Review: Doctor Who: Big Finish Audio: Novel Adaptations 6: Damaged Goods

DWNA006_damagedgoods_1417Written by Russell T Davies

Adapted by Jonathan Morris

Directed by Ken Bentley

Produced by David Richardson

Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Michelle Collins (Winnie Tyler), Denise Black (Eva Jericho), Georgie Fuller (Bev Tyler), Tayler Marshall (Gabriel Tyler), Richard Hope (Harry Harvey), Daniel Brocklebank (David Daniels), Peter Barrett (The Capper), Robert Duncan (Mr Thomas), Damian Lynch (Scott Delaney)

The Doctor, Chris and Roz arrive in London, 1987, where a deadly new narcotic is on the streets…

Damaged Goods is adapted from a novel in the New Adventures line published in 1996 by Virgin. The New Adventures were one of the lines of novels meant to carry on the series in spirit after its cancellation and were a proving ground for some of the best authors working today. They were also one of the places where the look and feel of new Doctor Who was born and that’s especially true of this story, written by Russell T Davies himself.

From the opening narration, itself cleverly mirrored at the top of the second half, you’re in doubt this is a Davies story. A barely remembered childhood nightmare, the Doctor present in unusual times and places and the weight of time on his shoulders are all established in the cold open. Then, after a new version of the theme tune so great it deserves to be the industry standard, the story really gets underway.

The 7th Doctor travelled with two Ajudicators, essentially police officers from the future. Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej were great foils for the constantly scheming Seven, their pragmatism a neat contrast to his game playing. That dynamic is translated across perfectly here, with Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver doing great work as the two cops. Bannerman in particular is excellent as the methodical, calm Roz and Oliver excels as her more personable, slightly naïve partner. The story shakes out so Roz spends a lot of time verbally sparring with the Doctor and Chris does a lot of the leg work which plays into one of Davies’ biggest strengths; character.

As the three investigate a mysterious, drug related death we’re introduced to the inhabitants of the tower blocks around them. Michelle Collins is excellent as haunted mum Winnie Tyler while Georgie Fuller and Tayler Marshall are even better as her kids, Bev and Gabriel. Fuller in particular helps set the tone of the story and her recollections of events she’s suppressed are genuinely chilling. Likewise, Tayler brings a calm and authority to the role beyond his years that really helps lift the story. That in turn leads into the rich thematic ground that’s Davies’ other strong point. Set in 1987, the story explores class and homophobia intelligently and openly. The scenes between Chris and David are especially nicely done and ground the story in much the same way the Mrs Jericho plot does. This was a dark time for a lot of people in the UK and Davies, and this production, never shies away from that.

That social grounding in turn provides the foundation for a really solid, satisfying Doctor Who story. There’s some well-handled temporal gamesmanship from the 7th Doctor, a meaty and involving detective story and a finale that feels organic and earned not to mention some nice continuity surprises. The amount of people describing what they’re doing is kept to a bare minimum, the characters all have agency and personality and the ending is pragmatic, hopeful and a million miles away from a victorious clean sweep. This is, in the end, a story about damaged people, what they’ll do to fix themselves and the price we all pay.

Verdict: Beautifully adapted and acted, this is one of the strongest releases from Big Finish so far this year. Here’s hoping more adaptations are on the way. And that theme tune sticks around…. 10/10

Alasdair Stuart

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