‘The Crime of the Century’
In 1989, Doctor Who felt like a program on the brink of greatness. The scripts were dynamic, the Doctor and Ace one of the best pairings in the show’s history and the tone had become far more sophisticated than it had been in a very long time. Sad thing is, it was cancelled in ’89. However, the 27th series was planned and scripts were in motion. Some scripts were further along than others, this one existed solely as an opening scene in which a cat burglar finds the Doctor contorted within a safe. Cartmell’s new idea for a companion was Raine Creevey, a cultured lady with the background of a London hood. It’s a great concept, but the execution of this story leaves a lot to be desired. That said, it also feels quite accurate to what would have appeared on screen had the story made it past cancellation.
Once free of the safe, the Doctor and Raine escape a pack of security dogs and make a quick getaway using coarse ground black pepper. Raine leaves the Doctor to his fate and waits for her mystery employer… who of course is the Doctor. The pair team up to battle an insurgence of unknown creatures called ‘demons’ by the locals who threatens both sides of a conflict in the Middle East. While the Doctor and Raine collect their resources, a stash of valuables and a sentient Martian sword, Ace becomes something of a mercenary, acting on her own to recruit a Russian army with crates of Vodka.
The Crime of the Century picks up the mantle from the previous adventure Thin Ice, as we once again meet Markus Creevy, a good deal older than he was in the 1960’s, ruefully wounded by the economic collapse of 1989. The Doctor explains that it’s just economics, but Markus is convinced that it was an inside job, ‘the crime of the century’ he calls it. Raine and her father have a strained relationship but are forced to work together in order to save the human race and pull off the most impressive snatch and grab job ever.
Of course the insurgence is alien in origin, but the Doctor has a plan, a very convoluted one that involves the fencing champion Prince Sayf Udeen and the Martian blade. The aliens are a noble warrior race (where would we be without these stick aliens?) who only fight the opposition with equal force. Fire a gun at them and the will return in kind, pull a sword and they will resort to the blade. Combining a living weapon with a skilled swordsman seems to be the best idea possible and with all of his chess pieces lined up, it looks like the 4 part story will be two parts after all.
It all goes pear-shaped when the Doctor and Ace actually meet up and Sayf Udeen is killed by a ricocheted bullet. Sure that their number is up, Ace asks the Doctor if he has a back-up plan, and he begins to explain the basics of fencing. It’s a great moment but unfortunately, the story itself crumbles under its own weight as alien weaponry, a top security facility in Scotland and the goofy Russian Colonel Felnikov from Thin Ice are all squeezed in to an adventure already brimming with subplots. I half-expected the Martian motorcycle gang to show up at any moment.
There are so many characters, locations and situations that it’s like hearing about a Bond movie through third hand descriptions. Even though I am disappointed that Chalmers is given such a dog’s dinner of a script to work with, I will say in its defense that Beth Chalmers is instantly likable as Raine Creevy. Her dialog is pointed and intelligent and she trades quips with the Doctor so well that the 1989 cancellation becomes all the more painful. I look forward to hearing more from her in the two remaining stories and of course the upcoming UNIT: Dominion box set co-starring Sylvester McCoy and Tracey Childs as Elizabeth Klein.
I was also happy to hear that Sophie Aldred was in fine form in this story. I was frankly disappointed with Ace in earlier audio adventures as she did a lot of screaming and getting all worked up, but in this story she is pitch perfect Ace. Separating her from the Doctor was an inspired decision that makes her abandoned education on Gallifrey a bit easier to accept. In Crime of the Century, Ace is a much richer and more fully formed character, and that is likely due to the fact that Andrew Cartmell who script edited all of her stories on screen wrote this one. In fact, Cartmell excels at making the Doctor and Ace so wonderfully enjoyable, even while the story falls to pieces.
The warrior race of Metatraxi are rather dire and also become the victim of a bad joke when the Doctor meddles with their translation devices, causing them to take on the vocalizations of a stereotypical surfer dude. It’s very painful and the joke never really goes away. The rest of the humor is quite good and aside from Colonel Felnikov appearing for no reason that I can understand, the characters are all lots of fun.
And that is precisely why this story retains a quality of bizarro nostalgia. It feels almost exactly like a 1980’s Doctor Who story, with far too many ideas and plot threads, rushed explanations and action that the production team could never hope to realize. I honestly felt like I was watching a missing Doctor Who story when listening to this one and that is a high accolade in my opinion.