The Selachian Gambit

Posted in Audio by - May 23, 2019
The Selachian Gambit

Released February 2012

As The Companion Chronicles returns to the early Second Doctor era with Polly, Ben, and Jamie aboard the TARDIS, ‘The Selachian Gambit’ by Steve Lyons sees the TARDIS immobilized and the Doctor in search of money to pay the fine. Looking to secure a loan from the renowned Galactic Bank nearby, the companions soon find their lives in jeopardy when the nefarious Selachians arrive to plunder the riches within its vault.

This era of the franchise is one that reveled in fun as much as seriousness, and ‘The Selachian Gambit’ certainly provides a more light-hearted backdrop to its heist narrative. With the Doctor unable to complete the loan form because of impossible questions such as his name and address, the more blithe and offbeat tone is set straight from the start, and the Selachians are steadfastly presented as little more than a brute force to put a face to the initial threat that is soon revealed to be a mere fraction of the genuine threat hidden out of sight. These Ockoran soldiers who mutilated themselves to fit into battlesuits with helmets shaped like sharks to intimidate their enemies are undoubtedly a powerful and deadly menace, but instead of solely featuring the Doctor trying to find a way to circumvent the Selachians from accessing the vault while saving the hostages’ lives, Lyons instead brilliantly reveals that the bank has already been robbed and the Selachians are being unwittingly used as part of a massive insurance fraud case that will see them take the blame for the robbery and ultimate destruction of the bank that is in such financial peril. It’s this contrast and subversion of expectations that allow ‘The Selachian Gambit’ to elevate itself beyond a typical heist tale, and the threat of the Selachians accessing the blueprints to G-bombs that will allow them the power to collapse planets inside of black holes is humorously stalled when the Doctor finds his own attempts to access the vault thwarted by the fact that he has not yet set up an account.

With glue bombs and intelligence their only weapons, this TARDIS team sparkles with wonderful characterisation. This is very early in Jamie’s travels and he still wonders at the starry backdrop outside of the bank’s windows, and although he can’t quite work out the nuances of Polly’s plan, his pure emotions are never far from the surface and prove vital to saving everyone’s lives while hinting at the wonderful camaraderie he would come to form with the Doctor. Likewise, although the script initially toys with the idea of Polly’s main use being to make tea, the Doctor uses this sentiment as a guise for her to investigate and form her own opinions about their situation, eventually sending her out of the bank as part of his negotiation process to allow her to truly act unfettered. Even Ben who is so often sidelined in these adventures because of Michael Craze’s passing receives some truly brilliant moments that highlights the trusting relationship he has already developed with Jamie and his genuine importance to this team. Lyons also captures the genuine compassion for his companions as well as the more roguish nature of the Second Doctor who here is so flabbergasted by the inflexibility of machines and bureaucratic nature of banks, and his ability to make light of danger- inadvertently or not- as he picks a most inopportune time to ask the manager for a loan is excellently incorporated here.

Unsurprisingly, Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills are the absolute highlights of ‘The Selachian Gambit’ as they provide a surprisingly robust ensemble of characters from all walks of life that never fails to entertain. This may not be the most revolutionary or hard-hitting story, but it’s directed and paced exceedingly well and provides an immense amount of fun that goes in unexpected but always satisfying directions while perfectly evoking spirit of its intended era.

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