Mask of Tragedy reviewed

mask of tragedyBig Finish releases two main range titles every September, and the first of these for 2014 was the James Goss story Mask of Tragedy. This is the middle story of the current Seventh Doctor / Ace / Hector trilogy. I believe James Goss has had an exceptional few years (eg his work on Bernice Summerfield, Blake’s 7, Scorchies) and has more to come (eg the next Jago and Litefoot).

I wasn’t thrilled by last month’s Revenge of the Swarm; was this a hit or was this one a bit of a tragedy?

The story

First up, the synopsis:

Athens, 421 BC. An ancient civilisation of philosophers and poets and the birthplace of theatre. The Doctor has decided to show Ace and Hector how it all began, with help from the great comedian Aristophanes.

But life in Athens is no laughing matter. There’s the ever-present threat of invasion from the Spartan horde. The plague that turns people into the walking dead. The slavery. The tyrannical rule of the paranoid, malicious Cleon and his network of informers. And the giant flying beetle with knives for wings that stalks the city streets at night.

What Athens needs is a hero. And who better to be a hero in ancient Greece than a man called Hector?

The Doctor brings Ace and Hector to ancient Greece and they soon discover that it is a city tired of aliens and time-travellers where the Doctor is known as a patron of the arts and the people are suffering from a plague – of zombies!

The plot quickly separates the TARDIS crew with the Doctor sitting back letting Hector get more and more dissatisfied with the Doctor’s style of working. Hector takes up an alien artefact, a mask, that boosts mental powers. This might not be the best thing for a person with no real memories whose mind has suffered greatly. Hector takes on the role of the god Dionysus and challenges the rule of Cleon.

Ace has indulged in a round of women’s rights, been thrown out of Athens and left to the mercy of the Spartan army. It turns out these are all female and soon Ace is leading them into Athens.

There follows lots of battle, betrayal and madness until the day is saved (once more) by a fiendishly clever contrivance of the Doctor as he invents light entertainment, puts history on course and even makes a hero of the alien beetle.

The storytelling

A very mixed bag with very good performances from Sam West (Aristophanes), Alisdair Simpson (Cleon) and Philip Oliver (Hector) though some of the Hector / Dionysus lines seemed forced. Ace on the other hand is very poor in this story, sounds much to young compared to Swarm and the whole idea of ramming the use of the chorus in Greek theatre into centre stage was too much for me. Although the idea of mad Athens is amusing I also didn’t like it in a Doctor Who context. The Spartans were also a bit too tongue-in-cheek and I came away very disappointed.

Hector has some strong moments with the Doctor and is admirably named for a play set in ancient Athens. I like the way he questions the whole ethos of the Doctor and Ace rattling around the TARDIS (again).

Apart from that I became more and more disappointed with this story and in many ways was reminded of how I went off the show when it was running in the 1980s. I have my fingers crossed for a step-up in the final part of this, so far unimpressive, trilogy.

Harsh? Let me know!

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