The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9 Volume 2 continues Big Finish’s sojourn within the “E-Space Trilogy”. Set during Tom Baker’s final television season, two four-part stories feature companions Romana, Adric and K9.
Returning to their own universe involves travelling through a CVE, a Charged Vacuum Emboitement, and the search for such a spatial anomaly is at the heart of both adventures. They also share a theme of dehumanisation and consider the lengths to which people will go to escape.
The Planet of Witches
With a pleasing mismatch of methodology, the Doctor and Romana are using K9 to scan for signs of technology and mapping the results on the surface of a beach ball. Locating a ship, they head towards its destination. On board is Raxxil, a ship’s captain with a cargo of witches – including two bright young people and a cackling crone.
Writer Alan Barnes revels in his theme, with everything from floating familiars to wands, and it is all tremendous fun. Hailing from this era, we half-expected a Time Lord connection to these witches, as with State of Decay‘s vampires. Instead, it is something quite different, but perfectly on message for the season. On a boggy planet, poor K9 gets a rough ride, though this is grindingly authentic. There is plenty of humour too and we loved the running gag about nominative determinism.
In an excellent guest cast, Abigal McKern shines in multiple roles. So too do Lauren Cornelius and Samuel Blenkin as the likeable pairing of Anjlis and Tanhar.
The Quest of the Engineer
Andrew Smith’s story hits the ground running, as the Doctor and Romana seek out an astronomer on a feudal world. Imprisoned for his portents of doom, they free astronomer Regis Tel and begin to investigate the gravitational anomalies he has seen. Travelling by TARDIS, they promptly discover a remarkable planet!
Created by the titular Engineer, the planet is a giant Rubik’s puzzle, capable of shifting areas of land mass. Tended by a slave population, it is administrated by a staff of enforcer robots. While the Doctor and Adric encounter the harsh realities of defying the Engineer, Romana and K9 meet the man himself. He is someone whose quest bares similarities with their own, even if his methods are monstrous.
The story is full of big science-fiction ideas, but engages on an emotional level too, particularly through the characters of Jonas (Timothy Blore) and Anla Jessik (Sarah Woodward), whose resolve is tested in the most horrific of fashion. The Engineer is played compellingly by Nicholas Woodeson, a zealot who believes he has achieved the pinnacle of science in his own universe. We also enjoyed the performance of George Layton as Regis Tel, who bonded well with Adric.
As discussed in our review of the first volume, interactions in this particular TARDIS line-up can be less than harmonious. This remains true here, with Lalla Ward’s Romana on particularly acidic form during The Planet of Witches. While true to character, it can make for an arduous listen. She is thankfully warmer in The Quest of the Engineer, particularly when it comes to Adric. We did enjoy the interaction between Matthew Waterhouse and Tom Baker however – perhaps they could have some further adventures as a pair?
Nine audio series in, Tom Baker remains as enthused as ever and it is great to hear Big Finish focus on another part of his tenure. With superb production values throughout, particularly Jamie Robertson’s score, we see plenty of scope to widen the “E-Space Trilogy” further still.