Big Finish Productions
The Game

Written by Darin Henry Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity Between Time-Flight
and Arc of Infinity

Starring Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and William Russell

Synopsis: 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 approaching.


Doctor's Got Game by Mekel Rogers 6/4/05

First let's diffuse the hype. Yes, The Game is a six-parter, but the episodes are shorter, giving the story a total running length of 117 minutes (most other BF Audios run between 100 and 110). What's the point then? Quite simply, it just works better in six segments (each one lasting about 20 minutes). The story is better for it, and strangely enough seems less wordy than it would have been had the four-part format been used.

Secondly, it was a very wise choice to use the Davison/Sutton team for this adventure rather than the Baker/Stables team that was originally planned. It was much easier to visualize Davison's Doctor thrusting himself into a game of naxy and fawning over Lord Carlisle than his less sporty, more intellectual successor. The real treat of the production, however, lies with the relationship between Sarah Sutton's Nyssa and William Russell's Lord Carlisle. The two develop a father/daughter relationship throughout the story that is both believable and charming, not to mention superbly acted.

The concept of the Game itself is very novel. The idea of a society waging war in the guise of an athletic contest has been used in science fiction before, the Blake's 7 episode Death-Watch being the closest example that comes to mind. Here, however, writer Darin Henry gives the listener a new take on an old idea, and the result is rather effective.

There are a few clever plots twists that keep things interesting, as well as some humor. The music is a little synthetic for my taste but it is by no means intrusive. My only real complaint lies with Ursula Burton's rather wooden delivery of several lines, although considering what is revealed about her character later in the story, maybe this approach in acting style was intentional.

The Game represents what I enjoy most in non-historical Doctor Who stories: an original concept presented in traditional format, characters with substance, violence without gore, morals and message with splashes of humor and fun. I had a great time.

Bottom Line: The Game proves that the Davison/Sutton team still has it, and that William Russell never lost it.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 14/4/04

It's no secret that the majority of 6part stories suffer with padding, which is why it is refreshing to find Darin Henry's The Game such a relatively pacy tale. Characterisation is enjoyable for a start, the Doctor behaving like a fan upon wanting to meet one Lord Darzil Carlisle - a reknowned peace negotiator. And this is just one small aspect of Peter Davison's portrayal that there is to enjoy; the agony he conveys upon learning the truth about Naxy hits the right spot. He is equally matched by Sarah Sutton in this regard, whose scenes with William Russell's Carlisle are a high point of the tale.

As to the plot it seems to be an abject take on hooliganism in sport and its consequences. Thanks to clever sound design, the presence of Jonathan Pearce, who brings an atmosphere, to the sporting scenes and Christopher Ellison's villainous Destry, The Game delivers its message. The format of 6 episodes works, as each part is relatively short and makes the listener more attentive; and this is a welcome diversion. A success on all counts.

Davison is a delight! by Joe Ford 16/4/05

"Yes folks its time to catch up with the Doctor and Nyssa and their adventures in time and space! Its been a pretty fantastic season for the pair after taking on a primeval God from Traken, kick starting the genesis of the Cybermen, accidentally causing the genocide of an entire race and now embroiling themselves in the peace talks of the planet Cray! Proving a popular pair with Big Finish's support it would appear that their critics may have to eat their words and that there's life in the old dog yet... Joe, it's over to you..."

Thank you announcer. And thank you Peter Davison for proving to me that he really did have a damn good idea of what made the series tick. You see he has commented in the past that his Doctor should have travelled with only one companion and his companion of choice was Nyssa. It sounds like a terminally dull concept but, Arc of Infinity aside, they make a surprisingly engaging pair (just go and watch Snakedance, with Tegan out of the action the pair shine) with little of the hysterical angst that plagued so many fifth Doctor stories and a lot of mutual respect and intelligence between them. They remind me of the fourth Doctor and Romana and the third Doctor and Liz, two equals with very different personalities complementing each other very well indeed.

And Peter Davison rocks in this story! At times it feels as though the story belongs to the sixth Doctor (and the production notes inside the sleeve confirm this was the case initially) because of the risque idea of putting the Doctor on a battlefield with a weapon in his hand and all the shouting and bluster he has to perform once in the midst of the battle. But I'll stick my neck out and say it works so much better because it is such an unusual and brave thing to do with the fifth Doctor. He is so often relegated to the sidelines of a story or left to do all the pleasantries but here the Doctor is carrying a blade amidst carnage, people dying all around him and there is nothing he can do but shout at them to stop. Davison portrays his mortal terror painfully well and once he is free from the battle lets rip an angry response to the slaughter he was duped into taking part in.

The Doctor remains confident throughout the story but never loses any of that quiet charm that others seem to find so appealing. When he criticises Carlisle for his pathetic negotiating skills he does it in a most polite manner typical of a Jane Austen drama. When he hears how complicated and devious the latest villain's scheme has been he sounds as if he has heard it all before. Like all the fifth Doctor's best stories (Earthshock, Snakedance, Frontios, Caves of Androzani, Spare Parts) Davison sounds as though he is really enjoying the material and his textured performance here is another for fans of his work to cherish.

Once again Nyssa is allowed some independence and strength that was almost absent from her TV appearances. Audio/novels suit her character much more because she isn't about rushing around with a gun or tripping over rocks, Nyssa's strengths are her knowledge and her ability to handle herself. So it is entirely plausible for her to threaten to leave the Doctor for a much worthier cause and it doesn't sound callous or threatening (like say Tegan's angry departure) but is fully understood by both parties. Nyssa has clearly become more resistant to the horrors they face as she ingratiates herself into a society that thrives on death with surprising ease. Her relationship with Hollis is quite sweet, especially his impromptu marriage proposal (which is just the sort of thing a big kid like Hollis would do on a whim). What impressed me the most was her willingness to sacrifice her freedom to help one man bring peace to so many other planets. It's an entirely selfless choice and like her eventual decision to leave the Doctor, very Nyssa.

So the Doctor and his companion are given some great material but is the story actually any good? The name Gary Russell emblazoned on the back of the CD did not inspire much confidence after last month's perfectly interesting Juggernauts sabotaged by some frustratingly weak direction. But this had to be one of Russell's most dynamic productions yet and with a plot that centres around a bloodthirsty sport it is a story that flaunts its loud and wild atmosphere. The music helps a lot, a fantastic blood pumping score that plays over the matches but it is the structure of the story that raises this above so many other recent BF productions. The story is 115 minutes long, a reasonable length considering some of last year's ten year long "epics" (he exaggerates, but not by much...) but brilliantly cut into six episodes so the action can rest on a dramatic high every twenty minutes or so. Plus the early episodes consist of lots of short scenes which benefits this story no end, it races from one POV to another much like a real footie match and kept me on the edge of my seat. This is an experiment that is worth repeating, such was the quality storytelling and the pace it was told at I listened to the whole thing in one go without a thought of turning it off until I had reached the end. Mighty cliffhangers help of course but Gary Russell's direction has to be complimented, I have spent too much time coming down on the man and when he whips up a story of this quality it should be applauded.

I thought the idea of a war brewing from sports-related violence was very imaginative. I am not the biggest sports fan, football and rugby are only good for watching men running about in tight shorts in my book, but should a match be as exciting as this story I would certainly give them a try! The roar of the crowd, the pressing feeling of a thousand fans waiting to explode... it is easy to see how fan violence erupts and the idea of it blowing out of all proportion is not such a ludicrous one. When England played in the world cup Eastbourne became alive with gleeful, happy people and when they lost the feeling of depression in the air was palpable. Like it or not sports do affect society and The Game is a welcome exploration of that.

Of course where there is a war there are people who want it to end and in this case the representatives for peace are the famous Lord Carlisle and Ambassador Davis. Two characters who influence the story in very different ways, branching off the plot into the touching and the mundane. The former is a fascinating character for his implications on the Doctor's future. Paradoxical meetings such as the Doctor's and Carlisle are always rather fun and his knowledge of the Doctor's future leads to some very moving moments especially when it comes to saying their goodbyes. Davis' story takes a disappointingly predictable path; obvious from the second episode and never interesting when her allegiances are revealed.

Most of the other characters are pretty faceless but they perform their functions adequately. You've got the team players, the coaches and the commentators. All the performances are enthusiastic and their boldness drags you into the story effortlessly. Hollis stands out because of his duel with the Doctor (which is tremendously exciting!) and his friendship with Nyssa.

It is a shame that Morian was included. I can still remember being hooked by Christopher Ellison's performances in The Bill when I was a wee youth but his extremely expressive and (dare I say it) camp turn as the arch criminal here takes the story into familiar territory and robs it of some of its uniqueness. Once it becomes clear the machinations are all the work of one man there is someone for both sides in the war to join up and fight against and when he is gone, a reason to patch things up. This is such a depressingly easy path to take and after the freshness of the first four episodes I was expected something more. The dialogue is still cracking but the climax is hardly the thrill I was expecting. Still, there were a number of unexpected character twists and turns that helped the story limp home (especially involving Lord Carlisle).

I refuse to finish this critique on a bad note though because this story was the most involving to spring from Big Finish in a year. I was genuinely excited about what was going on and rushed through the whole thing in one go. The script is fantastic and the plot isn't far behind (despite that ending) and there are a handful of scenes that demonstrate Big Finish's ability to create magic out of words and music.

Very, very good and heartily recommended.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 19/5/05

I thought the crossover that the DWM Comic Strip - The Nightmare Game - was unique. I had reconciled the fact that Doctor Who and football were not linked in any way whatsoever. All my football mates don't like Who. All my DW mates don't like football. I was different liking them both, but I reckon there's probably quite a lot actually (though I would put football 3rd on my list of favourite sports after snooker and cricket). Nightmare Game brought a crossover, and The Game further brings these two faraway hobbies together. Football is not specifically mentioned in The Game, but the insipiration is pretty apparent.

The game is Naxy - a vicious version of hockey/lacrosse by the sounds of it. The sides are Gora and Lineen, and they've been at this sport/war for years. Darin Henry has a great time bringing in as many football references as possible in the opening few episodes. The play fairly drips with Saturday afternoon atmosphere. I loved it for that, as trips with my Dad to the game (he's hates Doctor Who by the way, but I did inherit his football fan gene) were brought back to my memory. I'm quite heartened though with the fact that football-haters also seem to enjoy this play - it appeals on so many levels.

With its snappy six part structure, The Game stands out from the crowd. After listening to this I much prefer the shorter episode lengths - which this play revels in. There are more natural cut-offs for the listener, and it feels more like the original TV show. Longer episodes often make you eager for an episode finish, and the focus as to when the episode ends is more paramount than the subject matter of the episode. I was taught ages ago, when taking some exam or another, that 20 minutes is the optimum time for attention to be fixed on revision - then have a break. To get the maximum attention from the listener this must also apply to the audio story. 20-25 minutes is ideal (in spite of the new DW series, which I suspect will be a different and faster running beast altogether). Big Finish probably need to tighten up the editing process on most releases, or give them more episodes. But back to The Game, which has episodes that fairly fly by, and never lag at all.

How brilliant is Peter Davison in this? Colin Baker receives great plaudits for his audio Doctor (rightly so), but Peter Davison must run him close. He's never any worse than excellent, and in The Game he simply excels even further. He is ably supported by the impressive cast around him. Sarah Sutton is delightful as the only companion. I believe Janet Fielding's decision to skip on Big Finish audios has been to Sarah Sutton's advantage - and what we have is a better 5th Doctor era than on TV (even though it was pretty brilliant on TV). As Big Finish alternates between Nyssa, and Peri and Erimem - so this Doctor further enhances his stellar reputation.

The supporting players here impress too. Top of the list must be Jonathan Pearce as Garny Diblick, further enforcing the football link. He's quite clearly having a blast here, and revels in the excesses he is allowed to commentate on. There are dozens of glory moments for this character, ably assisted by Gregory Donaldson as Destry, but his demise is sufficiently blackly comedic. Negotiators Faye and Carlisle impress too. The hapless Carlisle is wonderfully doddery, and his future connection with the Doctor intriguing. It's only as I near the end of this review that I've just remembered that William Russell plays Carlisle! I listened to the whole of it and I had completely forgotten! Well, he was great - and the character massively different than Ian (obviously, or else I would have made a connection listening to it). I'm quite pleased, due to glorious forgetfulness I was spoiler free!

I also work for a bookie, so I really appreciated the gambling connection as the play progressed - an integral part of many sports-lovers' world.

Everything about this audio story is excellent, from its structure through to the performances of the main cast. 9/10

Playing the Game to the Death by Jacob Licklider 27/3/19

In the early days of Big Finish, before they had their Companion Chronicles range, they would use companion actors from the first four Doctors. This was done as a way for them to gain more revenue, as fans would be more likely to buy stories that have what would be Doctor Who celebrities. This story is one such story where Big Finish have brought in William Russell to play a major supporting character in the form of peace negotiator Darzil Carlisle, which is really what makes this story stand out from the crowd. The premise on the surface sounds quite dull, as it involves a planet where a civil war is playing out in the form of a sports tournament, Naxi, where the goal is to literally kill as many people before time runs out. Everyone is forced to play Naxi at one point in their lives, and the fans are entirely rabid. It is Darzil Carlisle's job to negotiate peace between the two teams. This is the focus of the first four parts of the story. as this story is split up into six parts with the major twist being that Carlisle's peace-negotiator career is a sham, as the Doctor is the one who has negotiated the end to those wars. When the Doctor shows up, it is their first meeting for him and Carlisle's last.

The end of Part Four, however, adds in a twist where there are creatures living on the planet Cray, and it is revealed that Carlisle's assistant is working with the primary villain on a gambling ring to make money. This occupies the final two parts, which is where the story loses a lot of its credibility, as the villain, Morian, played by Christopher Ellison, is your standard power-mad dictator who wants to get more money. He also is played as an abusive boyfriend, as he emits a drug and forces Carlisle's assistant, Faye, to work with him, as she basically becomes a nymphomaniac. His plotline is sort of tacked onto the end to pad out the story to two hours, when it would have worked a lot better if the story just focused on Carlisle and the Doctor's relationship and how Carlisle is a fraud. There are even forced-in monsters because this is Doctor Who and you have to have monsters, don't you? Well, no you don't; the monsters in this story are awfully integrated and really only serve as extra padding for the plot.

Peter Davison as the Doctor does, however, shine throughout the story and serves as the saving grace for the final two parts, even if they are already mercifully short. The Fifth Doctor wants to meet Carlisle and is utterly destroyed when he finds that he is a complete fraud, and he has to go on to save three dozen worlds. Davison's performance here actually feels a lot more like his character is older after some devastating events in Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty. It is an effect that is really nice for the story.

To summarize, The Game has a great start and a great first four parts, but, after a twist, the final two parts turn into your traditional Doctor Who story, which really doesn't work. William Russell, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are highlights here in some great events as well. 75/100