(special thanks to Big Finish for providing me with a review copy!)
Back in 1999, the first Big Finish Doctor Who audio was released. It was called “Sirens of Time,” and featured the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Then in 2001, “Storm Warning” was released with the Eighth Doctor. Everyone who followed the various releases knew that Big Finish had a licence to do audios with what were, at the time, all the Doctors, and so we eagerly waited for something with the Fourth Doctor.
And waited some more.
Finally along comes 2009, and Tom Baker, who had been rather vocal over the years in his lack of desire to return to the series, did a set of talking books for the BBC, reprising the role of the Doctor alongside Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates. These were well received and apparently whetted his appetite, because it wasn’t long before it was announced he would be doing a series of proper audios with Big Finish, alongside such actresses as Elisabeth Sladen, Mary Tamm and Louise Jameson. Sadly, Sladen died before recording, and Tamm’s audios haven’t been released yet, but we do now have the first new adventure with the Fourth Doctor and Leela. It’s been a long time waiting. Does it live up to expectations?
The story begins where fan-favorite “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” left off. A few references are made to that story (something which I’m sure isn’t a coincidence, as Big Finish also have a series of audios centering on the characters of Jago and Litefoot from that story. I’ve not heard any of them, but I hope to soon), and the Doctor (Tom Baker), and Leela (Louise Jameson), then find themselves in 1895, picking up an alien distress signal.
They go to investigate, where they find a dying alien. It turns out that his ship had landed and been taken over by a group of humans who stole it. After the alien dies, the Doctor and Leela head off in pursuit, only to find themselves, somewhat unexpectedly, in the future aboard the Nerva station, previously seen in “The Ark In Space” and “Revenge of the Cybermen“.
At the same time, an unexpected spaceship docks with the station carrying a sinister sergeant (Sam Graham), who insists on shaking hands with the woman who greets him (Tilly Gaunt), causing her personality to change. Soon he gains access to the control center, arriving at roughly the same time as the Doctor and Leela, the latter of whom knows that something is wrong about the man. Things get even more wrong from there when he transforms into a weird alien creature and begins attacking. Everyone flees, and the Doctor knows he needs to get a quarantine message to Earth before it’s too late…
This was an excellent way to start up the Fourth Doctor audio adventures! Picking up from the extremely popular “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and having the action take place on the Nerva station builds a nice sense of continuity with the 1977 era of the series, a sense that’s enhanced by background music that seems almost as though it were lifted directly out of those old episodes.
Baker and Jameson are every bit as excellent as one remembers them being, though both their voices sound a little “off”, particularly Baker who doesn’t sound nearly as deep and commanding as he used to. Given that thirty+ years have gone by since they were in these roles with any regularity, that’s understandable, and I’m sure as time goes on, they’ll start sounding more “correct”.
The writing by Nicholas Briggs is, as usual, quite good. He did a great job of capturing the feel of the era, and an especially good job with the interplay between Leela and the Doctor. The story itself is compelling and interesting, and my only complaint is that it’s surprisingly short. This first release for the Fourth Doctor is only 60 minutes in two parts, which is different from the usual Big Finish standard of 120 minutes in four parts. The upside of that, though, is that you can buy it for only $9, which isn’t bad at all.
I really cannot recommend this story highly enough. It’s a great reintroduction to someone who is regarded by many as the Doctor, and it’s wonderful to have Baker and Jameson back together again. I’m really looking forward to more of these!
(for the curious, this and all future Big Finish reviews will no longer be published on whatculture.com, though you can read my existing ones and all my other articles on that site at this link, and make sure you check in later this week for my review of the Tom Baker lost stories, and next week for the “On the Sofa” big Big Finish special!)