor Who listening, the story may not be original and the characters we all feel we’ve met a dozen times before. But how does that old saying go? If it aint broke… and that’s exactly the case here.
If you want to throw yourself back into the classic 1980’s world of Doctor Who, with the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS team doing all the things that made you happy back when you were watching them on television, this is your cup of tea. If you want a nice modern story with a fast plot and rounded characters, this is still your cup of tea.
Just don’t leave any biscuits on the side or a sneaky rat may get to them…
Available from Big Finish, Rat Trap stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, Mark Strickson as Vislor Turlough and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, with a guest appearance by former Davros actor Terry Molloy as Dr Wallace. This audio is available on CD and download – find out more at www.bigfinish.com!