House of Cards

Posted in Audio by - June 28, 2019
House of Cards

Released February 2013

Landing in a futuristic space casino in Steve Lyons’s ‘House of Cards,’ the Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly quickly find themselves surrounded by the thrill of games and fun. But as robot dogs and snake-headed gangsters roam this facility in which time travelers are hunted and arrested, time just might be their only hope fur survival.

In a rather surprising move, ‘House of Cards’ uses the Sidewinder Syndicate from the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor comics adventures as its villains, in the process showing just how cohesively the different eras can coexist. And while there is no attempt to add any nuance to this stereotypically violent threat, these reptile-like beings nonetheless provide a suitable initial peril that helps a first episode that is more or less the TARDIS travelers simply wandering around the casino while watching and trying out different games. This does, at the very least, give Ben who is so often relegated to the sidelines in The Companion Chronicles a moment in the spotlight with his apparent addiction to gambling and insistence that he can turn his luck around, but nothing truly dramatic comes from this in the short term and is instead a vehicle to introduce the mysterious masked woman Hope and an assortment of other fairly one-dimensional characters exemplified best perhaps by a stereotypical American cowboy caricature who makes Ben’s own persistence at the tables seem trivial by comparison.

Fortunately, the drama picks up quite substantially in the second episode when Polly comes into possession of a time travel device that inserts her into the previous events from a different angle, allowing her to uncover the truth behind some of the mysterious occurrences while also ensuring that certain events play out like she knows they should. This aspect features quite well with no glaring gaps in the logic or plot, but while Polly doesn’t change any of the established history given the known consequences of doing so, it also doesn’t resonate quite as profoundly as might be imagined given the immense potential of such a storytelling device and never really matches the intricacy of Lyons’s own previous audios that toyed with time such as ‘Colditz’ and ‘The Fires of Vulcan.’ Instead, the drama very much comes from the glamorous head of the Sidewinder Syndicate and her brutal games of chance that put the players’ very lives at stake, allowing Polly to showcase her utter forthrightness, morality, and ingenuity in spectacular fashion. That the Doctor should ultimately emerge victorious in a means so similar to Big Finish’s own ‘The Raincloud Man’ is somewhat disappointing, but taken by itself the sheer superficiality of a game of cards is an intriguing conclusion to a story that very much retains a more superficial veneer with little deeper exploration.

As usual, there is absolutely no fault with the energetic and engrossing performances of Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines, but an attempt to really get into the inner mindsets of these characters beyond pure wonder, fear, and determination could have resulted in a much more complex and rewarding experience on a personal level. Instead, while ‘House of Cards’ is certainly filled with plenty of glitz and strong visuals, the end result seems more like a sampling of ideas that hold much more potential than is realised here, a rare missed opportunity for a range that is so consistently strong.

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