Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9 Vol 1
January saw the return of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor to Big Finish in the ninth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures. This time, we return to 1980 and the late season eighteen of classic Doctor Who as the Doctor Romana II (Lalla Ward) and new companion Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) navigate E-Space in the events between State of Deacy and Warrior's Gate.
The first volume of The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9 features two new stories from writers Marc Platt and Jonathan Morris, both directed by Nicholas Briggs. Volume 1 is available exclusively at Big Finish as a box set here or as individual releases of Purgatory 12 and Chase The Night. They go on general release on February 29th 2020. Here are the synopses...
Two new E-Space adventures for the Fourth Doctor, Romana, Adric and K-9.
Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt
Still searching for a way out of E-Space, the TARDIS crew land on an isolated space rock... and immediately find it drawn towards a nearby asteroid.
The asteroid has air and gravity unequal to its size and is strewn with the wrecks of spaceships. Veins and pools of rust are everywhere.
Stuck on the asteroid away from his friends, Adric discovers that it’s a penal colony housing a gang of alien convicts - but resources are low, and they’re starting to starve.
But escaping the prisoners is only the first part of the traveller’s troubles. Because there’s a sinister presence at the heart of the asteroid... and it won’t release them quite as easily.
Chase the Night by Jonathan Morris
The TARDIS lands in an alien tropical rainforest at night where the Doctor, Adric and Romana discover a set of rails stretching through the undergrowth. These tracks carry a long-crashed spaceship that’s been converted to run along them like a train.
The ship has to keep moving because only the night-side of the world is habitable. The sun on the day-side burns so hot that everything on the surface is turned to ash.
But the stress and strain of the constant movement is beginning to take its toll on the ship. Parts are starting to break down, and the relentless heat gets ever closer - but the greatest danger may be on the inside...
I'll be joined by my son Ben - the world's biggest Doctor Who fan, to discuss the Fourth Doctor's new travels in E-Space...
Baz Greenland (aged 38)
Puragtory 12 is a story that relishes the opportunity to pick up some of the plot strands of the original E-Space trilogy, most notably the death of Adric's brother. As with so many Big Finish stories set between televised adventures, this delves into the emotional ramifications of loss and change in a way the stand alone stories of classic Doctor Who rarely did. And in Purgatory 12, we find Adric grieving and out of place with a Doctor that doesn't really want him there.
The planet, a self-aware place where people are resurrected out of rust and the concept between prisoner and jailer is blurred, is an intriguing concept and when Purgatory 12 works best, its when it embraces the very alien concepts; the image of giant chess pieces marching to war is a brilliant idea and indeed who doesn't love a chess match between good and evil? You only have to look to Doctor Who'a The Curse of Fenric or Nightmare in Silver to see why. Making the most Adric's presence in the story, we see he bratty teenager as something of chess prodigy - and in a TARDIS full of geniuses, it adds another skill to the character's bow.
Unfortunately, despite the exploration of grief and Adric's place in the Doctor's world, the rest of Pugatory 12 is a somewhat flat affair. The performances are strong, particularly Nimmy March's Colonel Aesillor Zyre. a woman of great integrity and passion, who believes she is doing the right thing to the very end. But the story, stretched across four parts, feels painfully long and arduous at times, the characters not strong enough to be fully engaging. The pacing drags at times, particularly when compared to the subsequent story on this set, which treads many of the same concepts but does them better.
Purgatory 12 is perhaps a story that works very well as an idea but lacks the execution to fill all four parts in a particularly thrilling way. Without the visuals to aid it, it all comes down to the story and despite some great performances, I couldn't help but feel ready to move on to Chase the Night before it was all over.
As for my son, what did he think of it...?
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
I try not to be negative when it come to Doctor Who, always trying to find the best in even the weakest stories. But unfortunately, I did not like Purgatory 12. It's main problem is the plot. There's a sentient planet (Which isn't a new concept at all, take a look at The Doctor's Wife for an example), some colonists, a rust storm and that's about it. The characters are quite uninteresting and really don't hold attention throughout the stories four-part running time.
With the release of this set, The Fourth Doctor Adventures range has now been extended to four-part stories, unlike the previous two- part format. Yet this story really cannot fill this length. It's so slow and dull that it basically runs out of things to do at the beginning of part four, so the temporary death of K9 feels like an addition shoehorned in, especially as that whole mini plot takes up around six minutes of the episode's run time. There is also the matter of the final track of the story, which ends up being five minutes long, when it should have been about less. The characters are just so boring that I can't remember a single name, and are so pivotal to the story that it feels like a waste.
On a more positive note, this story sees the return of Adric to the company of the Fourth Doctor and Romana during their time in E-Space. For much of the story, the regulars aren't together, with Adric either alone, with the Doctor or Romana and K9, so we don't get as much continued character development as we could. Tom Baker is... fine. His performance here is a bit lacking sadly, which is a shame, as he could have really boosted the story. However, Lalla Ward and Matthew Waterhouse are the ones who really bring what life there is to this dull and forgettable tale, their performances excellent as always.
Considering E-Space was meant to be a sort of opposite to our own universe, N-Space, I would except their to be more variety in the terms of alien life and concepts that are held within. So to go to another universe and have a penal colony on a sentient planet is almost ludicrous. Surely they could have brought something a bit more imaginative to the table! As much as I hate to say it, Purgatory 12 is a mess. It was so uninteresting it took me longer than normal to listen to it, I found my mind wandering, and it could have done with better characters, concepts and even performances.
Chase The Night
I find the placement of Chase The Night straight after Purgatory 12 an odd choice as both involve the Doctor and his companions encountering a marooned people on a hostile alien world. The underlying ideas are different but the strikingly similar theme impacts on the first story because Chase The Night is far superior. A planet where half is exposed to the sun is so hot it destroys everything in a wall of flame is a great threat, adding a ticking time clock as the Doctor and his companions encounter a crashed transport ship where the engines are failing and time is running out to stay ahead of the fire.
Jane Asher delivers a disturbing ruthless portrayal as Pilot Dena, who will sacrifice any member of the crew who steps out of line to keep the population down, all the while living under the delusion of trying to keep the ship going. She's a terrific foil for both the Doctor and Romana, who take centre stage after Adric's heroism in the previosu story. The supporting cast are all strong players too, relishing the drama and danger Jonathan Morris's script provides.
As everyone involved literally 'chases the night' to stay alive, the alien world in which they are trapped has plenty of great concepts that play up to the weirdness of E-Space. The self-replicating forna and fauna of the night sight offers up some wonderful imagery - think Avatar meets Doctor Who - taking advantage of the audio setting to create a world that would have been difficult to recreate on TV at the time (though Tom Baker's Planet of Evil is certainly what springs to mind when imagining the world of Chase The Night).
The dangers of this world create some tense moments and strong cliffhangers, making the most of the four-part narrative in a way that Purgatory 12 doesn't quite achieve. There's some grand stakes and innovative sci-fi ideas that really pay off in the final part, delivering a satisfying conclusion to our first trip into E-Space with the Doctor, Romana and Adric since 1981...
Phew. From the get go, Chase the Night already sounded highly appealing. Here, we have a planet where life can only thrive on the night side as anything will burn in the extreme heat of the day. The characters are already much better plotted, if not a tad similar to the cast of Purgatory 12 but much better and more interesting, and the performances are top quality.
It was great to see the TARDIS crew get split up again, but this time with actual things to do, with the Doctor, Adric and K9 investigating the ship and working out a way to save them all before having to deal with an alien virus, and Romana discovering the horrific truth of all who dare oppose the Pilot. When they all get reunited, they still feel useful, with the three companions all having proper things to do, despite being surrounded by quite a decent amount of side characters.
I will admit, it was obvious that the TARDIS taken to the day side would be a cliffhanger, but it was great to see it (inevitably) in there. Part three loses the day/night dilemma somewhat, but it was still engaging enough, with the infection really taking hold and a race against time to find a cure, especially after Adric is infected. There's the great twist of the fungus taking hold of the consumer being part of the life process despite it looking like it turns people into monsters (A bit like 1972's The Mutants), and it presents a great moral conflict for the Doctor and Romana. By part four, the day/night and the virus all culminate in a high stakes, race against time drama, which involves a sentient hive mind offering to save people, treachery, the death of the villain who refuses to be saved by the Doctor, and even the TARDIS HADS system!
The performances are great, with most of the side cast being memorable, but here Tom Baker and the other regulars really step up their game, being really engaging and fun throughout. This box set has been a real mixed bag, with an awful and forgettable story, followed by an engaging and fun story. n. It's a great idea to revisit E-Space for the audio adventures, and despite the mishap at the start of this set, I'm more than excited for this month's duo of stories to be released...
Sadly, there is no music suite in this release, though we do get a wealth of behind the scenes discussions with the cast and crew - plus a trailer for The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series Nine Volume 2, which is out later this month.
In the interviews for Purgatory 12, series producer David Richardson talks the long-term plans to bring Adric, Romana II and the Fourth Doctor together on Big Finish, which writer Marc Platt offers a fascinating insight into this TARDIS team; two companions who were never really wanted bu the Doctor when they came on-board and have now forged this familial relationship with the Time Lord as parents and Adric as the unruly teenager.
There's also some lovely moments from the cast involved, particularly Nimmy March's (Colonel Aesillor Zyre) admiration for the script and description of Tom Baker as 'quite beautifully un-arrogant and self aware', while Nicholas Briggs has boundless enthusiasm for Peter Davison's nephew George Watkins, his earnest performance as Crimsson and wonder at just how big a star he will become.
The behind the scenes discussions continue on the disks for Chase The Night. Matthew Waterhouse talks the various TARDIS dynamics of the Fourth and Fifth Doctor eras in which he appeared and his wish to have experienced the different dynamics of the show a little longer. Jane Asher (the Pilot) discusses finding the purpose behind the ruthless actions of her character and how much fun it was to play her. There's also some lovely moments of Asher recollections her work on horror series The Stone Tape.
Very sweet is Tom Baker reminiscing how people stop him in the street to talk how much they love his work on Big Finish as well as his own admiration for the work and his preparation in his office pre-recording. The high sci-fi concepts or original E-Space stories like come up in the discussions for both stories and in Chase The Night, Writer David Richardson talks bringing some big, extreme real-science concepts into the tale. There are an abundance of stories, memories of Doctor Who and engaging insights into the characters from every member of the cast that really help to expand on the stories and a great discussion from Nicholas Briggs and Richardson on the concept of E-Space, the renewed energy season eighteen brought and the hard sci-fi concepts that Big Finish have continued to build on.
Some Final Thoughts...
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series Nine, Volume One is a something of an oddity. While it is great to have the Fourth Doctor, Adric and Romana II together for the first time since 1981's Warrior's Gate, the two stories are strikingly close in theme that you have to wonder why they were paired together to open this latest volume.
Both offer fascinating alien worlds, one full of people resurrected out of rust and giant chess pieces battling each other on a barren battlefield, the other with Avatar-like fauna growing out of the ashes of a world half consumed by fire and both housing an omnipotent intelligence. The cast are superb throughout and Matthew Waterhouse inhabits Adric a little more naturally than he did in his Big Finish return with the Fifth Doctor last year. It goes without saying that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward live and breath their performances as the Doctor and Romana.
The pacing of Purgatory is what lets down the opening story (it would have been served better as a two-parter), but this is more than made up for by the thrills and danger of Chase The Night. Overall, this is a solid reintroduction to E-Space, but one that might have been served better if the stories had been split up across both volumes.
The pacing of Purgatory is what lets down the opening story (it would have been served better as a two-parter), but this is more than made up for by the thrills and danger of Chase The Night. Overall. This is a solid reintroduction to E-Space, but one that might have been served better if the stories had been split up across both volumes.