THIS STORY TAKES
"100" AND "THE CRIMES
OF THOMAS BREWSTER."
BIG FINISH CD#108
RELEASED IN MAY 2008.
14th April, 1865. The
The place, the date
and the event which
made history. Or did
it? Someone has been
tampering with time,
muddying the waters
of history for his
own purposes. Time
itself is out of joint
and the chief culprit
is the enigmatic
Somehow the Doctor
and Evelyn must put
history back on
track before the
future dissolves into
chaos. But Knox, it
turns out, may be the
least of their
As my opinions about Robert Ross’ two previous Big Finish audio dramas are distinctly polarised, I approached “Assassin in the Limelight” with a certain degree of trepidation. For the most part Ross’ first effort, “Medical Purposes”, was a delightfully macabre and atmospheric story – a story that quite rightly has been hailed by many as a classic. “Pier Pressure”, on the other hand, I was far less fond of – evocative and charming it may well have been, but the plot seemed so banal that it often bordered on pastiche.
I am pleased to say though that “Assassin in the Limelight” marks a return to grace for Ross. In marked contrast to “Pier Pressure”, the plot is exceedingly clever and well-crafted, and what’s more the colourful cast of characters that the story is constructed around have every bit as much charm as those that we met in Brighton or Edinburgh.
If I had one gripe with “Medicinal Purposes”, it was that the inscrutable Doctor Knox did not seem quite at home in the story’s very real, very down and dirty setting. He felt sort of
‘tacked on’; a science-fiction element lost in an otherwise purely historical story. In
“Assassin in the Limelight” though, Leslie Phillips’ mischievous time meddler has really found his niche - “naughty but nice”, as the writer so succinctly summarises. Here Knox is much more fun; much more “baroque” than he was previously. The Oscar Wilde guise fits him like a glove; it is such a joy to listen to Phillips revelling in Knox’s new-found theatrical splendour.
Phillips is not alone in his superb performance though - Colin Baker and Maggie Stables
are both off the page. As fond as I am of dark and biting stories, I do love plays like this one which give Baker and Stables license to really have some fun with their characters. The denouement in the final episode is one such example of this - the Doctor returns to Washington DC having ‘just’ escaped Knox’s trap, when Evelyn notices a fleck of grey in his hair, suggesting that it has taken him much longer to escape than he claims. Brilliant stuff.
I think the most outstanding facet of “Assassin in the Limelight” though is its sheer capacity for surprise. The ‘John Wilkes Booth’ thread of the plot, for example, kept me guessing throughout, and whilst with hindsight the play is littered with clues about Knox’s ‘condition’, the big reveal in the second half of the play came as a complete shocker. But what I really did not expect was for “Assassin in the Limelight” to sequel both “Medical Purposes” and “Pier Pressure”. Of course, with Doctor Knox’s iniquitous visage adorning the CD’s cover, it does not take a genius to make the link to “Medical Purposes”, but “Pier Pressure”? Just as
I was cursing Ross for not making the ‘Doctor on the human spinning wheel’ scene a cliff-hanger, the cliff-hanger ending to the third episode came along and completely blew me away - suddenly "Pier Pressure" took on a whole new relevance! All I shall say is that Doctor Knox is not the only returning former foe. ..
If I had to pick a fault with this one, it would only be that when listening to the play at times I found it hard to distinguish between the American characters because of their thick accents. I would also be wary of listening to this one as a stand-alone play as although “Medical Purposes” and “Pier Pressure” are independent of each other (or at least they were!), to really get the most out of “Assassin in the Limelight” I think you need to be familiar with the stories that preceded it.
On balance, “Assassin in the Limelight” is a delightful play in almost every respect. The script; the performances; the production… all marvellous. I never thought that I would be recommending “Pier Pressure” in any shape or form, but you could do far worse than to log on to the Big Finish website and download all three stories in this curious Robert Ross trilogy. It is a wonderful thing, retrospect…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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