What’s it about: Ford's Theatre, Washington. Friday, 14th April, 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The place, the date and the event which made history. Or did it? Someone has been tampering with time, muddying the waters of history for his own purposes. Time itself is out of joint and the chief culprit is the enigmatic Doctor Knox. Somehow the Doctor and Evelyn must put history back on track before the future dissolves into chaos. But Knox, it turns out, may be the least of their worries
Softer Six: His gear makes Oscar Wilde look positively passé, it might be all the rage in Piccadilly but folks in America will take him for a theatrical. Knox hopes the Doctor wont be adopting his usual tedious high moral tone but I think that’s a given. Literary criticism is not his forte. The Doctor tries to rouse some interest in Booth’s murder outside the theatre but they think he is just another street corner huckster promoting a show. Knox suggests the Doctor with his towering intelligence could easily work out why he stayed behind after the crime was committed but hilariously every explanation he thinks of is dismissed. We haven’t had witty interplay in the main range that is infused with such mutual distrust and hotheadedness since The One Doctor and when Knox tells the Doctor he must find the controls of his obviously superior TARDIS baffling I was just waiting for the fireworks! He wont fiddle with the timelines further on the grounds that Knox has already started it. The Doctor has a stronger stomach than you might think thanks to Alton Towers! The Doctor was lured here by Knox who wanted to make sure that history didn’t drift too far off course whilst he handled his nasty business with the Indo. If a Time Lord were to give up control of his body to the Indo then all of history’s horrors would be there’s to feed on. I love the fact that the Indo are defeated by the Doctor in such an effortless and theatrical flourish its like they were hardly a threat in the first place.
Learned Lecturer: Evelyn is amazed that they have landed on Earth again and once again showing off her expertise she can name any number of historical events in any chosen year. Over the years having to explain why they have shown up in the middle of nowhere doesn’t get any easier. Evelyn made me crack up with her delicious double entendre when told she will get a taste of Tommy truncheon and she replies ‘I’ve never heard it called that before.’ Evelyn doesn’t understand why the Doctor wont save Clara from a lifetime of misery because of some mythical adherence to the Web of Time and when he blames her for missing their ride in Knox’s TARDIS because she was gassing she has had enough and stomps off. I really enjoyed how Evelyn came to the conclusion that sometimes she is a very stupid woman on her own when she tried to talk Clara out of associating with Knox and realised that she read the situation all wrong. If the Doctor doesn’t come back Evelyn will be busking on street corners and collecting with a tin. As a historian Evelyn feels as though she should witness the Lincoln’s death but is convinced otherwise by the Doctor.
Slimy Snake: I welcome the return of the divine Leslie Phillips back as Dr Knox because he made such an instant impression in Medicinal Purposes and created one of the most charming and oily villains we have experienced in an age. He’s back on top form in this tale, posing as Oscar Wilde with his ‘devastating, isn’t it?’ wit! His elderberry cordial is a trifle tart on the tongue but he still knocks it back with a cry of ‘bums up!’ He’s travelling around in a magicians travelling box. He’s become something of a temporal plagiarist, plucking greatness from history and adopting it for himself. Only Knox could slaughter a man with the dry epitaph of ‘he was a dreadful actor anyway.’ His plan to save Abraham Lincoln from assassination is naturally fuelled by a desire for money and he has wonderful visions of the two of them heading around the world charging for a performance of the Gettysburg Address. As he pulls the wool so spectacularly over Ford’s eyes he comments ‘truly some mothers do ‘ave ‘em!’ Sticks and stones will break his bones but alliterations will never hurt him. Midlife? He must be older than Methuselah and his breath is like a Labrador with halitosis! I was laughing my head of as Knox, poisoned by his own cordial, finds the music in the TARDIS elevator very jolly and sings along despite himself! Only Knox could sound so smug even in death and his parting message for the Doctor is gorgeous! If the entities have been truly defeated there is only one person who could possibly have inhabited Pops’ body and broken the lock…Knox! Make sure you listen on after the closing theme tune as we catch up with Knox in Pops’ body…passing himself off as Arthur Conan Doyle!
Standout Performance: The Baker/Stables/Phillips triumvirate made me laugh my head off on many occasions. What a shame we wont have any more adventures with this three.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Ah Dr Smythe! Such an expected pleasure…’
‘If Booth’s dead whose going to kill the President?’
‘Of course he shall need some new material…’ ‘Lincoln’s ‘We shall fight them on the beaches?’ ‘Lincoln’s Ich Bin Ein Berliner?’ ‘Lincoln’s Lonely Hearts Club band?’
‘Can the Can-Can will you? It doesn’t suit the ambience!’
‘Hang on, he’s not a policeman? What’s he doing with handcuffs?’
‘Every star turn needs an understudy…’ – Knox manages to insult the Doctor, even in death.
‘I hope the evening goes with a bang.’
Great Ideas: The Importance of Being Earnest…only good enough as a door stop? Of all the explanations as to how the TARDIS manages to sneak itself into places it couldn’t possibly fit I have never heard one as logical as the fact that it might be collapsible! Time abhors this sort of anomaly and if Booth doesn’t kill Lincoln then somebody else with a similar passion will be prompted to do so. Knox makes a very interesting point about people whose lives are ruined same time as their more famous counterparts – nobody ever remembers them because of the have been overshadowed by the events that are remembered by history. Parker planning to dress up as Booth and assassinate the President (given he has already written his confession and all) is a wonderful get out clause for the story and as usual its all about money. Which is then trumped by the even better notion that Booth is reanimated by corpse rising aliens and is influenced into killing the Big Chief. Which is dismissed when Booth is revealed to be alive after all! I love how this story twists and turns with such delightful frequency. The flu virus that Knox was infected with in Edinburgh (see Medicinal Purposes) left him with only one course – to make a deal with a creature who could keep him going after death. The same creatures the Doctor and Evelyn faced in Brighton (in Pier Pressure), the Indo. The creature that sustained Knox was found on Mercury trapped in a crater of congealed iron magma and he promised it one of his magical history tours if it kept him alive. The Booth Experience – the chance to get inside the head of one planet Earth’s most notorious assassins. These creatures cling like barnacles to human tragedies drawn by their hunger for misery and pain. Knox contaminated Booth with an extract of iron as well as poisoning him so when the creature took over its body it would be trapped there like the one inside his TARDIS.
Audio Landscape: Church bells ringing, riots on the street, a lovely dizzying dematerialisation sound, ticking grandfather clock, the sultry voice of Knox’s time travel capsule, his TARDIS has a brilliant dematerialisation sound of its own, electrocuting the beast in Knox’s TARDIS (‘Frying tonight!’), heartbeat, Lizzie smacking a bottle of whiskey over Parker’s head, street scenes.
Musical Cues: Martin Johnson’s score for Assassin in the Limelight is a revelation after the quiet undertones of The Condemned and the atmosphere depleting whinings of Haunting. He guides you through this story and really drives home the importance and drama of the prevention of historical events. During the scenes in Knox’s TARDIS we go from CanCan to gothic organ playing to mysterious alien abduction music in one scene – it’s a remarkably versatile score and no mistake.
Isn’t it Odd: The blasé way that episode three’s cliffhanger is dealt with is almost admirable if it wasn’t such a cheat.
Standout Scene: Knox recounting the President’s assassination is dramatically brought to life by Barnaby Edwards and his actors. Booth being a terribly good actor and faking his own death is the one option that nobody thought was possible!
Notes: Ross is clearly a fan of Talons of Weng-Chain (aren’t we all?) because he not only mentions Six Guns Sadie and her troop but there are other nods to the verbose style of Henry Gordon Jago throughout. Indeed I think Ross would provide a pretty unique tale for that particular spin off.
Result: I think its easy to say that you don’t like a Robert Ross script after Pier Pressure but Assassin in the Limelight has an unfair reputation because it flaunts a superb premise (what if Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was killed before he committed the act?), a witty script (pop back up to Sparkling Dialogue and some the dialogue quoted in the character sections), a talented cast (the Colin Baker/Maggie Stables/Leslie Phillips combination is once again gold) and another knockout production from Barnaby Edwards. I’m a huge fan of Ross’ verbose, colourful style of writing which only works when it is tethered to a strong, fast moving narrative (which is where Pier Pressure fell down) and this tale skips along at a fair old pace with plenty of fun incident. For his first foray into the main range lets give a huge round of applause to Martin Johnson who provides the best score in ages and conjures up some wonderfully evocative locations. Assassin in the Limelight mixes drama, comedy and time travelling madness together with some skill and I spent most of the story with a big smile on my face especially when things get giddily complicated in the last episode. I honestly cannot understand the ambivalence about this release, I found it thoroughly enjoyable to listen to: 8/10