In many ways, it’s something of a surprise that Doctor Who hasn’t ever done a casino heist story. One would think that it would be a natural occurrence for the series, like the way that every sci-fi franchise feels the need to do at least one Western story, because that makes sense. Granted, not every sci-fi franchise does a casino story (though Deep Space Nine did a surprisingly good one), but with Doctor Who’s ability to travel anywhere in space and time (though most often to contemporary England), one would think that a visit to, say, the Sands in 1962 would be almost inevitable.
With this story, Big Finish takes the Second Doctor, Jamie (Frazier Hines), Ben and Polly (Anneke Wills) to a casino and then, unaccountably, avoids the obvious notion of a casino heist and instead focuses on something, well…a bit different.
The TARDIS team find themselves on a distant world at a luxury casino. Ben seems to be the only one interested in playing anything, which he does with great gusto while Polly and Jamie busy themselves with the suspicious nature of the place. Jamie meets a strange masked woman while Polly finds herself interacting with a woman that appears to run the whole place. As they do this, the Doctor is largely absent and Ben begins wagering more and more. You can see where that’s headed, and, indeed, soon he’s massively in debt and placed into a machine where he’ll either live or die, but at least either way his debts will be clear. Soon things get all timey-wimey and amazingly no one suggests robbing the place in a highly convoluted fashion using a team of colorful experts. That’s practically a first for a bit of non-James Bond entertainment set at a casino.
There was much, much to enjoy here. First off, the “Ben, Polly and Jamie” era of the Second Doctor’s run is largely forgotten. There’s several reasons for this, but mostly they boil down to the fact that there isn’t a single complete story from that time period. Most of us, when we think of the Second Doctor, think of him traveling with Jamie and Zoe, and in a pinch Victoria is thrown in. Ben and Polly tend to drop by the wayside, and it’s nice to see Big Finish rectifying that, at least a bit.
Also the story was quite fun, even if it didn’t go the expected direction. I will say that I wish there had been more scenes with the Doctor, since Frazier Hines’ impression of him is a pure joy to hear, but beyond that, I’ve not really anything to complain about aside from one minor niggling point, and that’s that I’m still not 100% sure what the woman running the casino was all about. I got the alien thug that apparently owned the place, but her agenda was never very clear to me.
That aside, this was a fun, enjoyable story that managed to avoid a high body count and deliver some nice audio pleasure. As I’ve said, Hines’ performance as the Doctor is one of the real highlights of the Second Doctor Companion Chronicles stories, and if you haven’t heard him, this is a good place to try one out. He doesn’t appear as often as I would like, but when he does, it’s great fun, and as I said, this story gives us a look into a largely forgotten era of the series. For those reasons alone, it’s worth picking up.
NEXT TIME: Jo Grant gets menaced by evil puppets. Yep.
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