"On the planet Cray, it's game time...
"The Gora and the Lineen are set to face off it the grudge match to end all grudge matches. The players are limbering up, the commentators are preparing, the fans are daubing themselves in their own team's colours.
"The arena is set, and the kick-off is approaching.
"When the Doctor and Nyssa arrive, however, they find that naxy is a sport that anyone can play... whether they want to or not. Cray's entire future depends on the match's outcome, but the time travellers soon realise that it is anything but just a game..."
"The Game", by Darin Henry, is a brave attempt by Big Finish Productions at a six-part story for Peter Davison's fifth Doctor. Thankfully, the story's six episodes each run at a trim twenty minutes, meaning that the story doesn't have time to sag around the middle like many of the televised six-part stories of the 1960s and 1970s tended to do.
Aside from its six-part format, "The Game" is most notable for the guest appearance of William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton opposite William Hartnell's first Doctor, as Lord Carlisle, a famed negotiator who is credited with the peaceful resolution of numerous bloody wars, but who seems strangely ill-at-ease with the negotiation he is about to undertake on Cray, and who claims that the Doctor is his best friend when the Doctor is certain that he and Lord Carlisle have never met.
The Doctor / Lord Carlisle storyline, which comes to a rather affecting and very well-played conclusion in the sixth episode, is, however, rather more of a subplot to the alpha story, which revolves around the game of naxy, a bloody sport that is costing the lives of thousands of Cray's people in something very akin to a civil war. The Doctor fails to realise at first exactly what naxy is, and quickly finds himself roped into playing the fatal game. After witnessing the slaughter of hundreds of Lineen players, the Doctor takes it upon himself to put an end to the sport, and turns to Lord Carlisle for assistance, but the famed negotiator seems strangely ineffectual and unable to help.
Aided by the ever more likeable Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Peter Davison and William Russell put on a star turn in a disturbingly credible send-up of traditional team sports, and the sort of future that could arise if fan hooliganism is allowed to continue unchecked. Many of the minor supporting characters are exactly the kind of people one would find orbiting such a high-profile and brutal sport, from the "honourable" coach to the manipulative criminal mastermind, and all are well cast and played. The casting of real-life football / Robot Wars commentator Jonathan Pearce as naxy commentator Garny Diblick is worth a laugh and adds a degree of authenticity to the combat scenes, in which the action is primarily described in commentary form (a great move by the writer and director). The only spanner in the works is the performance of Ursula Burton as Ambassador Faye Davis, Lord Carlisle's assistant, whose voice sounds like a flat, monotonous version of the fifth Doctor's later companion Peri, and whose performance is almost entirely superficial.
The sound design in "The Game" is absolutely stunning, on par with Big Finish's finest work, and in conjunction with the good script and generally enthusiastic performances of the cast, rounds off what is a very well-balanced Doctor Who production.