Dumb Waiter

Posted in Audio by - July 01, 2018
Dumb Waiter

Released June 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The prospect of blending different eras of Doctor Who is always an alluring one, allowing familiar characters to experience the most unexpected of circumstances with danger usually at its highest. To Big Finish’s credit, even after some nineteen years of producing Doctor Who audios and with an ever-expanding breadth of continuity to explore, the company has managed to avoid giving into that temptation too frequently to preserve the event status that such an occasion should be. While multi-Doctor stories with concurrent companions are the norm and future or older versions of the Doctor catching up with previous companions after they have left him have worked to great effect, Rob Nisbet with ‘Dumb Waiter’ goes in the less-explored direction of having Leela while traveling with the Fourth Doctor suddenly finding herself transported through time and in the presence of the Second Doctor alongside Jamie and Victoria as all four try to come to terms with the strange occurrences surrounding them.

There have arguably never been two companions more destined to meet each other than the fiercely loyal likes of Jamie and Leela, and though the two have featured in the same story before in The Fourth Doctor Adventures ‘Return to Telos,’ ‘Dumb Waiter’ offers the explosive confrontation that truly makes the most of their unique viewpoints and nuances. With the Second Doctor and Victoria heading off to enjoy a most civilised garden party outside of the TARDIS, Leela suddenly finds herself in a strangely different TARDIS interior populated by unknown individuals after her own Doctor gives her a time ring, ensures she has no Janis thorns on her person, and speaks of an event long ago where most of what he experienced was not real and that he is trying to piece together through three separate accounts. Unsurprisingly unable to comprehend what has happened to her and finding everything that she has come to know in this magic box changed, Leela seeks to gain the upper hand against Jamie, and her narration as she sizes up the warrior before her and uses her instincts to prevail with honour intact captures the essence and energy of the character perfectly.

Quite rightly, even though she knows that Jamie speaks the truth when he says that he has traveled with the Doctor for a long time and will take her to him, Leela remains ever vigilant and wary that she may be walking into a trap, and these two steadfast companions who come from less complicated times soon find that they have much more in common than they might otherwise imagine. Indeed, with the garden party in full swing despite Mrs De Winter’s claims that something isn’t quite right under the watchful gaze of the silent waiter Carlos, both Jamie and Leela instead see only an unkempt forested area with strange tentacled creatures before them. With brief flashes of civility manifesting and one creature taking the form of a vicar, Leela is sure that there is more magic at play, and her assertiveness among this unfamiliarity that she cannot understand takes hold as she stabs the Doctor in the shoulder with what she believes to be a lethal Janis thorn, an act that earns her a repeat battle with Jamie who proves his own loyal tenacity that serves him well against even this most honed and instinctual warrior.

As the Fourth Doctor alluded to, this is a story built upon false pretenses, and the ultimate truth behind the titular dumb waiter, the garden party as a whole, and the reason for why Leela and Jamie saw the truth to varying degrees compared to everyone else who was fully consumed by the illusion is magnificently written and reasoned. During the course of the story, Mrs De Winter proves to be an utterly enthralling character who continues to gain more and more prominence as certain actions and appearances are called into question, and Louise Jameson brings her to life with great effect as the layers are continually stripped away and revealed. Jameson has, of course, perfected Leela over the years as well, and her interactions with the likewise superb Frazer Hines who expertly brings his own TARDIS trio to life are pitch perfect from beginning to end. ‘Dumb Waiter’ is anything but a traditional crossover story, but the grand ideas, danger, and misdirection on display emphasise the uniqueness and the very best of two of the most beloved companions and delivers some surprisingly tender moments as the inner strength of Victoria is revealed in full force to earn her the respect of the most noble savage with whom her own Doctor has yet to cross paths.

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