DW: Harry Houdini’s War Review

DW Harry Houdini's War.jpg

The first of two main range releases this month, Harry Houdini’s War caps off the unconnected Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy with a more thoughtful and interesting spy tale (with some sci-fi twists, obviously!) and one or two misdirections, rather appropriately! Let’s take a closer look…

Synopsis:

The world is at war, and Harry Houdini wants to fight for his adoptive country. He might get the chance, when an old friend crashes his New York show.

The Doctor is on the trail of a Central Powers spy ring, which has somehow acquired unearthly technology. But he is also keeping a dangerous secret…

Finding himself on the run behind enemy lines, the world’s greatest escape artist has to work out who he can trust – and fast.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

There are times in this story where it feels like this is Harry Houdini’s show, and The Doctor and Peri are just guest appearing in it. That’s thankfully not all that bad of a thing thanks to John Schwab’s performance as the titular character, and although sometimes it veers into Barrowman over-the-top charismatic American hero, the portrayal often focuses on Houdini’s want to serve his country in the war, and how great he feels now he’s actually getting to fulfil this dream, despite how dangerous it is. There is a great scene where Houdini and Peri are making an escape in a biplane and take part in a dog fight that was written and acted just right that it made a clear and exciting image in my head.

The crux of the story is the Central Powers getting a hold of alien technology and managing to create a teleport system, a major break of the laws of space and time with potentially even greater implications beyond just the wrong side winning the first World War, so The Doctor arrives to solve it, especially as it was the TARDIS that crashed into the alien craft to begin with. This is where the misdirection comes into it…

DW Harry Houdini's War Cover

Another great cover, lots going on but not too busy looking.

First off The Doctor pretends to be loyal to the Central Powers and deliver them Harry Houdini, a man who the person in charge of the teleporting HQ has an obsession over. Now, obviously, this misdirection isn’t going to trick the listener, but it was fun nonetheless. The big reveal, and I’m talking major spoiler here, is that this is set after Peri has left, and the Peri that’s with The Doctor is actually an alien from the space craft that the Germans et al. are using. In order to better interact with The Doctor it took on a form he found comforting, and once it arrived at where its space ship was, it thanked The Doctor for getting it back to its craft before leaving, our protagonist simply remarking that he “always finds himself saying goodbye” to Peri, one way or another…

So that reveal was great, I didn’t even peg on to the fact that it wasn’t using the same opening theme as the previous two stories, showing it was later in The Doctor’s life. I’ll keep this story in the “Adventures with Peri” list on the Sixth Doctor page so as not to ruin the surprise for anyone just browsing, but as it turns out this should be in solo adventures!

The Bad:

While Houdini’s accent was fine (though I believe he actually had closer to a German accent in real life, I seem to remember reading?) I have to say that some of the German characters were a little… old fashioned. Not to mention they did that thing where they occasionally exclaimed or insulted in German, which makes no sense given the whole TARDIS translation circuit get-out-clause, as that would mean, what, they exclaimed in English? Or the TARDIS decided not to translate those words for its guests?

There were slower moments, some which were nice reflective moments, but others that just filled in time. I mean, they did that whole Doctor Who cliché of having a daring escape (including cliffhanger) only for the characters who escaped ending up captured again by the time the story reaches its climax…

The Continuity:

The Doctor has met Harry Houdini before, and not just name dropping him from time to time, the “Destiny of the Doctor” anniversary audio story for the Fifth Doctor, “Smoke and Mirrors”, saw them meet. Throughout this story its mentioned that The Doctor and Houdini have met several times, with different faces, so there might be more to add to this list down the line…

Overall Thoughts:

Harry Houdini’s War is a pseudo-historical that has a great lead performance from John Schwab and The Doctor and Peri … were on fine form. There are a few niggles that knock it down from a five, but it’s still a strong audio story.

4 Star Listen

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