Definitely one of the odder main range stories of recent time, James Goss’ Mask of Tragedy brings back memories of studying Ancient History at A Level (and even some of my O Level Classical Greek): it’s fair to say that some of the oddest things in this aren’t down to Goss, but to the writers of the time that he’s writing about, notably Aristophanes.
Once again the maturity that Ace has been showing in recent times in the range seems to have been stripped from her – this is the Ace of Remembrance of the Daleks, who shouted “Wimps!” at Skaro’s finest. It’s no doubt been done deliberately to highlight the growing differences between the three time travellers: the story seems to come full circle from the end of Revenge of the Swarm, with Hector once again berating the Doctor for his attitude after having been possessed.
The idea of Athens being a lodestone for time travellers is a good one – I’m a little surprised that we didn’t have some form of gag about another incarnation of the Doctor being around somewhere – and Goss pays homage to the varying tone of the last Greek story (the Hartnell tale The Myth Makers) with the end of episode three, where it all seems to have gone to pot! The Doctor’s concerns about Hector’s participation in history are also a neat idea, and something that perhaps could be explored further.
Samuel West makes a terrific Aristophanes: there are shades of Simon Jones’ Arthur Dent in the writing which he brings out nicely. Ken Bentley has his work cut out to make the artificial elements – the narration by Ace particularly – and the more natural ones combine without either feeling wrong, and on the whole this side of it works. The main cast have to work hard to sell the different aspects of the story – Philip Olivier, in particular, gets quite a few curveballs thrown at him by the script.
If there had been a bit of a gap between the Swarm story and this, the common elements might not have been so noticeable. This may be part of the inherent problem of the main range stories being told in trilogies – I hope to be proved wrong by the finale, but it does feel as if Hector’s final line could as easily have been delivered at the end of Revenge of the Swarm…
Verdict: Some clever ideas in a different sort of Seventh Doctor tale. 7/10