Big Finish Review: Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Vol 1
The Fourth Doctor is still going strong at Big Finish as we head into the tenth series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Released on the day of Tom Baker's 87th birthday, this latest set features the long-awaited return of Louise Jameson's Leela, last seen with the Doctor in series seven three years ago (outside of last year's lockdown recorded Shadow of the Sun).
The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Vol 1 has been written by Guy Adams Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 28th February. Here's the synopsis...
Two new four-part adventures for the Fourth Doctor and Leela:
10.1 The World Traders by Guy Adams
When a day out in 21st Century London leads to the TARDIS being impounded, the Doctor and Leela find themselves getting involved with the mysterious Amapan Investments, a company that’s managed to become remarkably successful in a remarkably short amount of time.
So what’s their secret? The Doctor and Leela are about to find out.
The Usurians have come to Earth. And they have big plans.
10.2 The Day of the Comet by Jonathan Morris
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Leela to the ruins of a once-great city racked by earthquakes, where they find a giant rocket on the side of a mountain. The planet is due to be destroyed by a comet in a year’s time and this ship is the only way off world.
But is everything quite as it seems? At least one person in the city thinks the comet is going to come to obliterate the planet much sooner than people believe.
Which would be bad enough - if there wasn’t a far worse secret hidden behind the scenes...
I'll be joined by my 14-year old son Ben, the world's biggest Doctor Who fan and regular co-reviewer with me at The Digital Fix, to discuss this latest release...
The World Traders
The World Traders is something of a fusion of classic and modern Doctor Who. At it's heart, it feels indistinctly a Fourth Doctor and Leela story; there is lots of great banter between these characters and the mentions of their off-audio adventures are as tantalising as what happens in the story. Who doesn't want to see Leela rise to the challenge of an all you can eat buffer? There's also something of a The Sun Makers vibe to this tale, not just in the return of the Usurians from that story, but in taking something as droll as government contracts and tax havens and making it fantastical. At the same time, it's scope is so grand; trips to the cretaceous period, the industrial revolution and early twenty-first century London give it a style not out of place in modern Doctor Who.
It is a fun and ambitious story filled with some delightful characters. Siân Phillips has a soft spoken ruthlessness as The Director, who becomes to true foil for Baker's Doctor. She has a cold, dispassionate association with Earth, seeing humans as little more than resources and time and space something to exploit. Seeing the Doctor and director trying to stay ahead of each other offers plenty of mileage, with Guy Adams' dialogue more than up to task.
There's a wonderful foil for Leela in Ramon Tikaram's President Dunn-La. He is full of arrogance; a big-game hunter that sees everyone around him as something to exploit and wealth by which he measures his success. Naturally, Leela cuts through all that, Jameson distilling the companion with a degree of bluntness that we all wish we had. Whether its turning from hunted to hunter, cutting through Dunn-La's bluster or riding a dinosaur, The World Traders is a superb story for Leela from beginning to end, and one that works largely absent from the Doctor for much of its middle run.
Adams is no stranger to satirical commentary and The World Traders is packed with loving nods to modern twenty-first century politics, capitalism and narcissistic personalities, making it the perfect setting for a very underhanded alien invasion. It also runs on many levels - different time settings and varying character power plays all making for a rich, densely- packed story that makes the most of its four-part running time.
It's been a while since we've had some Fourth Doctor and Leela stories (discounting last year's Shadow of the Sun), so it's always a delight to see them back at it and as enthusiastic as ever. Indeed, the opening moments of The World Traders just serves as a reminder of how wonderful these two are together as they chat about a day out in London, two friends having a good time (and the mental image of Leela climbing the London Eye is amazing).
Part One in particular is just so refreshing to listen to. It's nothing huge, nothing game changing or plot altering, but sticking a classic Doctor in a modern day setting (i.e. the 21st century not the present day when they were back on TV), and being able to interact with what life is like at that time, is a delight to hear. Interestingly, the story feels very much like a blend of both eras of the show, a Classic and Revival story merged into one and it's just fun, particularly part three's cliff-hanger so very reminiscent of a great scene from Pyramids of Mars.
Amapan Investments are a villain that embraces key elements of what Baker's run often satirised. Adding in the portals to Earth's history helps give the story a new angle in which to play with and strengthens the plot immensely. Amapan's obsession over business and finance feels quite similar to the TV story The Sun Makers, making them the same species from that TV serial is a nice touch.
Some elements of the story are a little disjointed, predominantly the ending, with the final track in particular playing out as a rather odd conclusion, using a particular character who never really added to much and probably could have sufficed without. Still, the Doctor's solving of the problem is genius and acts as a backbone for the messiness surrounding the rest of the final act.
The cast are as always on top form, Tom Baker in particular delivering lots of humour. Louise Jameson is brilliant, especially during the scene where Leela keeps calling the president a naughty child and slapping him. Overall, The World Traders is a strong and witty script, with satire and humour balanced out perfectly, and opens this tenth series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor with a bang.
The Day of the Comet
The Day of the Comet is a somewhat bleak story that wouldn't be out of plan during the Hinchcliffe era of the show. The Doctor and Leela arrive on a planet facing extinction from an incoming asteroid and the last colony ship is about to embark. Yes - it also has vibes from modern Doctor Who's Utopia and that sense of desperation and fear permeate this story.
Rather interestingly, this is not a story filled with likeable characters that you desperately hope will survive the coming apocalypse. Aside from Sophia Carr-Gomm's young Corsha, the inhabitants of this planet are full of lies and deceit. Joanna Hole's Tynax lies betray the whole population desperate for hope. Janet Henfrey's Verkuvia starts as a kindly old woman and ally of the Doctor before emerging as someone who will blackmail and kill to achieve. She emerges as the main antagonist of the story, before the arrival of the alien intent on 'helping' the doomed inhabitants escape the planet.
Arriving in the latter half of the story, Verkuvia quickly finds herself out-eviled by Mandi Symonds' ruthless Vengis. Like Verkuvia, she comes with smiles and gratitudes, belying her true motives underneath. The truth behind Vengis' plan is rather grim, taking the story down an even darker path as The Day of the Comet races towards its climax and the betrayals, shady alliances and half truths come to light amid a crumbling world on the verge of destruction.
The second entry in The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Vol 1 doesn't quite have the pizazz of the first, though the various ruthless actions of the guest cast make for absorbing viewing. Louise Jameson and Tom Baker remains the stand outs; Leela proving she can be as ruthless as any villain and the Doctor showing himself to be far cleverer than anyone else on the planet. And while Jonathan Morris's script doesn't quite have the memorable moments of Adams, it is still enjoyable fare none the less with enough twists to keep you on your toes.
The Day of the Comet is rather reminiscent of the TV story Utopia (and to a lesser extent, Galaxy 4), using plot elements strikingly similar to that episode. Yet the story never feels like its undermined by the similarity, which is a great relief. In fact, The Day of the Comet feels a lot like a story of the mid 1970's but with (like it's twin in this set) a few ideas which feel like they could have been plucked from a revival tale.
It's quite a harmless story, one of those that you have fun with while you listen without having to strive to pay attention to every minute for fear of not understanding what is happening, while simultaneously adding a little extra nugget of information to the history of the Time Lords which is rather unexpected. However, this gives the Doctor a greater sense of responsibility to determine his actions and how he goes through the story, something Tom Baker pulls across rather well, while still being his fun, jolly old self as usual.
The true villain of the story is rather debatable, thanks to the reveal at the end of part 2. It gives the tale a new direction in which to go, an interesting development that greatly benefits a story which otherwise might not have comfortably sustained four episodes. Indeed, both Vengis and Tynax play crucial roles and come across as ruthless yet enjoyable, especially in their interactions with the Doctor.
Quite a few characters take a bit of a backseat for a large part of the running time and admittedly Leela doesn't have quite as much to do as she did in the prior story, but when she is around she's still just as fun as ever. In the end, this is just a fun way to spend your time and paves the way for a hopefully just as enjoyable Volume 2.
Over an hour of behind the scenes interviews accompany this latest release. In the interviews for The World Traders, director Nicholas Briggs and writer Guy Adams reflect on the wit of Robert Holmes The Sun Makers and the impact on this story. Tom Baker taps into the greed at the heart of The World Traders, with a particularly darkly humorous reflection on his own life! Along with Baker, there's some lovely insights into The Sun Makers satire from Louise Jameson too, who discusses how both that story and this gave Leela the ability to indulge in her inner hunter separate from the Doctor.
All the cast offer some lovely insights into the story and the characters, with plenty of admiration as always for both Tom Baker and Siân Phillips. Like many actors, Phillips delights in playing evil, while relishing in the comedy of the story and her love of science fiction. There's some delightful insight into the confusing surrealism of working on Dune too, but most compelling is her memories of friendship with Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein and the joy of finally getting to work on Doctor Who decades later.
In the interviews for The Day of the Comet, writer Jonathan Morris examines the idea of what would a civilisation be like when they knew they were all doomed and putting the Doctor into a hopeless situation for a change. Tom Baker discusses the moral dilemma at the heart of the story, while Louise Jameson enjoys the building trust in the relationship with the Doctor that cements with every story she does for Big Finish.
There's also some lovely insights from Doctor Who fan Jon Culshaw, comparing his character of Sullerman to Mike Yates and his vivid recollection of watching Jon Pertwee's The Daemons and an amusing moment where Baker reflects on his platonic relationship with Sylvia Coleridge and his suggestion she play a new companion during the show's original run. Actress Janet Henfrey recounts her own moments in Doctor Who history (The Curse of Fenric, Mummy on the Orient Express) and her shared history with Baker. There's also plenty of humour to be had from David Seddon (Lendrik) and Mandi Symonds' (Vengis) enthusiasm for the script and working with 'best bud' Jameson too. Joanna Hole enjoys the fact that she gets to finally play a villain in Tynax, while sharing her experiences working with Jameson on Tenko; Jameson talking about the bond with the Tenko women and their visit after the birth of her child, is lovely to listen to. Wrapping up with Culshaw's Doctor Who impressions - including a pitch perfect Tom Baker - wraps up the set nicely.
Some Final Thoughts...
The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 is off to a strong start with these two stories. It captures the quintessential traits of the Fourth Doctor and Leela's relationship, while also giving them plenty to do outside the Doctor-companion dynamic.
The World Traders is arguably the stronger of the two stories, with a terrific concept that honours 70s story The Sun Makers, while offering a delightful satire on modern society; business, government and greed, with an added dollop of robots and dinosaurs make this a fun addition to the Fourth Doctor range. The Day of the Comet is a darker, more reflective story full of character twists and turns; the apocalyptic setting and ruthless individuals involved make for an enjoyable romp.