Doctor Who review: Subterfuge combines a spy story with social commentary

When the Doctor meets Winston Churchill’s new adviser in his election campaign, he has to work against his old friend in Doctor Who: Subterfuge.

Following Dark Universe and The Psychic Circus, Doctor Who: Subterfuge – the last story of this year’s Seventh Doctor trilogy – sees him reuniting with two people he’s very familiar with. The first is Winston Churchill, the iconic Prime Minister he’s helped several times in the past (and in the Doctor’s future, as he learns in this story).

However, he’s rather less pleased to see the other major character in this story: the Meddling Monk. Even worse, he’s Churchill’s advisor during his election campaign in 1945. The Monk wants him to win. However, this is an election that the Doctor knows his old friend has to lose…

That’s the main draw of Subterfuge, and there’s definitely an intriguing story there. But it’s also only half the plot of the audio. The other half explores aliens and spies that have been largely unconnected to the Monk’s current schemes, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to take advantage of the situation when possible. With two distinct plotlines included in this story, how well does Subterfuge work overall?

Doctor Who

(L to R) James Joyce, Sylvester McCoy, Mimi Ndiweni, Ian McNeice, Samuel Clemens and Brian Capron star in Subterfuge.
Image Courtesy Big Finish Productions

Doctor versus Churchill

Writer Helen Goldwyn gives us a spy story with a distinctive sci-fi take. There are thieves, double agents, and traitors throughout Subterfuge. Some of the twists are a little predictable, but it’s still fun to hear a classic Doctor Who take on a post-World War II spy story.

However, Subterfuge is definitely at its strongest when it focuses on the Monk working with Churchill, and the dilemma it creates for the Doctor. Because he knows that his friend has to lose this time. Worse, the Doctor has to work against his old friend to keep history on its right course. It gives us some great scenes between the Doctor and Churchill as a result – scenes that both Sylvester McCoy and Ian McNeice brilliantly perform.

There’s also just the right amount of commentary in the story, too. The Monk believes that the UK would be far better off in the future if it had a leader like Churchill still in charge after 1945. But the Doctor knows that major important changes only happened because Churchill wasn’t Prime Minister. The commentary works well for the historical setting, but it’s also clearly meant to be a reflection of today and the importance of acknowledging Churchill’s flaws as well as his strengths.

While the spy story of Subterfuge is a pretty standard Doctor Who adventure, it’s the focus on the three leads – working both for and against each other – that really makes this audio stand out. With an interesting exploration of the characters by Goldwyn and strong performances by the cast, Subterfuge is another easy audio to recommend.

Next: News: Unmade Fourth Doctor story Return of the Cybermen to be adapted for audio

Which Doctor do you think should meet Winston Churchill next? What period of his life should be explored next in Doctor Who? Let us know in the comments below.

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