Harry Houdini’s War

Posted in Audio by - September 19, 2019
Harry Houdini’s War

Released September 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The latest trilogy featuring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant draws to a close with Steve Lyons’s “Harry Houdini’s War,” a thriller set upon the bleak backdrop of World War I that develops the idea from television, from prose, and from ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ in the Destiny of the Doctor audio series that the Doctor in his many faces has crossed paths with the famed escapologist on several occasions. As the Doctor trails a Central Powers spy ring and the alien technology somehow in its possession, Houdini’s yearning desire to fight for his country takes him farther afield than he could have ever expected while discovering that friends and foes are not so easily discerned.

The setup and premise of this story is immense as Peri has already been captured when the Doctor careens into Houdini’s show while in pursuit. With the two quickly allying due to their previous time spent together, it soon becomes clear that the threat resulting from this espionage is much more than anything Houdini could have anticipated with advanced machinery and tears in the fabric of reality posing the genuine and immediate threat that the Central Powers could achieve total victory in an instant. Shockingly, the Doctor seems to be helping the presumed enemies at every turn, calling into question everything Houdini believes to be true and resulting in several tests of his own remarkable abilities that themselves seem to be otherworldly. Although the story does perhaps focus on too many set pieces that create something of a disjointed pacing, the story spanning the globe and beyond is filled with intrigue and visuals that make the most of its protagonists and manage to elevate even its overly familiar and sometimes generic antagonistic threat to something quite memorable.

While it is unfortunate that Tim Beckmann could not return to voice Houdini once again, John Schwab ably steps into the role and presents an extremely confident and charismatic man whose own ego is supported by his assuredness that he must not today since Peri knows of him as well as by his keen ability to piece together bizarre fragments of information into a shrewdly observant whole that often extends beyond his own realm of experience or anticipation. He forms an easy chemistry with both Baker and Bryant that maintains a sense of grounded realism as events continue to become anything but, and the idea that Houdini may one day travel in the TARDIS as a full-fledged companion is as enticing as ever following the character’s strong showing here. Though framing this story through the perspective of Houdini is an undoubted highlight, however, the decision to set this tale later in the companionship of the Sixth Doctor and Peri does lessen some of the impact of Houdini shrewdly picking up just how different this incarnation is compared to the others he has met. With genuine questions arising about where the Doctor’s loyalties lay and the extent to which he will go to emerge victorious, these are notions that could have carried even more impact had they been raised alongside a younger Peri likewise coming to terms with the Fifth Doctor’s transition into the brusquer Sixth. Still, this remains an effective reminder of just how distinct each Doctor is despite the obvious familiarities interlinking them, and the Sixth is a fitting incarnation with which to toy with expectations through an acquaintance’s eyes.

“Harry Houdini’s War” is certainly entertaining and filled with plenty of thrills and character moments that provide plenty of highlights, and having the story unfold more or less through Houdini’s viewpoint proves to be a successful undertaking that emphasises just how differently the Doctor’s actions can be taken under certain circumstances. Still, there was a slightly more impactful story that could have been told with a different chronological placement, a more condensed running time, and a greater focus on the severity of its haunting setting, and the end result is a slightly unbalanced tale that makes wonderful use of its leading trio while being unafraid to portray events from a unique angle.

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