What a brilliant trilogy of adventures this has been. Kingdom of Lies, Ghost Walk and Serpent in the Silver Mask have been a masterful set of trips for the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, a very underrated team from the television series.
When I first heard that this was going to be a story, I immediately thought Big Finish were doing another story with the Mara. But then my mind went to all the continuity problems – the curse of being a Who fan is that we like our things to be in order – on television, the Mara seemed pretty exorcised in Snakedance. When it reared its ugly head in Big Finish’s Cradle of the Snake, an author other than Marc Platt would never have gotten away with bringing the baddie back. Luckily though, the Mara is nowhere to be seen in this story but there is a rather large snake involved!
When the mining magnate Carlo Mazzini dies, his strange family gather on Argentia, the galaxy’s tax haven for his funeral. They all are expecting a service, music, light refreshment and the reading of the will. None of them expect a murder! With the Mazzini family being picked off one-by-one and Argentia going into lockdown, a group of strangers begin their investigations. The Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan find themselves caught up in the bizarre goings on and they must save the survivors before Argentia is cut off from the rest of the universe forever…
David Llewellyn has created a brilliantly imaginative and wholly original story with Serpent in the Silver Mask. The tale is incredibly engaging and immersive, especially with the whole Mazzini family being played by one man, Samuel West. In an interview Llewellyn said he got that idea from a movie where one actor played an entire family in a situation similar to this one. West proves himself to be remarkably adept at changing his voice or tone with the different family members and his performance seems to give each of them, no matter how brief their time, their own character and history. Whether he is playing a couple of oafish twin teenagers who are designed to be grating, even if it is a slightly unenjoyable parody of how teenagers talk, they are actually quite funny, or a desperate woman whose business is beginning to seriously flounder. Llewellyn kills a number of them off in incredibly dark but humorous ways and it could have all gone wrong had it not been for West managing to anchor them all in a way which allows the mystery of the Mazzini family to unfold in a natural way.
What Llewellyn also manages to do is tap into the Holmesian aspect of the Doctor. He takes that aspect to such an extreme that the Doctor has actually deduced the real murderer long before anyone else, as had I, but he doesn’t tell anyone for ruining what he perceives to be fun. Llewellyn also manages to dispel any notion that the Fifth Doctor should be thought of as the most human and empathic of all his incarnations. His detachment at all the deaths happening around him enforces the idea that he just as alien as any of his previous incarnations. Peter Davison gives a brilliant performance that combines the more alien aspects of the Doctor with the more comedic roots of Davison’s career. The Doctor throws himself into this mystery while also taking a back-seat behind bars to allow his companions to work out what is happening.
And Serpent in the Silver Mask manages to do what the television series never could, give all three companions something to do and something to contribute to the overall plot, particularly as they deal with the mystery differently to the Doctor. All the original performers give their all, Sarah Sutton is brilliant as usual while Matthew Waterhouse seems to finally have settled back into his role as Adric. But this story really gives Janet Fielding as Tegan a moment to shine with her flirtatious relationship with Joe Mazzini.
With Samuel West playing so many characters at once, this story boasts a rather small selection of guest cast members. But those it does include do a good job too. Phil Cornwell features as the sardonic Superintendent Galgo and the robotic Zaleb 5. Sophie Winkleman is suitably stroppy as the secretary, Sophia who had previously worked with Carlo. Both actors help to flesh the story out, particularly as it reaches its rather Scooby-Doo-like conclusion, twisted with the science-fiction conclusion to the set of events.
Upon beginning Serpent in the Silver Mask, it will be glaringly obvious this isn’t a story with high stakes. The steady pace allows things to stay enjoyable the direction from Barnaby Edwards keeps the story enjoyable right up to its conclusion. And while it might seem strange that the Fifth Doctor seems to go against his usual open and caring nature, it is to allow his companions to have a moment in the limelight. They manage to work out the actual mystery. The baddies would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids…
You are cordially invited to Argentia, the galaxy’s most exclusive tax haven, to attend the funeral of mining magnate Carlo Mazzini. The memorial service will be followed by music, light refreshments, and murder!
Carlo’s heirs have come to say their final goodbyes (and find out how much they’ve inherited) but when a masked killer begins picking them off one by one, Argentia goes into lock-down, closed off behind its own temporal displacement field.
Can the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric apprehend the murderer before Argentia – and everyone on board – is forever cut off from the rest of the Universe?
Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Samuel West (The Mazzini Family), Phil Cornwell (Superintendent Galgo / Zaleb 5), Sophie Winkleman (Sofia). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: Guy Adams
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs and Jason Haigh-Ellery