Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Crowmarsh Experiment
This January, Big Finish released volume one of series seven of The Fourth Doctor Adventures reuniting Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor with Louise Jameson's Leela. The box set moved away from monthly releases of old, instead releasing four stories at one. We've already covered the first story, The Sons Of Kaldor (you can read out review here).
The Crowmarsh Experiment, the second in the seventh series range, is also available to download individually exclusively on the Big Finish website here as well as part of the larger 7A Series 07 Volume 1 box set here, the latter of which is available for general release on the 28th February.
The Crowmarsh Experiment has been written by David Llewellyn and was directed by Nicholas Briggs. Here is the synopsis...
When attacked on an alien world, Leela falls unconscious… only to wake in another time, another place.
She is in the Crowmarsh Institute on Earth, in London, in 1978, and everyone is calling her Doctor Marshall. They tell her the world she has known is but a fantasy, a delusion, and that this place is the one that is real.
Surrounded by familiar faces on unfamiliar people, Leela knows what is true and what is false. But how long can she believe when everyone around her says it’s a dream? What’s really happening here?
As before, we're reviewing each series seven story separately...
The entire series is a dream, conjured up by the main character from the confines of her psychiatric hospital; it's a premise many shows have attempted before, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to St Elsewhere, where the fantastical premise of the show has been conjured up by charcter to escape reality. It's known as the Cuckoo effect and it's a hard story to pull off. To be really successful you, as the audience, have to question, in some form, whether the reality really is the stark, real life glimpsed through the eyes of this character and not the show you've followed faithfully for years.
The Crowmarsh Experiment tries it's hand at this story trope as Leela is kidnapped while on an alien planet and 'wakes up' to find herself confronted by a very different reality where her travels with the Doctor are just a fantastical dream. Over the course of this two-part story, she struggles between her old life as a member of the Sevateem tribe and Doctor Marshall from 1978, who went too deep in experimenting with mind manipulation.
It's another well-paced two-parter and Louise Jameson absolutely sells it as Leela fights the 'reality' and then slowly begins to question herself. There is compelling evidence that her TARDIS travels are not real in the form of Damian Lynch's Colin Marshall, a man she fell in love with before his death in a previous Big Finish Doctor Who adventure. She is faced not only with a bittersweet reunion but two potential children as well.
This narrative, mixed with Leela's very innocent, almost childlike nature, make for a very engaging plot. Leela isn't just a woman from London who started travelling with the Doctor, she helms from a savage tribe that arose from a crashed human ship centuries earlier and faced danger and death, particularly through the loss of her parents. It is far more the fantastical option than the life she is presented with here. This London is less alien and more welcoming; you absolutely believe she might choose it. That is where the strength of The Crowmarsh Experiment really lies. Like most of these type of stories, it makes the mistake of setting her in the real world first before waking up in the hospital, when it would have been more interesting to start with that waking moment. But Jameson is fantastic and the perfect companion to go through this ordeal.
Tom Baker is great as always, though he doesn't get much to do, playing a real Doctor in the hospital or the ghostly presence on a radio trying to draw her back to the truth. Cathy Tyson's Jennifer is another compelling figure, a space traveller kidnapped with Leela but who more readily accepts this new world. There is a particularly cruel twist when the Doctor and Leela learn that she has a daughter she promised to return home to before becoming loss in the 'experiment'.
The Crowmarsh Experiment, like The Sons of Kaldor before it, is another strong entry in the seventh series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, thanks to a compelling narrative and great performances led by a stellar Louise Jameson.
We get a trailer for the third story The Mind Runners by John Dorney, which features the innovative sci-fi idea of people jumping their consciousness into others for fun, with rather tragic results.
There are also the solid level of interview extras, with some great insights from the cast and crew. Writer David Llewellyn's talks about his desire to set a Doctor and Leela story in the contemporary Earth of the period in which their episodes were broadcast, something that the show didn't do in that era. In doing so, he picked the rather momentous date that he was born and Louise Jameson left the show, though Tom Baker suggests otherwise!
There is plenty of enthusiasm from Jameson too, as she talks about flexing her acting abilities through this story and a rather tragic insight into mysteries from Tom Baker himself. Overall, another great look into the making of these Doctor Who audio stories...