The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9 Volume 1 returns us to Tom Baker’s final season on-screen. Set during the “E-Space trilogy”, it reunites the Doctor with Romana II, Adric and K9 for the first time on audio.
Notwithstanding some interesting stories, and our favourite version of Tom’s outfit, we find this era of Doctor Who hard work. Not just because of the dialling down of comic elements, but due to the fractious interplay between the leads. Luckily, Big Finish have a great track record in amplifying the strengths of the past…
The story begins with the Doctor failing utterly in loco parentis. When Adric seemingly throws an adolescent strop, the Doctor allows him some time to cool off, leaving him on a desolate rock. This is early in Adric’s travels and writer Marc Platt takes the time to address his grief; Adric’s brother Varsh died during the events of his debut story.
Naturally, peril promptly finds the TARDIS crew. Purgatory 12 is a richly conceived setting; a prison colony on an asteroid where they find an assortment of famished alien convicts. “The Unforgiven” are not there alone though, as a sinister presence lurks beneath the surface.
Among the guest cast, Nimmy March impressed as the colony leader Colonel Aesillor Zyre. The other standout performance came from George Watkinson, who brought surprising pathos to his role as the Romana-adoring, luckless Knight Crimsson.
Despite putting him through the mill, as ever, it was great to hear K9 (John Leeson) play an active role in the story – we enjoyed his friendship with ship’s computer PIPS.
Chase the Night
With a crash-landed ship and a world of hostile alien biology, we instantly drew parallels with ‘Full Circle’. As this tale developed however, it became quite a different beast – an action adventure wrapped in a cracking sci-fi conceit. Stranded on a planet orbiting close to its sun, the survivors have been forced into an ingenious solution; adapting the ship for locomotion, they must constantly keep ahead of the scorching dawn.
Writer Jonathan Morris has fun with the TARDIS crew, promptly splitting them up. We enjoyed hearing Adric in questioning mode, meeting a whole ecosystem alien to him. Meanwhile, Romana meets her match in the book smart, strident scientist Moni (Lucy Heath).
The train holds an interesting cast of characters, with a great performance from William Gaminara as the put-upon Engineer Terson, but the greatest creation here is the Pilot. Relentlessly pragmatic and single-minded, Jane Asher is terrific: filled with self-belief and the right side of insane (just about), she provides a great foil the Doctor.
As we intimated, the TARDIS dynamics can be a tough proposition in this period. Despite all being so darned clever, they are often barely even pleasant to each other and the repeated refrain of “Shut up K9”, which we are sure is meant to be amusing, really does quickly wear thin! Fortunately, in both stories, separation proves to be an effective way to lance that particular boil.
It is fun to have Adric onboard and Matthew Waterhouse convinces as this earliest iteration of the character, full of adolescent angst. Pleasingly, Adric has lost none of his ability to sympathise with the villains either. Equally, we enjoyed the foreshadowing of Romana’s imminent departure too. While he may have cut a brooding figure on-screen, here Tom Baker remains on sparkling and heroic form.
Throughout two stories markedly different in tone, director Nicholas Briggs keeps the action moving admirably. Composer Jamie Robertson provides engaging scores for both tales too and we look forward to February’s Volume 2.