Doctor Who: Harry Houdini’s War – Starring Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Fiona Bruce, Mark Elstob, Glen McCready & John Schwab – Written by Steve Lyons & Directed by Ken Bentley – CD / Download (Big Finish)
Harry Houdini and the Doctor finally meet in the main range of Big Finish stories for the first time, and it’s just as much fun as you would expect.
Houdini has always been one of those historical figures whose name the Doctor loves to drop on a semi regular basis, but this is only the second time we’ve had an audio story featuring him, (Smoke and Mirrors being the first and part of the Destiny of the Doctors series) but it was certainly worth the wait. John Schwab brings Houdini to life this time around with a great sincerity and has an immediate rapport with Colin Bakers sixth Doctor.
The TARDIS is drawn off course and to Earth during the first World War by dimensional gateways linking Germany to the United States of America. As German spies try to learn the secrets of the world’s greatest escapologist, Harry Houdini, the Doctor and Peri get caught in the middle. But all is not as it seems with the TARDIS crew either, as shifting loyalties and various twists will keep you guessing throughout this fast-paced thriller.
Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant both get to play around with their characters here, kept separated for large parts of the story and each getting to interact with Schwab’s charismatic and adventurous Houdini, and its nice to see them getting to do something a little different. Fiona Bruce, Mark Elstrob and Glen McCready complete the cast and bring this intricate and often darkly funny, yet sensitive story from Steve Lyons to life, making it feel like a much larger story than the small cast list would imply. Bruce’s Mrs Helen Smith has a maturity and complexity that serves as an excellent foil for Baker’s Doctor, and Elstrob and McCready make characters that could be made generic in lesser hands real and alive.
As ever with Big Finish it’s the sound design and music that brings the talented cast’s work to life and makes these such an enjoyable ride. It is never less than convincing and immersive, thrusting you into the middle of the action and never taking you out of it.
Harry Houdini’s War brings this current run of three stories featuring the sixth Doctor and Peri to a close, and it does so with some considerable style and serves as a reminder as to how great a pairing Baker and Bryant are, making you just wish they had more on screen stories and the chance to develop that relationship a little earlier. Much like Houdini himself this is a story that is proficient in many different fields and there is no escaping the fact that it is all the more enjoyable for it. Jeff Goddard