Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Skin of the Sleek
The sixth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures reaches its penultimate entry in The Skin of the Sleek, the first of a two-part story for Tom Baker's Doctor and Lalla Ward's Romana II.
Written by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley, The Skin of the Sleek has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 30th September. Here's the synopsis...
On the planet Funderell you can walk on the ocean. The surface holds you when you move, but if you stand still, you sink. Lights shift in the fathoms and great shapes move beneath your feet - schools of giant electric eels known as Sleeks.
There is no solid land and the only locals are the Wavewalkers, hunters who live in floating villages. But recently some strangers have arrived, pursuing their own distinct agenda.
When the Doctor and Romana lose the TARDIS to the deep, they need help. Which makes finding a fellow Time Lord on the planet very useful. The fact that Time Lord is Sartia, an old friend of Romana's, is even better!
But this is a planet of secrets. Be careful when you explore its depths. You may just drown.
Once again, I'll be joined by my 11-year old son Ben, one of the biggest Doctor Who fans this side of Gallifrey. Spoilers as always if you haven't yet listened to the audio...
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
Skin of the Sleek hinges on a the central mystery - why have the Time Lords forbidden access to the planet of Funderell and what are they hiding? it's an intriguing hook that the story doesn't resolve, leaving that revelation for next month's finale The Thief Who Stole Time. But as the first of a two-part release there are some interesting concepts to keep the listener engaged.
The planet itself is a fascinating concept, a viscous water world where you can walk on waves but staying anywhere too long will cause you to sink. This is where the Doctor and Romana find themselves, travelling to the one mysterious settlement on the planet after the TARDIS vanishes beneath the waves. There they encounter a people filled with superstition and visions on the future, consulting a book we eventually learn is High Gallifreyan. And they worship the Sleek, a giant electric eel that exists beneath the waves.
Meanwhile an expedition has been sent to the planet including Time Lord and friend of Romana Sartia (Joannah Tincey). With the Doctor off exploring the mystery, the story manages to develop the often ambiguous past of Romana; we learn not surprisingly that she was the best at everything in her class at the Academy, something that eventually fuels Sartia's betrayal at the end of part two.
The theme of the episode, studying the locals from space reminded me of Star Trek's Prime Directive and it certainly raises some moral dilemmas, particularly when Romana and Sartia find themselves bait for the Sleek and accidentally kill it.
Admittedly there isn't a huge amount to keep the listener excited; Skin of the Sleek relies heavily on unique nature of the planet and the mystery behind it; I expected some huge revelation come the end of part two meaning Sartia's betrayal felt a little flat, even if it was surprising. We know Romana is going to survive, so it robs something from the cliffhanger. But it also left me intrigued to see what happens when the story is resolved in the upcoming finale...
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
There is a running theme this month in Big Finish's Doctor Who audios, with both the main range and Fourth Doctor adventures story having a character from the companions past. I knew who Sartia was though before the story, so I wondered how she could have been on that ship when it crashed. There was a lot of mystery and intrigue too; How was the Doctor's arrival foretold? Why has Funderell been cordoned of by the Time Lords? Why is their only one village? And why is the book been written in old high Gallifreyan?
I was a little disappointed that the Doctor and Romana didn't enter the story until the fourth track of part one, but I quickly forgave it. The mystery was good but the exciting moments only came at the end of both instalments, which is surprising for a finale. I am hoping that the The Thief Who Stole Time will hold up a bit more.
So let's focus on the end of the episodes. Part one ends with Romana and Sartia trapped in the cellar with the Sleek. I thought that it was sad to have the creature of the tile in the story a lot less than it was referenced. It was a bit typical for the creature to be killed. Part two ends with Sartia revealing no-one liked Romana, and her dumping her on the surface of Funderell. They could have done a bit more into the ending though, as it is the big one that really gets people wanting to listen to the rest. Although I think there have been better story's, like Dethras and The Haunting of Malkin Place...
A trailer for the finale of the sixth series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures The Thief Who Stole Time, which doesn't give much away and wisely includes just the Doctor, keeping the fate of Romana hidden until next time.
We get three interviews with the cast and crew; director Wes Bentley talks about the theatricality of Skin of the Sleek while writer Marc Platt talks about how Dylan Thomas's the Under Milk Wood influenced the story and its use of seers and visions.
Tom Baker is always a delight in interviews and always enthusiastic about the production, marvelling not just on Platt's script but his marvellous cupcakes! It's interesting to see how Sartia was envisioned as Romana's Moriarty / the Master, something that was only really apparent in the final moments of the story. There are also plenty of great insights from the other cast members and their approach to the story.