Fans of Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor are enjoying a bevy of releases from Big Finish, and the latest five-disc boxset maintains the standard of quality. It’s two stories adapted from comic strips and transferring two popular stories to audio. Adapted by Alan Barnes, this is a fourth Doctor able to turn up the dial on eccentricity and must surely signal more such adaptations to come.
The first story adapted is Doctor Who And The Iron Legion, a strip written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, with art by Dave Gibbons. It appeared in Doctor Who Weekly at the end of 1979. It centres on an invasion of a small English town by Robot Roman warriors, led by Ironicus (Brian Prothero). The Doctor, along with Doug (Steve Hansell) and Viv (Esther Hall) are dragged through to a parallel world Roman Empire complete with airships, slaves, arena, aliens and robots galore. There’s the obligatory Emperor (Adolphus Caesar played by Luke Franks) and even some gods thrown in, led by Magog (Christine Kavanagh). It’s wall to wall entertainment and even if we’ve had dozens of ‘what if the Romans never went away’ stories, this is pure fun and Tom gets to exercise the madder sides of his Doctor. It’s packed with wonderful characters (Vesuvius played by Toby Longworth and Morris played by Joseph Kloska to name but two) and will bring a smile to the listener’s face from the very first scenes. It’s almost enough to warrant the price of the boxset on its own.
The second story is The Star Beast, another Pat Mills/Dave Gibbons strip, this from early 1980. It’s a simpler concept and perhaps more constrained than The Iron Legion, though no less well realised. It centres on the simple idea of Beep the Meep, a cute alien who looks like a hamster who swallowed a beach ball and is really an evil murdering megalomaniac, hunted by galactic police. Cue Blackcastle teenagers Fudge (Ben Hunter) and Sharon (Rhainne Starbuck). There’s much fun as the Doctor and his new friends take their time to realise Beep is the bad guy and the slightly slow-witted trigger-happy aliens are the good guys, and some tongue-in-cheek fun at the expense of geeky sci-fi fans. It’s a simpler tale than the previous, but has its moments of madness as UNIT and hundreds of steel workers fall foul of Beep’s Black Sun, and Sharon ends up travelling in the TARDIS. There are plenty more comic strips left to adapt [hint] and Rhianne Starbuck must surely be a voice talent we will hear much more from in the future.