Last weekend I was invited to Glasgow for a 50th birthday party. In the wake of a No vote to Independence, it felt a lot like a wake. Today, it seems the bolstered UK has found £3 billion for war while the Elgin foodbank is still accepting donations. It feels as if escapism is more necessary than ever in this jingoistic culture.
With some irony then, the current Dr. Who series, with a Scottish leading man and Scottish show runner, struggles somewhat to fire me with enthusiasm. The Robin Hood episode was an insubstantial romp while Moffat’s portentous Listen was merely a soap romance wrapped round a saccharine glimpse of the Doctor’s childhood. Only last week’s cartoony Time Heist – a bizarre tribute to Hustle with a Dickensian message – managed to entertain and that,in part, due to a throwaway cameo of Abslom Daak.
So what of the recently completed series of single-disc Fourth Doctor audio adventures, starring Tom Baker and Lousie Jameson as Leela? Are they boom or bust?
The season began with The King of Sontar: a Time Lord mission for the Doctor as he encounters the eponymous potato-head. A genetic anomaly, Sonataran super-soldier Strang plots universal domination.
John Dorney’s story is a cliched plodder, despite the presence of David “Silver” Collings but it did introduce friction in the relationship between Four & Leela.
White Ghosts: Alan Barnes delivers a Base Under Siege story on a planet which experiences a single’s day’s light every 1000 years. It begins as a Triffids-style story then descends into a genetically-engineered vampire adventure. Four is also quite ruthless. Confused and unsatisfying.
The Crooked Man: John Dorney’s creepy play of “Imaginary Fiends” in a wintry seaside town. A baby is menaced rather distastefully in a story that, while it has roots in the Patrick Troughton era, felt more suited to BF’s Dark Shadows range.
The Evil One: the first of a trio of vanilla adventures from Nicholas Briggs. The Master, posing as Inspector Efendi ( oh, COME ON), turns Leela against Four. There are some giant insect aliens on a space cruiser named the Moray Rose ( from an Irish folk song, rather than any horticulture up here). Slight.
Last of the Colophon: Jonathan Morris delivers the most eerie and atmospheric story in the series but it’s still basically a retelling of The Invisible Man. Gareth “Blake” Thomas plays the sinister, crippled Morax.
Destroy the Infinite: a gung-ho (gung Who?) adventure by Briggs, recounting the Doctor’s first chronological encounter with the gaseous Eminence and its Infinite warriors. I listened to it on Nairn beach. Can’t remember much about it at all except it sounds very RP. I wish the Eminence were the Embodiment of Gris referenced in The Daleks Master Plan.
The Abandoned: a claustrophobic but wearingly self-indulgent fantasy originated by Louise Jameson herself. A disturbed and omnipotent Time Lady- prisoner but formerly part of the original crew of the Tardis – unleashes her imaginary friends on Leela and Four. Ironically, too actorly for me.
Zygon Hunt: This story captures the haunting Geoffrey Burgon chamber music soundtrack to tv’s Terror of the Zygons . On an alien planet. A party of roistering, futuristic knights on safari is infiltrated by the eponymous shape-changing monsters. Briggs’ third disc is, again, very predictable but a rather comforting story for that very reason.
For me, aside from some of the incidental music, many of the 4th Doctor Adventures sound like impressions or imperfect recollections of TB’s era. That said, they’re probably more authentic than Paul Magrs’ whimsical confections for AudioGo.
However, unlike the Eighth Doctor series with Sheridan Smith ( or the inexplicable award winner, Dark Eyes), the Fourth Doctor’s life was clearly mapped out on tv. There is a gap between the departure of Leela and Romana’s assignment- and possibly a small space when she too left-but BF’s policy is not so much to plug gaps but to evoke a period. And it isn’t convincing in the main, largely because of the ageing voices of the principals.
Most of these discs are undemanding, if unoriginal, fare for Dr. Who fans. A few would be recognisable, faithful tributes if you were at all familiar with the mid-70s series. Essentially, they all represent the ” heritage industry” arm of the endlessly productive Big Finish machine.
There is an imminent box set based on story ideas proposed by mid-70s producer Philip Hinchcliffe. I will check it out but I’m not very hopeful.
Coming soon: Titan Comics’ new Dr. Who titles; Secret Origins of DC Super Heroes; and Multiversity.
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