THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMA "KISS OF
BIG FINISH CD#148
RELEASED IN JUNE 2011.
1983: as the country
goes to the polls, two
Urban Explorers AND
a journalist break
into the long-defunct
Cadogan Tunnels, once
a TOP secret wartime
facility… and later,
so rumour has it, the
site of a laboratory
with a nasty sideline
What they find, in its
corridors, the most
theorist could never
have EVEN imagined:
A society of questing,
living under Britain’s
nose for decades.
But there’s no way
out of the tunnels –
as the Doctor, Nyssa,
Tegan and Turlough
discover when the
TARDIS brings them
into the complex TOO.
It’s a rat trap – and
they’ve been caught!
The name Tony Lee will already be familiar to readers of Doctor Who Magazine’s comic strip, who will have seen it adorning many a multi-coloured panel just next to the word story, but I’d wager that few of those readers ever expected to see it on a Big Finish by-line. Indeed, even with two scripts falling through for this slot, some might think it a little odd that Big Finish turned to a writer accustomed to working in an exclusively visual medium to pen an adventure in a wholly aural one. However, it’s important to remember that Mr Lee is still providing words to tell a story here - it’s just that this time it’s being realised by the legendary Ken Bentley and his cast and crew, rather than a brace of artists armed with pencil and ink.
Yet Rat Trap’s premise might well have been torn out of one of Lee’s comic strip offerings; it certainly reeks of that medium. The thought that, in a secret bunker until Cadogan Castle, the UK government secretly tried to turn rats into super spies to be deployed in the Cold War is as wacky as it is chilling; the fact that they succeeded is even more so. This barmy conceit also allows Lee to study the oft-rehearsed vivisection arguments in a new, almost amusing way. Not only does he anthropomorphise his rats quite literally (not to mention ‘Splintering’
a number of humans), but he turns their role on its head. Rat Trap isn’t full of grisly images
of rats having acid poured in their eyes or their fur dyed pink – it’s full of near-comic scenes featuring humans being forced to run in treadmills to power the Rat King’s computers. As such the piece never feels too passionate or preachy; it is what it is.
The amoral rats are well-realised by Bentley and his team. Avoiding cliché, these rats don’t squeak like Pakhars – instead they communicate telepathically and communally, almost as
if they were of just one mind. Andy Hardwick’s innovative sound design layers several actors’ voices each time that a rat speaks, with one voice occasionally trumping all the others, only to quickly fade into the chorus again. For the Rat King though, a discrete voice was required, and for this the director turned to Archers star Terry Molloy – better know to Doctor Who fans as the man beneath Davros’s prosthetics in the 1980s. Molly’s sibilant, fragmented voice is in many ways more unsettling than those of his hive-minded minions.
Rat Trap also offers Molloy the chance to exhibit his adaptability, as he also lends voice to the play’s mad (but not Davros mad!) scientist, Dr Christopher Wallace. Had I not peeked at the cast list on the back of the CD prior to listening to it, I would have had no idea that it was Molloy behind the tortured father’s Scots brogue. It’s an equal and opposite performance to that which he gives as the Rat King, and one that lends the piece some essential spirit.
This escapade also successfully
accommodates the oversized
TARDIS crew, branching off into
three parallel threads. While the
Doctor and Tegan play at being
pied pipers, Nyssa desperately
searches for a more dependable
treatment for Richter’s disease and Turlough finds himself at the
mercy of the rats’ human agent. As ever it’s fantastic to be able to hear Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson revivify their defining banter, and Lee’s script provides them with plenty of fodder to do so. Tegan and Nyssa’s reaction to Turlough’s last-minute save, for instance, perfectly encapsulates their mutual feelings towards him (and, indeed, his towards them).
One criticism that I would level at Rat Trap though is that its first half feels as distended as
its TARDIS crew. There doesn’t seem to be enough plot to satisfactorily fill three twenty-five minute episodes, let alone four, and as a result Part 2 especially seems to drag. This one would have made for a far punchier two-parter - or perhaps Big Finish’s first board game...
Pacing issues aside though, Rat Trap is terrific fun. Listening to it with my eyes shut, I saw the action play out before me in panels and ink instead of cheaply-made 80s live action, but that didn’t detract at all from the experience; if anything, it made it unique.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
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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