Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures series 7 vol 2
Last month saw the release of the second and final volume in the seventh series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish. Picking up after The Sons of Kaldor (you can read our review here), The Crowmarsh Experiment (you can read our review here) and two part story The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises (you can read our review here), these four stories cap off the latest adventures for Tom Baker's Doctor and Louise Jameson's Leela.
The entire boxset s available to download at the Big Finish site here as well on separate individual downloads. Here are the synopses for each tale.
7.5 The Shadow of London by Justin Richards
The TARDIS materialises in the backstreets of London in the 1940s. Whilst K9 entertains himself in the time ship's library, the Doctor takes Leela for a walk in the streets.
But England’s capital is oddly quiet. There are no cars and very few pedestrians... whilst those people they do meet appear really quite English indeed. And all the while they are monitored by cameras feeding images into a secret control room.
Something strange is happening in the city. Traitors are running wild... and nothing and no-one are quite as they seem.
7.6 The Bad Penny by Dan Starkey
In the 1970s, hotelier Ron Tulip is having a difficult time. Many of his customers seem to be absconding without payment. The few who remain complain of strange noises and terrible sleep. And to top it all he’s just been summoned to the VIP suite... which is something of a problem as he didn’t even realise the hotel had one.
When turbulence in time takes the TARDIS off course, the Doctor and Leela find themselves visiting the same establishment and in the middle of a temporal paradox and a terrible plan.
Because that’s the thing about the Cross-Keys hotel.
You can check in... but you can never leave.
7.7 Kill the Doctor! by Guy Adams
The TARDIS crew arrive on the planet Drummond, an Earth colony in the far future where everybody uses handheld computers from morning to night. Rania Chuma is the mastermind behind Rene.net, the datastream network that tells you everything you need to know. Anyone who’s anyone uses Rene.net.
But ever since Rania was young she’s heard a voice in her head. That voice is the key to Rene.net’s success. And it’s a voice the Doctor might find familiar.
Whilst Leela chases a thief, the Doctor looks into the planet’s datastream and something evil looks back. A subliminal command flashes through Rene.net to Drummond’s entire population: ‘Kill the Doctor’. When the entire planet is against you, where can you possibly hide?
7.8 The Age of Sutekh by Guy Adams
The world has changed. And the evil Osiran Sutekh is returning.
As blood sacrifices and worship boost the strength of the God of War, servicer robots walk the streets, killing those who have not converted.
Leela is working with the homeless population of the city, while the Doctor co-operates with the police.
A brutal battle is ready to begin. And if the Doctor and his friends fail, everyone in the galaxy will perish.
The box set is directed by Ken Bentley and Nicholas Briggs, produced by David Richardson and script edited by John Dorney.
There's a lot to love in these second run of stories (described by Tom Baker himself in the extras as preposterous - but in a good way). The quality is higher than the first box set for series seven, even though I'm not sure there was anything here to quite meet the heights of The Crowmarsh Experiment (but then I'm a sucker for a good Leela story).
Of course, what this box set does have is the return of Sutekh and that alone is worth the price (The Pyramids of Mars being one of my top five Doctor Who stories of all time).
The Shadow of London
This is an intriguing little tale that really gains momentum in the second part. The Doctor and Leela find themselves wandering the streets of London yet again, expect this time it's the 1940s and it is only a few streets wide. There's an intriguing mystery here, with a ferocious monster killing the populace a menacing touch.
The reveal is clever too - a Nazi experimentation in World War II Germany, transforming human subjects into monsters with alien DNA in a mini replica of the British capital that the Doctor and Leela have unwittingly wandered into. It plays on the themes of morality in a way that Doctor Who does so well.
Director Ken Bentley makes the most out of Justin Richard's script, adding atmosphere and tension as the threat rises. Unfortunately, while clever and engaging at the time it's also the one story across all the seventh series range that will be the most forgettable, lost among bigger, bolder tales. Which is a shame as there are some really interesting ideas at play here.
The Bad Penny
This is a great little story, taking a simple idea of the Doctor and Leela trapped in a hotel and adding some classic Doctor Who timey-wimeyness to the mix. Dan Starkey, known to fans of Nu Who as Sontaran Strax, interweaves several simultaneous time periods into the setting, allowing for characters to appear from Victorian London all the way to the 1970s and beyond, all the while hunted by a maniacal, tentacle monster.
The Bad Penny is definitely a story that requires the audience to pay attention; there are some intriguing clues to keep them on their toes; the ever changing wallpaper in the VIP suite, the Laura Rees' inspector Deborah Harris reappearing as an older, more embittered Major Harris. The monster hunting everyone adds menace, the mix of Greg Haiste's Ron Tulip interacting with an older Lord Tulip, played by Keith Barron provides a head puzzler of a narrative and the pay off - that the older Lord has used the bad penny to influence the fortunes of his younger self before transforming into the monster of the future - is a terrific ending.
This story is clearly a work of passion for Starkey, brought together with flair under the direction of Nicholas Briggs and a number of lively performances, no les Starkey himself as Hadean, Small Hadean, Liddell and Mr Richards. It also has a great premise in the younger Tulip playing the hero against the machinations of his older, villainous self, all directed by the terrific Fourth Doctor and Leela.
Kill The Doctor
The first of the final two-parter comes courtesy of Guy Adams, a Big Finish writer that never disappoints. It's a big story for both main characters, the Doctor zipping around the futuristic city on the planet Drummond, stirring up trouble and facing the wrath of the populace who literally want to 'kill the Doctor', while Leela gets to lead a revolution of her own.
If anything, the biggest problem with the first part is that you know Sutekh is coming, though Adams certainly manages to create a full and rich society under the excellent direction of Nicholas Briggs; Sophia Myles returns to Doctor Who to play ruthless leader Rania Chuma, enslaving the populace with handheld devices known as the Rene net. It's a great little commentary on modern society and its reliance on electronic devices to keep people hooked up onto current events, what is popular and follow the trends.
At the other end is homeless Kendra (Eleanor Crooks) who befriends Leela and shows her what happens to a society when they can't afford to keep up. I have to admit, I enjoyed Leela's story more as it allowed her to use her skills and innocent nature to question and lead people like Kendra to find a better way. This was an excellent story for Louise Jameson's companion, that follows all the way to the end of the following story.
The reveal of Sutekh as the mastermind behind Chuma is a great cliff-hanger for part one, even if you know it is coming. The escalation of events in the second half, after the strong set up in part one allows for another terrific cliff hanger as the Osiran transforms Drummond into a futuristic Egyptian utopia, all under his insidious control, Police transformed into the robotic mummies from The Pyramids of Mars make for an tense climax that is followed up in style in the concluding The Age of Sutekh.
The Age of Sutekh
Which brings us nicely into the concluding part of the seventh series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. It was marvellous to have this villain back; Gabriel Woolf slips back into the rich, commanding and insidious voice of Sutekh an the interplay between him and Tom Baker's Doctor is as gripping here as it was back in 1975.
While I could have listened to these two bounce off each other for the full 50 minutes, Adams brings something a little special to the story, making use of Sutekh in a futuristic setting to use the Rene net to enslave Drummond as a slave race to his will. There's also plenty of psychological drama as Myles' Chuma fights back as he controls her mind, leading to a surprise battle of wills before he destroys her for good.
If there's one gripe with both stories, is that it sometimes doesn't feel grand enough but as Adams and Briggs themselves admit in the extras, a fully powered Sutekh would be unstoppable so The Age of Sutekh has to rely on the fact that he hasn't fully achieved his plan yet. What it does allow for is some exciting character pairings, most notably Sutekh and Leela who delights in calling him horse face and remains resolute even when captured and tortured. The Doctor meanwhile plays off the straight faced good policeman Charlton Royce (John Dorney) to race through the city and find a way to use Sutekh's technology against him.
Overall, The Age of Sutekh is a delight, full of nefarious schemes, world-ending odds and psychological battles. Gabriel Woolf is astonishingly good as Sutekh and you wouldn't know he was forty years older than when he originally played him under the mask. This story is a fitting end to the series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures for Big Finish and a great showcase for the brilliant partnership that is Tom Baker's Doctor and Louise Jameson's Leela.
Each of the first three stories feature a trailer for the next, but they also contain some brilliant interviews with the cast and crew, with everyone as passionate about the making of these stories as each other.
There's something rather bittersweet about Tom Baker as he talks about his own impending 'Big Finish' in the extras for The Shadow of London, but his passion for the these stories is clear, something this is also apparent as he discusses the 'preposterous' stories in the extras for The Bad Penny. Dan Starkey is also clearly having the time of his life as he discusses writing and performing in the second story.
In the extras for Kill The Doctor and The Age of Sutekh, Guy Adams and Nicholas Briggs talk about the challenges of bringing Sutekh back while Gabriel Woolf gives great insight into voicing the evil god.
Some Final Thoughts...
This second box set is a great collection of stories, stronger certainly than the final four that made up last year's series six. Louise Jameson and Tom baker continue to spark off each other. Each story has a great little hook, from the mystery of a shrunken London to the timey wimey nature of the Cross-Keys Hotel while the return of Sutekh adds some grand spectacle to the final two tales.
Each story could have fit perfectly into the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who and that is what makes these Big Finish releases such a treat; Tom Baker might not have been the Doctor on screen since 1981, but on audio, he continues to delight thirty years later...