Doctor Who: Crime of the Century Review
It's Time Lord turned Crime Lord! This Lost Story takes us back to the season that never was in 1990.
Back in 1989, the BBC decided to cancel Doctor Who. There were many reasons for this cancellation, most too numerous to go into here, but the most obvious consequence of this in the short term was the abandonment of the upcoming Season 27, which would have seen the team take the Seventh Doctor into further unexplored territory. There were also plans for Ace to leave the TARDIS (this would have been depicted in the previous story in this season, "Thin Ice"), and to introduce a new companion called Raine. So, when Big Finish launched the Lost Stories range, one obvious target were the stories originally planned for Season 27, but never realised. And the second story in the season, "Crime of the Century" introduces new companion Raine Creevy - a wisecracking, upper-class cat burglar, who was envisioned as a strong contrast to Ace's working-class roots. And, like a number of modern companion introduction stories, it is a mad-cap caper, with more ideas than sense, and a bravura sense of pace that never lets up from beginning to end.
Like I mentioned above, the plot for this story is utterly mad, and I would have been interested to see how it would have been realised on screen. In London, safecracker and cat-burglar Raine Creevy breaks into a safe that just happens to contain a strange little man with a question-mark umbrella. In Scotland, an off-the-books facility contains a device not of this world. And in a war-torn Middle Eastern region, a warring prince and an embittered Soviet colonel find themselves besieged by alien warriors known as the Metatraxi... As you can see from the above, "Crime of the Century" is all over the place. It jumps from set piece to set piece, and isn't afraid to go faster than the audience can keep up. This does mean, however, that it is very light on plot, and, as such, any sense of logic is pretty much thrown out of the window. The audience does need to pay attention to this one, because it is very easy to get lost, and perhaps making some concessions to the audience might have avoided making this one seem quite so impenetrable. A lot of the ideas do end up feeling rather disconnected, and I'm not entirely convinced writer Andrew Cartmel has been able to produce a completely coherent plot that flows from A to B. Instead, we jump around different locals like a posh garden party, the east end of London, the war-torn region of Kafiristan and finally a secret facility on the Scottish borders, and, as a result, it ends up feeling more like a double-length episode of The Avengers rather than Doctor Who. This even comes down to new companion Raine. Clearly inspired by Diana Rigg's Emma Peel, Raine is someone who can handle herself in a number of situations: flying helicopters, fighting robots and especially opening safes. While in a similar vein to Ace, she is someone who is rather different, and her relationship with the Doctor is different as a result. Like Benny, her and the Doctor are more like intellectual equals, and, despite their standoffish introduction, they make for a fantastic team. It's a shame she only encounters Ace in the dying moments of the final episode, as there is the possibility for some potentially interesting directions between the two, considering the vast differences between them. Of course, Ace was never meant to be in the original version of this story, and her subplot about being sent off to Kafiristan ends up feeling more like it was designed to get her out of the way, rather than in any way to advance the story. At least it shows off a more mature side to Ace, something that they were planning to implement in future stories.
Like all the best caper stories, this does feature a wide cast of characters, none of whom, beside the TARDIS crew, get any real development. Markus Creevy and Colonel (once Major) Felnikov return from "Thin Ice", and, while it is interesting to see what they have got up to in the 20-odd years since the earlier story, they are essentially interchangeable characters, Felnikov especially so. The rest of the cast are pretty much there to serve the plot, or to bounce exposition off, and, despite the lack of development, they are a mostly fun bunch to be around. The Metatraxi, particularly, are a fantastic creation - a race of mercenaries who are happy to sell their services to the highest bidder, so long as they use the same weapons as their opponents. So, if their enemy fights with swords, they must fight with swords, or if they fight with machine guns, they fight with machine guns. They make for one of the most imaginative foes the Doctor has ever come across, and, while maybe not used to their full potential here, I'm surprised Big Finish have never brought them back in the years since, considering just how interesting an opponent they are. Some of the gags about the translator are quite funny too, and while some do find the 'surfer dude' stuff a bit tiresome, had this been made back in 1990, it's the sort of thing they certainly would have done, and it harkens back to the Russell T Davies era as well, with its penchant for comedy monsters. John Banks give a great performance as the two aspects of the monsters, while Chris Porter and John Albasiny bring both sides in the Kafiristan conflict to life with enough shades of grey so that you're never truly on either side. Ricky Groves is perfect casting as Markus Creevy (I just wish he was in the story a bit more, to be honest). And the leads are wonderful: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and especially Beth Chalmers all gel together wonderfully, bringing the Doctor, Ace and Raine to life. Chalmers, in particular, walks the difficult line of keeping Raine likeable, while still making sure we know her background. Ken Bentley's direction is strong, and, while Simon Robinson's music and sound design isn't some of the finest the company's ever come up with, it does the job of conveying the story. The music isn't too bad (some of Robinson's scores are actively painful), but this one is fairly subtle and lightweight, befitting the tone of the story. It's just a pity it doesn't sound more like the scores of the era of the show this story hails from.
Overall, then, "Crime of the Century" is a little rough around the edges, but don't mistake me highlighting problems for a dislike for the story. This story feels redolent of the era it hails from, warts and all, despite the fact that very little of it was actually created in 1990. It is a full on action caper, with heists, battlegrounds and quips galore. While the Seventh Doctor era is more well known for its meatier material, this bit of light, enjoyable fun is more than serviceable. Introducing a new companion into the bargain, "Crime of the Century" is a mad-cap, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to Doctor Who. If this had been what Doctor Who was going to be like in 1990, then we missed something great. However, thanks to Big Finish, we can, at least, get a glimpse at what it would have been like.
You can purchase "Crime of the Century" as a digital download and collectors edition CD here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-crime-of-the-century-433
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions. Thank you very much for reading.