Released June 2014
In 1770 France, the famed Doctor arrives at the estate of the Marquise de Rimdelle, a one-time socialite who now finds herself a prisoner of sorts within the strange mist that lingers around her lands. Yet as the Doctor talks to a man trapped behind the estate’s cellar walls and Nyssa- as the Doctor’s ward- talks to the Marquise’s niece, the truth surrounding the mystery of the mechanical Steamroller Man waiting in the mist becomes deadly important.
‘Masquerade’ is in the strange position of truly introducing and doing something meaningful with Hannah Bartholomew who has joined the TARDIS after two strictly average stories and two rather minimal appearances, but writer Stephen Cole wisely doesn’t dwell on the character too much at the expense of his own story. While ultimately her association with the Order of the Crescent Moon earlier doesn’t necessarily pay huge dividends, she does at least flesh out the group and, in the process, herself to relatively good effect. Though she does prove herself as very firm of mind and conviction by the time of her harrowing sacrifice, which notably does not preclude potential further adventures with the character in the future, there just wasn’t enough time dedicated to Hannah in this trilogy- and especially in this plot-heavy story- to create the deep sense of empathy and compassion that Big Finish likely intended.
Several of the recent Big Finish Doctor Who stories have followed a fairly traditional outline, but ‘Masquerade’ gloriously breaks free from its peers with something altogether more mysterious and intriguing. While the idea that this land is artificial with nothing beneath its soil is cleverly introduced, and the concept of the Steamroller Man credibly chilling, the underlying reason for this entire story and these events is extremely clever as well. The advent of Shadowspace, a realm in a pocket dimension that allows humans to achieve lengthy space travel by shunting their consciousnesses into living avatars in order to relieve the stress of warp mechanics and other factors involved, taps into science fiction in a manner most unexpected given the cover art and initial setting for this story. More intriguingly, though, is the Doctor’s blame in causing a systems crash by landing his TARDIS, accidentally giving rise to the Steamroller Man as a normal tool within the system for corruption removal that has grown to remove absolutely everything from the system, including its occupants. With a chilling story of plague in real space added to events, ‘Masquerade’ completely subverts expectations and offers immensely intriguing plot twists and developments at a consistent and satisfying rate.
‘Masquerade’ has to be considered a triumph, a breath of fresh air in a range that has supplied fewer and fewer surprises at its audience in recent months. With a gripping tale that continues to swerve in unexpected directions and a fantastic central conceit, ‘Masquerade’ is a strong conclusion to this Fifth Doctor and Nyssa trilogy that firmly adhered to average for its first two tales. Although Hannah still doesn’t make as much of an impact as probably intended due to the nature of her introduction and handling earlier, and though the Steamroller Man could have had a more sinister and engaging voice, this is a tale that showcases everything Doctor Who can creatively be, evoking mystery, intrigue, and tension from beginning to end.