The Caged Assassin

Posted in Audio by - June 15, 2024
The Caged Assassin

Released June 2024

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The trio of the Fourth Doctor, Harry, and Naomi venture into the bizarre as a radiation-dosed tiger in the TARDIS represents the most normal component of their latest adventure as they cross paths with Charles Jamrach and his associates in Matthew Sweet’s ‘The Caged Assassin.’

So often, the fantastical nature of true history and events far exceeds that of any fictionalized event, and Sweet taps into the utterly unusual and almost unbelievable true life of this famed supplier of exotic animals and- even more importantly- of poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his odd obsession with wombats to magnificent effect. Rossetti is a man who has a keen interest in animals of all sorts, and the true stories featuring armadillos, raccoons, and more paint a uniquely quirky picture of this man that becomes all that much stranger as the fact that he dug up his wife’s body in order to regain the many unfinished poems he had buried with her becomes known. There is, of course, a tremendous backstory and various complex emotions stemming from those events that cannot be touched upon here as the story very much tries to remain in the present, but Sweet’s script as well as Mark Gatiss’s performance create a resonant and rounded character whose own brand of madness still retains a certain intelligence and a connection to the world around him.

Unfortunately, the choice to step outside of the basically true world of Rossetti to tie these events into an alien invasion works against the overall narrative. The powerful charisma of Gatiss and the oft-unexpected turns of Rossetti’s life provide more than enough material to capably sustain this story with the Doctor and his friends simply reacting to the parade of strange occurrences, accounts, and characters before them. While the allure of centring a story around the wombats in understandably an enticing one even if just as a means of heightening the absurd, the result is a rather middling tale of revenge that never quite sells the stakes and extreme dangers it insists that this area and, indeed, all of Earth will soon be facing. Part of this is down to the vocals of the wombats which- perhaps understandably- fall in line with a certain famed trio of chipmunks, but it’s more down to the fact that the leads never fully take this threat seriously even as the devastating effects of the alien technology are shown and proven. The Fourth Doctor, in particular, is always one to inject a certain charming levity to distract from dangers and to at times gain an advantage over his unsuspecting foes, but the absurdity of Rosetti’s life as a backdrop along with a succession of rather flippant and disregarding comments about the nefarious scheme mean that the threat never truly becomes tangible or visceral. As a result, despite suitably engaging lead performances from Tom Baker, Christopher Naylor, and Eleanor Crooks, no truly standout moments for the characters manifest as the many farfetched layers of reality around them continue to expand and intersect. ‘The Caged Assassin’ has plenty of strong moments, but these are all when dealing squarely with Jamrach and Rossetti in what probably should have remained a true historical given the truly fascinating history ripe for even further exploration.

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