Tom Baker enjoys a trio of adventures as his eleventh audio series concludes at Big Finish.
The ever entertaining Fourth Doctor has been flying solo in 2022 without a regular companion. Slotting in adventures after Sarah and before Leela, Volume One saw an encounter with the Master and spooky shenanigans at a power station.
In Volume Two, he battles a kleptomaniac Time Lord, visits the trenches of WWI and meets author Mervyn Peake. Despite three tales with no link, the boxset draws its name from the opening story’s villain: The Nine.
With Big Finish now embracing boxsets for every Doctor, this volume is a bumper 5-hour affair (ensuring parity between incarnations). In this case, it breaks down into two 4-part stories and one 2-parter.
The Dreams of Avarice
Guy Adams’ tale begins mid-break in. Arrested by the world-weary Detective Inspector Probert, he reveals that he is there to stop The Nine; a Time Lord foe who contains multitudes, his previous selves exist as live personalities who occasionally vie for control.
After heist antics across the first episode, the story broadens to a comic caper on the fantastically rich world of Luxuriana. The tale looks at greed and lightly challenges the collector’s instinct to hoard and keep – surely a crime when it comes to works of art (and missing episodes of Doctor Who for that matter!) We also loved the reference back to ‘The Time Meddler’, with the villain stealing the Doctor’s dimensional stabiliser.
While a later incarnation, The Eleven, is casually homicidal with a lust for power, The Nine presents a different threat; he’s an amoral kleptomaniac with an eye for shiny things. He has associates too – companions would be a stretch as he often ends up killing them. Mark Elstob voices one, whose mind has been split across three drones to do all the donkey work. Meanwhile comic Ronnie Ancona plays the other, the equally light-fingered Thana.
John Heffernan’s demented villain is incredibly entertaining, with his magpie-like motivations creating the threat. However, we felt that Ronnie Ancona’s sidekick a little wasted; it felt as though the character’s backstory and apparently remarkable abilities were worthy of further exploration which failed to materialise. As the Doctor’s ally throughout, Richard Dixon’s Probert was great fun with his disbelief growing into baffled acceptance.
If the first tale leans towards the comic Graham Williams ‘era, the second is more in the vein of Hinchcliffe horror. The story, from writing duo Simon Barnard & Paul Morris, is set amid the trenches of the Great War, but with the Doctor is behind German rather than English lines. Waking in a field hospital, we are introduced to shell-shocked soldiers – all suffering the same vivid, blood-soaked dreams. That’s until they are treated by Doctor Sturm (Nicholas Asbury), whose remarkable new treatment sees them fit to return to the trenches in short order.
With the Doctor initially out of action, we meet Nurse Hanna Schumann (Alicia Ambrose-Bayly) and her patient Lieutenant Hans Hoffman (Finlay Robertson). Both become embroiled in the Doctor’s investigations and there’s a frisson of attraction between the pair. Richard Hope takes on the role of the principal antagonist, General Reinhardt, while Christopher Naylor impresses in several roles.
As it develops, the story becomes a horror-tinged look at the madness of war with an unusual alien threat in the mix. It’s the highlight of the set for us.
After a brief case of mistaken identity, the Doctor takes the writer Mervyn Peake on a trip by way of an apology. However, the pair soon find themselves trapped in a mysterious city. With an absent Queen, the ruthless Honor Valspierre (Jules de Jongh) rules the realm – and appears to be blowing the place up building by building. Oddly, none of the residents seem to care…
We’re not familiar enough with the work of Mervyn Peake to catch any particular references, but thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical, quirky style of Lizbeth Myles’ tale. Well-suited as a two-parter, it does not outstay its welcome. David Holt entertains as the misplaced author, while Ava Merson-O’Brien (Hetty Feather) sparkles as the young Queen when she finally appears.
Across three quite distinct tales, Tom Baker remains as ebullient as ever. With nary a talking cabbage in sight, he proves that his Doctor can indeed travel alone successfully. However, we find there’s something a little sad about him not having a best friend in tow. Thankfully, Leela returns for next year’s stories (Series 12!) – as does Margaret Hopwood, Nerys Hughes’ character from ‘The Ravencliff Witch’.
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 11 – The Nine is available on CD and download from Big Finish.