DW: Criss-Cross Review

DW Criss-Cross

Criss-Cross introduces us to the Sixth Doctor’s latest companion Constance Clark (though this was technically the second release featuring her…), a pretty tough, by-the-book WREN from WW2. The actual story has a pretty standard “foe”, but is also rich in Second World War spies and espionage plots, including the Doctor himself working and staying in Bletchley Park for some time. Let’s take a closer look…

Synopsis:

Bletchley Park. Britain’s most secret weapon in the Second World War. Inside draughty huts, the earliest computers clatter day and night, decoding enemy transmissions and revealing intelligence crucial to the country’s defence. Leading WREN Mrs Constance Clarke directs her charges to provide vital assistance to the boffins stationed in the Manor House. But a recent arrival among the code-breakers, the mysterious Dr Smith, has attracted the attention of MI5’s spycatchers…

Over in mainland Europe, Nazi agents are briefed, covert operations planned, and a German submarine embarks on a very secret mission. As encrypted radio waves criss-cross the planet, unearthly forces stir. And when certain ciphers are cracked, something will emerge to threaten all humanity, regardless of allegiance…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

The Doctor (Colin Baker) – The Doctor is stranded. His TARDIS is drained of energy and he’s been left in 1940s England… Oh well, may as well join the effort in Bletchley Park! The equipment may be technologically backwards, but he can still do some research into the mysterious radio waves that seemed to shut down his craft for good…

Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) – Constance is a WREN and the wife of a government agent, so to say she’s wrapped up in the war would be an understatement. Still, she will forever soldier on and fulfil her duty, not matter what may stand in the way…

Robbie Flint (Paul Thornley) – Robbie Flint has a lot to hide, is he a British agent? A secret Nazi spy and saboteur? Or is he playing both sides for his own gain? Either way, Flint is not to be trusted…

Major Harris (Alistair Petrie) – Major Harris is particularly interested in rooting out spies in the midst of the British war effort, so when he hears of a Dr. John Smith appearing at Bletchley Park without warning, he personally arrives to see if this man can truly be trusted…

Dr. Schwartzmann (Hugh Fraser) – Schwartzmann is a Nazi Doctor who also creates cyphers. He is high enough up the chain of command to send agents into England on his behalf, and take trips under the sea to check on odd wrecks…

The Waveform – An alien life form that exists as electromagnetic waves, trying to flee from a war against a similarly hard-to-fathom alien race, though it wants more than a place to hide…

Plus More!

The Good:

DW Criss-Cross Cover

I always like when they go the extra mile and put The Doctor in a new outfit, especially when it’s done this well!

There is a lot to like about Criss-Cross. The setting is full of atmosphere, all codes and spies, although it does become more straight sci-fi as the plot progresses. The Doctor is on fine form with his role as a regular citizen at the start, then his teaming with Constance, who’s instantly likable in her role. A tough and firm “stiff upper lip” type, but also with a softer side when she talks about not knowing the fate of her husband, or about the general hardships of the war. The fact she pretty much tells The Doctor she’ll go on a few trips with him, but will be brought back so she can fulfil her duty is refreshing, if nothing else, and again shows her dedication and her more playful side.

The “who is on which side” part of the story is good fun, with “Agent Criss-Cross” being Robbie Flint, and then we remain unsure as to whether he was a double or triple agent. It’s all very classic spy espionage stuff, and well played. Dr. Schwartzmann is also a good Nazi baddie, not played up to cartoony levels like could easily have happened.

I’ll put the Waveform here. A being we can’t quite comprehend, only seeing it as being “made of electromagnetic waves”, is a fun concept, though it’s close to the many beings of pure sound, thought, mathematics or words that have come before it. I did like that it was hiding from a war that was raging all around us but we were just unable to know about it, though the fact it ended up wanting to consume the people of Earth as energy was a bit of a cliché and a let down…

The Bad:

Not a lot, really. I really enjoyed the spy thriller stuff in the first half, so was kind of disappointed to see it fall back to the more classic monster-based run-around in the latter half. It bravely stood out by tackling a different genre, but then fell back into cliché Who…

The Continuity:

Beyond Constance and her recurring story arc often referencing back to her time here at Bletchley, there is only the mystery of her husband, which is cleared up in the audio story “Quicksilver”, there isn’t much else to link it directly.

The Doctor does compare Bletchley to Logopolis, which appeared in the Fourth Doctor’s final story, called “Logopolis”, rather fittingly…

Overall Thoughts:

While I feel Criss-Cross would have been a classic if it had bravely stuck to its different genre, it’s still a really good two hours, and a great debut for Constance Clark. I did like the weird origin of the alien threat as well, even if it does lead the story to a more generic end. Overall, a really strong entry, and paired with Quicksilver, makes for a really fun two-story arc.

4 Star Listen

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