I’ve already done a brief review of Damaged Goods for CultBox; this is a more in-depth look at this milestone Seventh Doctor story by Russell T Davies, as adapted by Jonathan Morris. As many of you will know, Damaged Goods (1996) was a Virgin Publishing New Adventures story and one of RTD’s few published full-length pieces of fiction.I haven’t read that book, nor most of the range so some of the details in this story are lost on me. Although this title may be initially aimed at the knowing fans from the 1990s, Big Finish will be expecting many new listeners to try it, making me well placed to have an opinion.
The year is 1987 and there’s a deadly new narcotic on the streets of London. As part of their investigations the Doctor and his companions Chris and Roz move into the Quadrant, a rundown housing estate. An ancient alien menace has been unleashed, a menace somehow linked to a local gang leader known as The Capper, a charmed young boy called Gabriel and his mother Winnie, the enigmatic Frei Foundation, and Eva Jericho, a woman driven to the brink of madness.
As London descends into an apocalyptic nightmare, the Doctor must uncover the truth about the residents of the Quadrant and a desperate bargain made one dark Christmas Eve.
This is a trickster Seventh Doctor, scheming as he and his companions investigate bad things happening on the Quadrant Estate. In reality it is a story about 1980s London, the good, the bad and the ugly of Thatcher’s Britain as narrated by Russell T Davies through his East End characters.
First there is a family (the Tylers, a name RTD just likes, not a secret link to Rose) but there is also an alien menace, and a new drug. There is a mysterious medical foundation and a second family, the Jerichos. Both are embodied women – Winnie Tyler (Michelle Collins) is a single-mum doing her best on the estate, while Eva Jericho (Denise Black) is a driven obsessive in a financially well-endowed but sterile marriage. The bulk of the story at the heart of Damaged Goods is driven by the ripples rolling out from their actions.
To fit the central story into the range (and as confirmed in the extras) the Doctor and companions are grafted on top and given an alien menace somehow connected to young Gabriel Tyler. There is more; this menace is connected to some greater theme running across the books – ancient Gallifreyan technology and an equally ancient war. These ideas are all present but not over exposed.
The story brings these somewhat disparate threads together and credit to Jonathan Morris for keeping enough of the book’s many themes while allowing the powerful story of the two families to shine through. The conclusion is satisfying and the scenes where the two female leads meet and clash are very well written / acted and directed (take yet another bow Ken Bentley).
The extras to this disc are very interesting, and RTD’s comments line up with my immediate reactions to the story. The family trauma of selling a child, various twists and confrontation between Winnie Tyler and Eve Jericho is masterful. The various other layers of the story are bolted on in ways that could be removed; in my view the whole alien presence / Tine Lord war / presence of the Doctor add little to an already excellent drama.
Michelle Collins / Denise Black in the scene where the phrase Damaged Goods is used are perfect and the CD is almost worth the price for that scene alone.
The two companions are somewhat generic, Roz Forrester in particular. Chris Cwej does at least retain some of the story arc around homosexuality and the attitudes of the time that feature strongly in the novel (according to other reviews). Obviously readers of the novels would have known who they were and it is an interesting decision by Big Finish not to finesse in any back-story, or to have pre-released (and therefore recorded) relevant other adventures.
Given the quality of the acting I have to conclude we shall be hearing much more of these Seventh Doctor stories and getting to know these new (to audio) companions better.