Sometimes you get to the end of a story and think so what? Sometimes you don’t know what you think, not why you think it. In the case of Phil Mulryne’s Fifth Doctor main range story The Contingency Club there are no such problems. It’s a charming, well-told story with much to recommend.
First the product page synopsis:
London, 1864 – where any gentleman befitting the title ‘gentleman’ belongs to a gentlemen’s club: The Reform, The Athenaeum, The Carlton, The Garrick… and, of course, The Contingency. Newly established in St James’, The Contingency has quickly become the most exclusive enclave in town. A refuge for men of politics, men of science, men of letters. A place to escape. A place to think. A place to be free.
The first rule of the Contingency is to behave like a gentleman. The second is to pay no heed to its oddly identical servants. Or to the horror in its cellars. Or to the existence of the secret gallery on its upper floor… Rules that the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are all about to break.
As ever, we have a well created Victorian setting into which the TARDIS drops the crew without so much as a by your leave. To make things worse it then decides to stop working. Cue much misadventure and mystery.
The Contingency Club of the title is noted for many things, and most immediate is the slightly surreal attitude of its members, for example telling Tegan and Nysaa how women are forbidden. Then there’s the servant, or servants if you count all the many dozens (hundreds) of instances separately. Many people are are vying for membership, but there’s a mysterious ceremony to undertake. If this wasn’t enough we have the Red Queen (Lorelei King) who is clearly up to something.
As ever the crew gets split into sub-groups, all the better to explore London and meet people, such as Marjorie Stonegood (Alison Thea-Skot). Meanwhile we learn more about George Augustus (Clive Merrison) and Mr Peabody (Philip Jackson). The club hides a plot, but even if wrapped in some standard tropes, these all seem secondary to the real reason the Red Queen is plotting, and the ending satisfies without getting too over the top.
The whole piece is well balanced and entertains.
If last months The Star Men was all about Adric, this is more about Tegan with still enough for Adric to do for him to feel involved. The Doctor is a presence but not as pushy as he can be in other incarnations. This brings me to the core of why I liked this; on paper it could have been a Seventh Doctor story with some chess playing, dark mysteries and darker London landscape. The choice of Peter Davison’s Doctor made this an interesting listen.
I also smiled at the idea of Edward the omni-present servant(s), played by Olly McAuley and enjoyed his portrayal immensely.
In the end I liked this story enormously, Barnaby Edwards is to be congratulated for the polish he brought in his directing (and casting), and well done all round!