Since 2010, various on-screen and audio adventures have seen the Doctor meeting and joining forces with his friend, Winston Churchill. Ever since the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond helped stop an invasion of earth from the Daleks, Churchill and the Doctor have been linked. That link can also go back to an old Sixth Doctor book called Players, which sees Churchill during his reporter days.
But ever since then the Doctor has always helped Churchill. Subterfuge does something different, set just before Churchill lost his election after WW2, the Seventh Doctor this time has to make sure his old friend doesn’t win.
What doesn’t help is that his old villain, the Meddling Monk, once again played with relish by Rufus Hound is also hanging around, making sure that Churchill does get into power again. But this is the first in a series of headaches for the Doctor in this story from Helen Goldwyn, as the Doctor soon discovers two aliens being taken advantage of, who just want to go home but have been forced to steal priceless works of art and plant bombs underground in London.
Goldwyn makes sure to keep things interesting in this spy-fi story, which sees plenty of the titular subterfuge through double-agents, art-thieves and traitors all rear their ugly heads. With plenty of twists and turns, most of which stick, there is a small air of predictability about the proceedings, though it doesn’t detract from this being a very fun story.
However, I think this story is at its strongest when it focuses on its three leads. This is the Seventh Doctor when he is travelling alone, something we’ve seen in the past from Big Finish and I would put this somewhere towards the end of his era, much like the Mags trilogy from last year, as well as the Klein trilogy from years back where the Seventh Doctor is trying to wrap up all the loose ends he’s left hanging. He seems genuinely delighted to see his old friend again, and Winston Churchill will be popping up again with the Third Doctor in a few months from Big Finish, though he is dismayed when he discovered what point in his friend’s life he has arrived.
Goldwyn gives a fantastic look at the Seventh Doctor towards the end when Churchill gives an accurate description of this incarnation of his friend, someone who likes to manipulate events, who can’t help themselves but do so. It’s sad to hear this friendship come to an end, but something that the Seventh Doctor needed to hear and Sylvester McCoy handles the script perfectly.
Rufus Hound has been playing The Meddling Monk for the last few years with Big Finish and hasn’t dropped the ball yet. Subterfuge is another strong entry into the Monk’s story as he tries to get Churchill re-elected in 1945. Much of the Monk’s actions allow for Goldwyn to give some commentary on Churchill as a person as well as how the world changed after his failed election campaign and how it might have changed had he been re-elected. Hound proves to be another great addition to the Doctor Who universe.
I saw someone on Twitter moaning about how Doctor Who always paints Churchill in a good light. Goldwyn makes sure she doesn’t do this, instead giving us an adventure which does expose Churchill’s worst aspects, including snuffing the idea of the NHS and his dislike of people from other countries. There can be no denying most of his actions during WW2 helped win the fight against the Nazi’s but his outdated outlook on life rapidly bled away at the end of the war. But it also shows how the Doctor is much more mature than most, befriending people from all walks on life and with different outlooks to others, whether those outlooks be right or wrong.
Since his debut in Victory of the Daleks, Ian McNiece has been great as Churchill and does seem to channel an inner persona of the man himself during this story. I’ve not listened to the Churchill-sets from Big Finish and while this story didn’t inspire me to go and seek them out unless they are in a sale at some point, he still proves to be fantastic in the role and works excellently with Hound and McCoy and you’ll be hard-pressed not to feel sorry for him in the end, especially when he realises the man he thought his friend has betrayed him.
With the espionage elements of the story feeling rather standard for a Doctor Who story, where Subterfuge succeeds is in Goldwyn’s handling of the Doctor, Monk and Churchill. And the betrayals from all three characters keep things feeling fresh and interesting to listen too. While Subterfuge might not be the strongest Big Finish story for me to come out so far this year, it’s still another audio that’s incredibly easy to recommend!