Power Play is an odd story, and would’ve been odd had it been made during the Sixth Doctor’s “Lost” Season 22 as it heavily features a returning companion from the Second Doctor era in Victoria Waterfield, something never really done on TV (not unless the companion is with their version of the Doctor for a multi-Doctor story, anyway). Sadly instead of the mid-80s this audio drama version was recorded in the early 2010s, meaning Deborah Watling wasn’t quite up to the task of anything other than the role of “slightly eccentric old woman”… Still, does it work? Is it a good listen? Let’s find out!
It’s been many years since Victoria Waterfield travelled through time and space fighting monsters and dictators. Now she’s back on Earth fighting for the future of the planet. But are her environmental campaigns so far removed from her former adventures in the vortex?
As trucks carrying nuclear waste start to vanish into the air, her friends are kidnapped by a dangerous alien police force and a nuclear power plant runs dangerously close to meltdown… Victoria spies a familiar blue box.
The Doctor. After all this time, the Doctor has come back.
And now… Victoria Waterfield is going to kill him.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Power Play has some fun ideas in it, especially in its central antagonist. Matthew Dysart (David Warwick) is played up like the uncaring and arrogant owner of a nuclear power plant who resents the protestors outside for getting in the way of progress, but it turns out he’s just a pawn for an alien called Dominicus (Miles Jupp), who is posing as his assistant / consultant Dominic. Dominicus runs a very successful “genocide for hire” business, wiping out entire planets for a tidy sum. He has parked his ship in the time of the dinosaurs and uses a time corridor that resembles a regular lift to go to-and-fro the different time periods, which along with some hypnotising of visitors so they don’t realise where they are while looking out the window has meant an easy time trying to wipe out Earth. It’s a good bit of dark humour, how nonplussed he is about his career choice, even at The Doctor’s verbal wrath, and general absurd nature of his business and office location led to some funny lines from bystanders.
So I enjoyed that aspect of the story, and there were some fun scenes here and there with Victoria getting annoyed at her hapless protestor friend having a hard time believing they’d been captured by dinosaur-like aliens in armour claiming to be police (more on that later!) but overall the villain of the piece was the only thing that stood out in particular. The Doctor and Peri were fine as well, I feel the need to mention, as otherwise I don’t actually mention the main characters once in this review… That kind of shows how by-the-numbers it all is, their role of “people saving the day” just… happens, without anything interesting, or poor, happening.
Once again a perfectly fine cover, though it did bother me that the first series of Sixth Doctor Lost Stories used a different colour for each cover, but this trio is all purple. Still, the “Ultimate Evil” cover is completely different, so it’s less of an issue now…
There are other forces at work here, like the previously mentioned alien police force (whose over-all name escapes me) and the protestors, but they’re all a tad … boring? Predictable? There are two lizard-like cops, Leiss (Andrew Dickens) and Weska (Howard Gossington) and it’s revealed that Leiss is working with Dominicus to destroy Earth and frame The Doctor for it so he can retire with a bigger pension than the one he is currently set to collect, while Weska is the by-the-books cop shocked at his superior’s betrayal. There’s nothing new there, though the first half of the story they kept bungling their mission to capture The Doctor like a pair of cartoon henchmen, which was more funny than the good-cop, bad-cop ending they get during the story’s second half.
Meanwhile the protestors are an even more predictable bunch. Their leader is Marion (Victoria Alcock), who is the somewhat dry and sarcastic leader who everyone looks up to, and the only other members worth anything are David (Greg Donaldson) and Sean (James Heyward), with David spending so much of the story beating himself up for not being helpful that you just knew he’d sacrifice himself to save everyone in the end (which he did, he directed a bunch of missiles to where he and Dominicus were in order to stop him) while Sean… had very little character, but helped Weska in the end and apparently joined his space force after the story. They all have a very basic character type and literally don’t stray from their obvious role even a little.
A lot of people dislike the story because Victoria doesn’t sound like Victoria and Watling’s performance wasn’t top-notch, but that didn’t bother me too much. The script was re-written for Victoria to be an old woman who was hanging around with the protestors, and she sounded like an old woman, one who at times sounds like Victoria with an older, gravely voice. My only problem is the idea of Victoria ending up hanging out at a nuclear power plant protestor’s group, that doesn’t seem… on character for her. I know that many decades of living on 20th Century Earth could easily have changed her, but… I just didn’t buy it?
Not a lot. Obviously Victoria was left on Earth in the (recently animated!) Second Doctor TV story “Fury From The Deep”, plus The Doctor reveals that the person behind hiring Dominicus to destroy the Earth was The Terrible Zodin, a villain talked about in the past-tense by the Second Doctor in “The Five Doctors”, as well as the Sixth himself in the TV Story “Attack of the Cybermen”, plus many other spin-off shows and expanded media. The character has yet to actually appear and interact with The Doctor in a story, so it’s sort of a running gag that the villain is often referred to be never seen.
Power Play isn’t a poor story by any means, it kept me entertained for its two hours, but beyond an amusingly flippant multiple-genocide-causing villain at the core the story it’s otherwise full of really predictable characters that live up to exactly how you imagine they’ll end up by the end of the story. It’s not bad, but I doubt I’ll be putting this on again in a hurry.