(ISBN 1-84435-100-9)





 On the planet Cray,

 it's game time.


 The Gora and the

 Lineen are set to face

 off in the grudge

 match to end all

 grudge matches. The

 players are limbering

 up, the commentators

 are preparing, the

 fans are daubing

 themselves in their

 team's colours. The

 arena is set, and the

 kick-off is



 When the Doctor and

 Nyssa arrive,

 however, they find

 that Naxy is a sport

 that anyone can play

 - whether they want

 to or not. Cray's

 entire future depends

 on the match's

 outcome, but the time

 travellers soon

 realise that it is

 anything but just a



 PREVIOUS                                                                                  NEXT



The Game








Rarely does a Doctor Who audio drama boast so many exceptional traits. Rather than tell its story over four overrunning episodes, The Game divides its action between six succinct ones housed on just two discs. Instead of casting from the usual Big Finish pool of Big Finish stalwarts, director Gary Russell turns to the idol of the television series’ first two seasons, William Russell, and The Bill’s Christopher Ellison. Most notably of all though, Darin Henry’s script takes great delight in eschewing the series’ science fiction bedrock, taking its inspiration from soccer casuals and gambling rings instead of worn-out science fiction conceits.


The Game takes a cold look at the violence that surrounded football in Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and extrapolates from it a world where the rucks eventually become more important than the beautiful game, leading to a lethal fusion of two. When the Doctor and Nyssa come to Cray to watch the Doctor’s hero, the peacemaker Lord Carlisle, attempt to negotiate a peace treaty, they are gobsmacked to find that the ‘war’ is not being fought with guns and bombs, but is confined to stadia, where the city’s two teams fight organised, sensationalised battles in front of thousands of bloodthirsty spectators. The world ‘football’ may never be mentioned here, but there’s no mistaking Henry’s intent – ‘naxy’ is football at the height of hooliganism; an ad absurdum look at what might have been.


Henry’s script is as bold in its intricacy as it is in its intent. Everything behind his idea is well-thought out and frighteningly believable; his depiction of how naxy’s two teams market one another’s merchandise “to keep the game competitive” stands out especially. Whoever wins on the pitch loses out financially, allowing the trailing side to invest in new players and better equipment. Were Premiership clubs to adopt the same approach, it would certainly do wonders for the competitiveness of the game. Even The Game’s seedy underbelly has a horrible ring of legitimacy to it – I don’t recall a Doctor Who story ever featuring a villain who wants to steal the TARDIS so that he can use it to win money betting, but as this story’s villain puts it: “I can’t think of a better use.” Such honest simplicity makes a refreshing change.


Russell’s return to the series that he made a monster is every bit as bracing. While Henry may have taken his inspiration from outside Doctor Who’s usual sphere, he demonstrates great science fiction finesse in his groundbreaking depiction of the extraordinary relationship between Lord Carlisle and “his best friend”, the Doctor. Carlisle is initially portrayed as aloof and inscrutable; plausibly the story’s champion or its crook. However, as the narrative unfurls and the other shoe drops, we are treated to a fascinating and touching treatise on the perils of time travel and the terrible consequences that follow the Doctor’s non-sequential lifestyle. However, some of Russell’s finest scenes are not with Peter Davison’s Doctor, but Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa. Carlisle’s fatherly attitude towards Nyssa really pulls on the listener’s heartstrings, while at the same time delicately laying the groundwork for her departure in Terminus, the hindsight that we’re now gaining through these plays starting to make her impromptu departure in that story look far less so.


I must also take my hat off to the production team here – this play’s sound design is stunning in its redolence. The sounds of chanting crowds and clashing wands that sit beneath the naxy pundits’ commentary are every bit as potent and gritty as those that you’d hear listening to a football match on the radio. Moreover, such an appropriate device allows Henry to put much more action into his script then you’d generally find in an audio drama, but without anything feeling false or forced. Davison has always said that his Doctor did “running about quickly” better than any of the other Doctors, and dressed in cricketing attire it seems fitting that his athletic incarnation is the one thrust into the arenas of The Game. It’s hard to imagine hulking Old Sixy doing the same, as was originally mooted.


There is a definite energy about The Game, though whether it comes from the quick-fire twenty-minute episodes or the atypical focus on action, I’m not sure. You might not get any more for your money here than you would usually in terms of running time – if anything, the story’s pace is such that its hundred and fifteen-minutes feel more like sixty! –, but The Game still stands out as an exhilarating and revitalising piece of work. Had Big Finish not snapped this one up so fast, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it on cinema screens someday as a non-Who science fiction blockbuster – that’s how very bold and brilliant it is.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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