Smoke and Mirrors

The Doctor, Tegan, Adric and Nyssa answer a distress call from Harry Houdini to investigate mysterious goings-on in a 1920s fairground. But an old enemy is preparing to spring a trap…

Tegan actress Janet Fielding performs the script alongside Tim Beckmann as Houdini. When you know from the cover there are only two artists on the CD, it doesn’t take long to figure out when someone has turned up in disguise, but this a short-lived ruse in one scene anyway.
Houdini is a recurring friend of the Doctors from previous unseen adventures, in the same vein of Winston Churchill is. His jealousy and obsessions are as much part of the plot ad the man’s genius. He mentions previous escapades they’ve shared alongside Ben and Polly, then Jo Grant. Given the difficulty the Third Doctor has in remembering the man’s surname in Planet of the Spiders, the latter encounter seems not to have made much of an impression.

Houdini isn’t treated with the unwavering adoration that other real-life characters that have appeared in the television series recently, such as Shakespeare and Van Gogh, have received. His life is looked at beyond the famous escapology, in particular his quest to communicate with the dead. Following his mother’s death Houdini was consumed with trying to making contact with her, coming up with the code-word ‘forgive’ to validate messages from psychics. This in turn led to a mission to debunk spiritualists and mediums. It makes one wonder how disappointed he’d be that people are still falling for the same old tricks from amoral frauds exploiting the vulnerable nearly one hundred years later. Houdini and his wife continued this experiment when Harry died, needless to say to no avail.

I found myself surprised that Adric is a character in this story, as he’s not a character I associate with audio adventures. Writer Steve Lyons has ensured he’s as tactless and know-it-all as his TV persona. When he ends up on a swinging boat fairground ride menaced by a tiger, it brings Life of Pi to mind, but a version in which we’re firmly on the side of the tiger.

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The effects on Nyssa of what happened to her father are explored more than they ever were in the television episodes, which is to say it’s briefly touched upon. In this manner the story finds something for each of the regulars to do. Another solid entry in the Destiny of the Doctor series, with great, in depth characterisation of Harry Houdini.

Purchase Smoke and Mirrors from Amazon on CD:

Doctor Who: Smoke and Mirrors (Destiny of the Doctor 5) (Dr Who)

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