Following a WWII pure historical The Night Witches and the futuristic mining action of The Outliers, season four’s packed TARDIS of Ben, Polly and Jamie arrives in the Victorian era for The Morton Legacy.
Not that this is where the Doctor intends to be, as the first episode treats us to a lovely introductory sequence where Ben and Polly find horses and carts rather than the expected red London buses. Jamie of course, bless him, barely sees the problem.
Deploying a classic stolen TARDIS manoeuvre, writer Justin Richards thrusts the four into the adventure as they find themselves at the door of Josiah Morton, a collector of antiques and curios who boasts his own museum and has acquired the police box as an exhibit. His museum however turns out to be a matter of longstanding legal contention, making access difficult and forcing the Doctor to pose as an expert in antique clocks.
What follows is a murder mystery with a spectral dimension, as Morton’s adversaries are picked off one by one by something monstrous which coalesces from the shadows. With plenty of colourful characters and some cracking accents, this is great ride with lots of misdirection although the villainy itself felt a little flat at the end; with as a limited cast of characters, there were not truly that many options for the culprit. Also, we would have liked a stronger resolution to motivations behind the legal case.
In terms of characterisation, there is lovely interplay between the three leads, as Fraser Hines doubles for Patrick Troughton in his usual impeccable manner, and we loved the idea that Polly (Anneke Wills), though initially disappointed not to be home as promised, was keen to stay and see how people lived.
Jamie is granted is own romantic sub plot too, with his crush on Morton’s daughter Jemima (Kerry Gooderson), and we loved the way that this played out against the persistent teasing by Ben (Elliot Chapman) on the subject. There was a suggestion that Jamie might have stayed at the end of the story, which of course we know could not happen, but it was a lovely character beat nonetheless.
Josiah Morton himself is played to perfection by David Sibley, a seemingly kind and scholarly man but also someone whom we have plenty of reason not to trust – not least for his acquisition of the TARDIS and the fact that his rivals keep dropping off!
Of course, a story like this has to achieve an odd dynamic, hitting the notes of an authentic late-1960’s televisions show doing its take on a period setting, a sort of double-nostalgia if you will. Luckily, the team behind the scenes are old hands at this; both writer Justin Richards and director Lisa Bowerman work on Jago And Litefoot, and they get the tone just right.
Far more of a slow burn than a frenetic adventure, but dripping with atmosphere, this is another great entry for the early Troughton line up, so many of whose episodes are sadly missing from the archive.