Big Finish Review: Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Vol 2
The adventures of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson Leela continue with two new stories in The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Vol 2. Check out our review of volume 1 here.
The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook and The Primeval Design have been written by Andrew Smith and Helen Goldwyn respectively, with Nicholas Briggs directing. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here (as well as in individual releases) before going on general release on the 31st March. Here is the synopsis...
Two more four-part adventures for the Fourth Doctor and Leela:
10.3 The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook by Andrew Smith
It’s time for the trip of a lifetime! Come along on one of Thadeus Nook’s Time Tours. See history as it really was. Get to witness wars and assassinations! See barbarian warlords right up close!
The Doctor and Leela encounter a most enterprising young gentleman – using time travel for his own financial gain. The Doctor is horrified at the irresponsibility – but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Because Thadeus Nook is about to learn that history is often best left in the past.
10.4 The Primeval Design by Helen Goldwyn
Dorset, 1830. The Doctor has taken Leela to meet Mary Anning, the noted palaeontologist, but the duo immediately stumble into trouble.
A body has been found in unusual circumstances. Attacked by an animal... but one of a size unknown in the area.
It turns out some things might be better off staying buried.
The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook
The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook is an absolute delight of a story and the clear highlight of series 10. The idea of the Doctor and Leela running into time-travelling tourists on the beach of World War II Normandy is a great concept and the start of a fun, twist-filled narrative that takes a much darker path as the story progresses. Facing the Doctor off against the illustrious Thadeus Nook, a man that's developed the concept of time travelling tours in his rickety time machine, results in plenty of laughs. Interestingly, it's Brendan Murphy's Nook that gets the lion share of the humour, with Baker a much more serious figure as he attempts to avert the disaster Nook is about to unleash on the universe.
There is such a pace and energy to The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook that it never once lags. No sooner has the Doctor and Leela stopped hapless tourists from being rounded up by the Nazis, then they are trying to avert an accidental change of events at the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Writer Andrew Smith draws on the parallels with 60s adventure The Chase in the behind the scenes interviews and that sense of danger rising through each trip through time is clearly apparent. It's more cohesive than The Chase though, with a trip to another planet and the tragedy of a massacre belying the true threat.
The switch and bait moment at the end of episode two certainly keeps the listener on their toes, with seemingly innocent passengers revealing their intentions. The emergence of Kieran Bew's aggressive Grannus Drew borders on stock villain territory a little, but the idea of a military dictator with a time machine at his disposal is a frightening prospect and Bew makes the most of a largely straightforward role. The subtlety is to be found in Georgina Hellier's Flaia and Laura Riseborough's Jess, who play significant supporting roles in the drama unfolding.
Tom Baker is as superb as ever, with phrases like "I'll be there in a pig's whisper!" dripping off the tongue, thanks to a wonderfully witty script from Smith. Louise Jameson continues to make Leela a far more confident character that drives the story rather than reacting to it, as all the best companions did. Brendan Murphy's Nook is a delight. He's fun, a little weaselly but loveable too, with nice bait and switch moment and a chance to shine in the climax of the story.
The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook is a joy to listen to from beginning to end.
The Primeval Design
We head into the past with the final adventure in the latest series of Fourth Doctor stories, with the wonderfully evocative The Primeval Design. It's a very different beats to its predecessor (pun intended), with the Doctor and Leela navigating the local people of rural Nineteenth Century Lyme Regis. With rich local accents, big characters and a threat of reanimated dinosaur skeletons stalking the Dorset shoreline, Helen Goldwyn's script is rich in historical and fantastical splendour.
The first two parts do an excellent job of setting up the intrepid palaeontologist Mary Anning (brought to life with gusto by Lucy Briggs-Owen) and her navigation of the male dominated field in which she works - Goldwyn weaves in a strong narrative around a dominating, patriarchal society through the creation of Ian Conningham's cruel, arrogant Dr Richard Numanm, who has stolen her research. There's also a lot of energy to the performance of Charlotte Bate as heavily pregnant local Lizzie Berenger and her husband Jim Berenger (Joe Sims); they make an endearing couple that you root for at every step of the story.
The Primeval Design does start off slow; the first half of the story is all about scene setting, requiring you to pay attention to the politics of rural Dorset and the hints of the very real threat unfolding. The slow pace requires a lot of concentration - it's not quite as easy listening as The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook - but it certainly pays off well in the second half of the story. Once the animated skeletons are unleashed and the alien queen's plan is revealed, The Primeval Design soars. The final part in particular is tremendous fun with a nice full circle moment as the Doctor rides the dinosaur, something Leela did in last month's opening story The World Traders.
The alien threat to Earth isn't the most clever of ideas, but the visuals conjured up as the dinosaur skeletons rampage and the town rallies together are a treat, delivering on something impossible to effectively create on TV in the late 70s. And that's the joy of these audio adventures; they can deliver on the potential of Doctor Who without budgetary restraints to hold them back. The investiture in the characters certainly works; the Doctor has a tremendous amount of respect and praise for Mary's work, while Leela works tireless to ensure Lizzie and Jim get the family life they deserve. Goldwyn's biggest success here is in making the audience really care for these one story characters. Because what is the point of saving the Earth is there is no one there to fight for?
There is the usual bounty of behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew, with wonderful insights from the cast and crew. The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook was clearly a joy to work on. An enthusiastic Tom Baker describes it as great fun, a mix of great violence and waggish wit, while Louise Jameson taps into writer Andrew Smith's 'rule of three' and comic timing in the story - and how it must be inspired by a very terrible holiday.
There are some lovely moments in these discussions. Nicholas Briggs delves into the juxtaposition of Tom Baker's very serious Doctor against the more outlandish elements of the story and the delight in working with such a strong cast. Baker explains the origins of the phrase "I'll be there in a pig's whisper!" Smith draws parallels on 60's episode The Chase and grounding the story around Thadeus Nook's actions.
Actor Brendan Murphy (Thadeus Nook) is equally as positive about the fun, heartfelt elements of the story, the wheeler dealer nature of the character he is playing, while talking his journey to Big Finish through his friendship with Dan Starkey. Laura Riseborough (Jess) and Kieran Bew (Grannus Drek) both give some interesting thoughts on performing in an audio setting, the nature of poetic, articulate dialogue in a a villain Drek and and finding the meaning behind the character, even when that character is a monster.
In the behind the scenes interviews for The Primeval Design, there are some lovely insights from all involved; Alan David (Lord Macavoy) talks appearing in Christopher Ecclestone's third Doctor Who episode (The Unquiet Dead). Joe Sims is full of energy talking working on the story, bettered only by Tom Baker who talks approaching each story with the energy of being his first Doctor Who adventure. Ian Conningham talks his excitement for playing alongside his Doctor and there's also lovely insight from Lucy Briggs-Owen on how gender impacts Mary Anning and how her relationship with Leela helps her break through society's barriers.
Director Nicholas Briggs and script editor John Dorney are full of praise for writer Helen Goldwyn who in turn found inspiration from the real Mary Anning in shaping the story and the difference in writing for Tom Baker - her Doctor. Louise Jameson also talks about writing with Helen, both delving into historical women through their own scripts. There is a real sense of respect and camaraderie from all involved at Big Finish and the passion clearly spills into the stories being told.
Some Final Thoughts...
It's always wonderful to hear The Fourth Doctor and Leela together and as with last month's first volume, these series ten stories offers plenty of great moments for both characters - not least the opportunity to ride dinosaurs. That's not something we would have seen in the 70s!
Once again, each story is uniquely different; The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook is a big, bold and very funny romp through time, with big villains and plenty of twists, while The Primeval Design is a much more atmospheric piece, drawing heavily on its historical setting while also having plenty of big moments in its final parts. These Fourth Doctor adventures are quite the treat.