Sometimes a main range title comes along that just makes you wish Big Finish could pop back in time and write for the TV series as it was transmitted. John Dorney’s The High Price of Parking is one such story. It’s a Seventh Doctor tale with the newly reunited Ace and Mel, a pairing that never had an onscreen season of stories. Listening to this story makes you realise just what’s been missed.
Welcome to Parking!
If the title isn’t enough to give a hint of the story to come, the product page synopsis has this to add:
The planet Dashrah is a world of exceptional beauty. Historical ruins; colourful skies; swirling sunsets…
Unsurprisingly, it’s a major tourist trap. So if you want to visit Dashrah, first you’ll have to visit Parking, the artificial planetoid that Galactic Heritage built next door. Parking, as its name implies, is a spaceship park. A huge spaceship park. A huge, enormous spaceship park.
When the TARDIS materialises in Parking’s Northern Hemisphere, the Doctor, Ace and Mel envisage a quick teleport trip to the surface of Dashrah. But they’ve reckoned without the superzealous Wardens, and their robotic servitors… the sect of the Free Parkers, who wage war against the Wardens… the spontaneously combusting spaceships… and the terrifying secret that lies at the lowest of Parking’s lower levels.
Plenty of ingredients as the TARDIS team are exposed first to the wardens, then various sects of so-called lost tribes who inhabit the planetoid. Even though the story gives away the identity of one of the antagonists almost at once, it doesn’t matter, as, like the Doctor, we need to understand this society and those within it. Yes there’s a deep mystery and a menace, but there’s also great story telling and characters with nuance and credible motives. The story may give away some of the who but reveals the why in careful stages before reaching a crescendo.
It’s not just about character, but about action. The story eventually separates the players (as it must) giving Mel, Ace and the Doctor a thread each and several key scenes. Mel gets to gain the trust of the Head Warden Cowley (Gabrielle Glaister) via her computer skills, while Ace gets to work with the lost tribes and the sect of Free Parkers. Ace gets the most dramatic scenes as she tries to head off armed conflict. The Doctor meantime has the little matter of a missing TARDIS to deal with as he begins to understand the motivations of Deputy Warder Kempton (the excellent Hywel Morgan). He too gets to shine as he offers a last chance of redemption to his enemy.
The production is crisp and the performances just the right side of ironic comedy but very serious where they need to be. It’s a very authentic story from the era, touching on a bit of politics, religion and even having a prod at bureaucracy. Although a bit crazy (and I give you The Happiness Patrol for reference), there’s a clever story in here and it asks several questions while entertaining.
Most of all, as I said at the start, it also shows how well this team might have worked had it been able to at the time, had Mel been given a decent chance to shine. Perhaps fans needed the passage of years.