Smoke and Mirrors

Posted in Audio by - December 24, 2017
Smoke and Mirrors

Released May 2013

Destiny of the Doctor shifts its focus to the early Fifth Doctor era with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan all aboard the TARDIS. Answering a psionic distress call emanating from 1920s England, the Doctor soon finds himself reunited with his old friend, Harry Houdini, a celebrity whose name manages even to impress the incorrigible Tegan who only wants to get back to Heathrow Airport in her own time. When Harry expresses concern about the supernatural claims of the local fairground’s fortune teller, the two comrades suspect a familiar alien presence, unaware that a far more sinister foe is hiding in the shadows.

The Doctor has frequently namedropped Houdini during his travels, and so it’s great to finally witness one encounter of what turns out to be a long-lasting friendship spanning regenerations, the Doctor continuing to open Houdini’s eyes to the greater potential and wonders of the universe without ever providing any solid explanation. The dark fairground at night after closing hours provides a wonderful backdrop full of uneasy tension and mystery, and the Ovidsphere that hearkens back to an earlier, unseen adventure with Houdini serves as a fitting plot device to keep Houdini on relatively firm footing and to explain how even a non-telepath can so adeptly read people’s minds. When the Eleventh Doctor intervenes and intimates that the Master is involved and that the Ovidsphere must be saved and returned instead of destroyed, it’s clear that there is far more to this encounter than an indirect influence. Given Houdini’s known ego and paranoia, he makes the perfect pawn for the Master’s bidding via the sphere even as he remains trapped in a collapsing dimension, and it makes sense in a way that Houdini would turn on his friend after revealing so much about his own life but receiving no answers in return, a blunt but poignant look at the frustration of knowing the Doctor.

Though Janet Fielding is the primary performer in ‘Smoke and Mirrors,’ the Doctor and Harry are very much the focus with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan all sharing equally in a supportive role. Nonetheless, she brings all of the characters to life evocatively and captures the burgeoning relationships between this fledgling TARDIS crew well. Tegan is able to explain some of the customs of the time to her friends and develops a suspicion of Houdini immediately when he knows so much about her aunt whom the Master killed, Nyssa is mortified upon hearing the Master’s voice and being taunted that her world is dead and that she has lost everything, and Adric fights the Master’s influence and is able to develop a plan with Tegan to afford their escape. Fielding is a natural narrator and even manages to capture the energy of the Eleventh Doctor more reliably than any other performer in this range so far, but more importantly she deftly captures the compassionate consternation of the Fifth Doctor as he must navigate a request from his future self, the return of his oldest foe, and the betrayal of a trusted friend.

With its perfect encapsulation of the rarely-used companion trio of this era and the appearance of the Master who was so prominent on the programme during this time, writer Steve Lyons has crafted a wondrous ode to Peter Davison’s early tenure with ‘Smoke and Mirrors.’ Though the one-episode format does take away from any cliffhanger moments, there are plenty of emotional thrills to be had as yet another piece of the Eleventh Doctor’s unknown grand plan is put in place.

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